Undercover: Secret Artist talks to the New Journal

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Undercover: Secret Artist talks to the New Journal


Thu, 16/10/2014 - 10:09


The Assembly House as captured by Secret Artist NW5
16 October, 2014

IT is like an artistic version of the classic children’s street game, Knock Down Ginger – a painter quietly stands outside a building in Kentish Town, creates a piece and then silently sneaks up the front steps and pushes it through the door.

This altruistic surprise is the work of Secret Artist NW5 – whose real identity is wrapped in mystery – and her work now graces the walls of some of NW5’s most aesthetically pleasing addresses. 

The New Journal can reveal that the Secret Artist is an Oxford graduate and has lived in the Kentish Town area for more than 30 years. While we can reveal their gender – we know the artist is a woman – that’s about as much we are allowed to reveal. 

She had a career in magazine publishing as well as writing novels. She still works on a freelance basis, but last year was made redundant and the artist’s partner, a writer who works from home, suggested they find something to stop her “disturbing the serenity of the house during the day,” she jokes. 

“I had always drawn and loved painting,” she says. “I had worked for a large media company for 30 years until earlier this year. 

“My partner was frankly worried about me being about the place, and he said to me: you need a project, so I decided to paint every listed building in NW5.”

The artist has no formal training but spent a lifetime honing her skills, she says. 

“I have always been a keen painter – I would paint on holiday, for example – and I’ve always been very keen on architecture and the area’s history.”

She has included various Kentish Town scenes in novels she has penned and so this felt a natural continuation. 

“I thought: why not do a project of painting every listed building in Kentish Town?” she says.

“So I got started, and it got me and the dog out and about.”

One day, after completing a picture, she decided to post it through the door of the house – and suddenly the project took on a whole new direction.

“I was drawing these houses, and I was acutely aware that the people inside did not know I was doing this,” she says.

“I began to paint these buildings and then anonymously post the finished pictures through their doors. However, I got worried people may think it was a bit weird – someone standing outside their house painting for hours. I also didn’t want to use my name, so I hit upon the idea of creating the Secret Artist. I set up a website and I started getting contacted from people saying: ‘I got your lovely picture, thank you so much.’”

Although a talented watercolourist, the artist has decided to ditch her paints, colours, jam jars of water and brushes. Like David Hockney, she is now harnessing new technology, and it helps lessen the chances she’ll be caught working.

The artist uses an app on her iPad called Paper by 53, which allows her to take images of the building she wants to feature and then create a picture later in the comfort of her home. 

“It is incredible – you can mix colours very quickly,” she says.

The artist has now produced a range of postcards showing some of the most iconic buildings in the neighbourhood, including The Assembly House, Blustons, the Greek Orthodox Church and The Forum. Such are their popularity, the artist accepts that while this is firmly a hobby, people are now collecting her work. 

Indeed, she has a deal with the Kentish Town café Two Doors Down – who know the Secret Artist’s identity – if a piece is commissioned via her website, she will leave it at the café for its new owner to collect – a little like a spy agency’s dead letterbox.

The artist adds that one of the attractions is the myriad of different architectural styles in the Kentish Town area. 

“There are tons of listed buildings in Hampstead and Highgate, but they have already been painted before,” she says. 

“My duty as the Secret Artist is to look at the ones no one has noticed before. I am slowly working my way through the shops of Kentish Town Road – I love the idea of turning such well-known and much loved shops as Abba Electronics, B and S Hardware and the like into art. They are as important and deserve to be celebrated as much as those which are listed by English Heritage.”

• See www.secretartistNW5.com for details.

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