Kossoff has always observed and delineated the materiality of London's life, its streets, buildings, lines of transport and communication, and its inhabitants. He draws on its physical and human rhythms, studies its particular streetscapes, overshadowed by or framed within the urban structures of roads, railways and shops. In a foreword to the catalogue for his exhibition at Fischer Fine Art in 1973, he wrote:
I was born in a now demolished building in City Road not far from St. Pauls. Ever since the age of twelve I have drawn and painted London. I have worked from Bethnal Green, the City, Willesden Junction, York Way and Dalston. I have painted its bomb sites, building sites, excavations, railways and recently a children's swimming pool in Willesden.
The strange ever changing light, the endless streets and the shuddering feel of the sprawling city lingers in my mind like a faintly glimmering memory of a long forgotten, perhaps never experienced childhood, which, if rediscovered and illuminated, would ameliorate the pain of the present ...
Kossoff's means of conveying such complexities is denseness: the building-up of pigment, oil paint, gestures and marks all adding to the intensity of his encounter with the canvas, or rather board. He first draws the painting's site and subject in bold charcoal. He may venture only a short distance from his studio, as in Dalston Junction with Ridley Road street market, Friday evening, November 1972. The artist established a second studio in Dalston Lane in Hackney, London E8, between 1972 and 1975. The aerial view in a gouache study for the painting (NGA) shows Dalston railway junction with the parallel railway lines, platforms, and street markets on the right. Kossoff animates his picture not only by his three-dimensional oil paint but also with the encounters between the industrial, mechanical and architectural elements of modern city life, as well as the colourful and varied life of the people in the markets. They all coalesce into an urban organism.
The depth and striation of each stroke of paint are manifold, and the colours lively: orange, white, ochre, grey, blue and green. Kossoff's composition is clearly based on his drawings on the spot. Occasionally, when considering Dalston Junction with Ridley Road street market, Friday evening, November 1972 from side to side or top to bottom, the viewer's eye is halted by a horizontal slash. The punctuations are made by a palette knife disturbing the lava cliffs of paint building a landscape of the industrial city. Even Kossoff's means of communication, clotted oil paint, seems to express a pessimistic view of London - claustrophobic, polluted, crowded, almost joyless - but nonetheless engaged, vital, communal and enduring.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010