When I moved to New York in 1981, although I was completely unaware of it, it was at a very special moment in the City’s history. Also completely unaware of it having any special significance, the place I found to live was a loft in downtown Manhattan, in fact on its most southern street at the river’s edge called South Street. My loft was on the top floor, and I overlooked both the huge old galleon permanently moored there called The Peking, as well as the Brooklyn Bridge which fast became my favourite bridge and my favourite view in the world.
I loved the area I had found myself in as I even found many New Yorkers who, when they asked where I lived and I told them, would respond in surprise. “South Street? Never heard of it!” I loved having found somewhere even locals didn’t know about, especially as I also loved the oldness and crumbling quality of it all. Sadly, it was that very quality that had caused a huge development company to acquire the entire area with the intention of turning it into a modern tourist centre, pulling down where necessary, but at the very least giving facelifts to the point of unrecognizability, the very buildings that were amongst my favourites.
So much did I fall in love with this city, especially this tiny part of it, for the first time in my life I went out into the streets to paint it. I became a sort of New York Monet, and certainly hoped I might do for New York what Monet did for Paris. After quite a short while however, I realised the developers and demolition were moving ahead faster than I could paint, and so I went around taking a few photographs of my most treasured corners, thinking that if the worst came to the worst at least I would be able to finish off my series from those photographs. Some even included the Twin Towers, which had quickly become the first really modern building in the world I actually loved and, on one clear bright sunny day, I had been to its roof and over-looked this tiny island that had so totally captured my heart.
The life of an artist is rarely simple and straightforward, and mine has been perhaps even more wildly unpredictable than most, and so soon I did indeed have to stop work on my series of the City as I couldn’t stand the noise of the drilling or the sight of beloved buildings disappearing and I moved over to Staten Island, where at least I had a view of the Statue of Liberty from my top floor window. And perhaps during the move, or soon afterwards anyway, the photographs were lost, eventually more or less forgotten, and replaced by the various inspirations that caused me to switch back from citiscapes to still lifes, portraits and paintings of my two mannequins, over the next five or six years until I forsook what had become the most precious home I had ever known and moved to Asia.
Due to the twists and turns of life, after quite a long period of living on a mountain top in South India, all my worldly possessions ended up in storage in England in 2012. A few more twists and turns led to my conceiving the idea of how much I would love to put together a book of my love for and experiences in New York. During a visit to the warehouse two or three weeks after having had that idea, I was looking through a box containing a hundred or so packages of negatives and printed photos, when a small envelope seemed suddenly to drop into my hand. Looking inside, to my absolute amazement, I discovered about a dozen of those missing-presumed-dead photographs I had taken around South Street all those years ago, thirty five years to be precise, of that fabulous but now gone-forever tiny part of the world that meant everything to me. Feeling an almost overwhelming resurgence of my love for New York I set to work unquestioningly, not even doubting that the art gods had put those pictures into my hands with the instructions quite clear: “Paint these, child, it is meant to be.”