East London Group

Albert Turpin

1900 to 1964

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Albert Edward Turpin (as described by his daughter, Joan Barker)

Living with an artist conjures up visions of attics and someone wanting to be away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in order to put one’s thoughts on canvas. That would be the ideal but for my Dad living in a two bedroom council flat in Bethnal Green there were no luxuries of space.

The flat was made up of 2 bedrooms, a scullery that consisted of a cooker, butler sink with draining board, cooker and small cupboard. This was also where we washed and Dad shaved etc. The kitchen had a fireplace with oven above it and the room was used for all other activities. Mum had to prepare our meals there and do all the cooking as there were no tops in the scullery. Like most families we had a table (which doubled up as a ping pong table when pulled out). Also there was a small bathroom and toilet, but he felt we lived in luxury compared to what others had, and also bearing in mind where the family lived previously.

His painting was done in the Kitchen using the light from the window. He started work as a window cleaner very early every morning, leaving home before light and he returned home early in the afternoon to give himself time to paint. He also went out with his rucksack which contained a collapsible easel and seat, plus his paints and he would just set himself up and paint away. This often took place on Sunday mornings and I would sometimes go with him. The time spent waiting while he sketched or painted would very often be interspersed with a series of history lessons about the East End, his family history and his life and work in Bethnal Green as a left wing agitator. Every week we would go to the library where he would only take out factual books or poetry. His overriding philosophy in life was that we should never be ashamed of where we come from. This meant for him; fighting injustice; a strict code of morality and using his art to show the poverty and conditions that existed in the slum areas. Of course, that art could also be used to showcase the glorious little bits of gardens and flower boxes, the Pubs, Churches and Music Halls that could brighten an otherwise dull day. Wherever he was, he carried a sketch book and on the front page would be a quote from or about an artist. On some drawings he would quote poetry to emphasise a point. These sketch books went to council meetings, old time dancing (which he took up later in life), holidays and whilst working, but the thing I remember most is that Mum and I were constantly being sketched. Me with my legs hanging over the furniture reading, or doing homework, Mum either cooking, having her feet soaking in water, or just having forty winks. We got so used to it that we didn’t even notice, and it is only now looking back at his sketch books that memories flood back.

I would say his painting, politics and love of the East End were inseparable. He loved people who frequently called for advice and a chat. He absolutely adored my mother and it was certainly a lifelong love affair. He had a brilliant sense of humour which would often mean laughing at himself. He was a big man with a big laugh who loved life in his beloved Bethnal Green.

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