The composition for this painting was lifted directly from one of my earliest ‘live’ dance drawings, made at ’The Jazz Aquarium’ in 1991. The Jazz Aquarium was a Sunday evening club in Brixton that started up soon after Gilles’ Sunday sessions Dingwalls, Camden closed. The music was mostly 70’s and 80’s Boogie tunes mixed with classic Jazz-dance. Most of the people that went were Black South Londoners, but it also attracted dancers from all over London and the UK because the music and the dance floor were superb. It had an underground feeling – one of those clubs you only heard about from word of mouth. You had to go down underground in an industrial lift to get in, and this was the only mode of access as far as I knew. You got out of the lift into a sleek, long catacomb that had had a stylish ‘1930’s-ish’ makeover, and looked quite new, unlike the usual dingy Soho Basements. There was a wire grid fencing off the checkered dance floor, that reminded me of Zombie horror films where they are trying to contain the ‘outbreak’ by imprisoning the ‘undead’ in the city jail. Near the bar there were tables and chairs. The tables also had a checker surface, and early arrivals at the club sat around playing chess. This was a weekly cub, and I would often go to a Northern Soul event on the Saturday, before rounding off the weekend here. I found the two totally separate music scenes complimentary to each other, though there was sadly no crossover, apart from myself and Kevin Johansen.
It was here that I met life-long friends like Rocky Marciano Bryan and Carole Duff. Through my weekly ‘live’ drawings, I got to know many of the distinctive dancers on the UK Jazz dance scene like Levi and David Graham, Everton Young, ‘Farmer John’ and Irven Lewis. There were many other dancers that I regularly drew, but knew only by sight.
The central figure in the painting with her leg to the side at two o’clock is Anita. I never knew her surname. She was a small, lithe and inventive dancer, and would spin on the spot with her leg stretched-out at that unlikely angle. She had a pointed, shiny beehive hair do, and spiral forelocks that curved into each cheek like the early 60’s Supremes. My original drawing was atmospheric but very vague and woolly- but the composition was strong which is why I used it for this painting.
During the time I made the original drawing, I was doing a bi-weekly commute to Hartlepool in the North East, where I was working on a huge commissioned mural on the double-gable end of a Pub. The change to large scale work was a bit of a shock, and forced me to be more adaptive with my techniques, and I evolved a system of painting with transparent acrylic washes, building up tones and colours in many layers. I later applied this same technique in this Vox Club painting. I carefully drew out the figures and composition in line, to a high degree of resolution, before giving form, light and dark with the acrylic washes.
In the painting added additional figures, including Rocky, Irven and ‘Farmer John’. But most of my figures in my dance paintings and drawings are not specific people but an amalgam of different dancers of at different times. As is often the case, the painting never really got finished. The layers of paint are mostly rather thin. I simply ran out of steam, and the images seemed to work well enough, so I left it.
Acrylic On Canvas
78cm x 112cm