Preserved in PrintAutumn 2016
1969 will go down as a vintage year, with the first moon landing, Woodstock and the recording of the Beatles’ last album together. For one artist,1969 was also a year of great significance and the start of a love affair with London – especially St. Katharine Docks. Gerd Winner was born in 1936 in Braunschweig, Germany. After working in his homeland as a free painter and graphic designer, Winner was invited to London in 1969 to collaborate with acclaimed screen printer Chris Prater at his Kelpra Studio.
At the same time artist Peter Sedgley and his wife Bridget Riley were creating an artists’ haven in St. Katharine Docks. They used money donated by sculptor Henry Moore to lease space in the Ivory Building, providing affordable studios and a place for exhibiting work. The result was a ‘collective’ for artists way ahead of its time. In 1970 Sedgley lent one of his St. Katharine Docks studios at the back of the Dickens Inn to Winner – a move that was to influence the German artist’s work for the next decade. Winner has described the hub of more than 200 artists at St. Katharine Docks as ‘a melting pot of different people with different influences,’ saying the collective was ‘much better than sitting alone in a studio.’ Winner’s waterside base, with its wharves and warehouses, proved irresistible artistic fodder. He was able to capture the raw essence of postindustrial London, using photographic sketches and screen printing to portray the distinctive dockside atmosphere. Throughout the 1970s, Winner released notable works depicting local wharves, including Free Trade Wharf, Bull Wharf, St. John’s Wharf and Metropolitan Wharf. Prints such as Thames Sunday Afternoon, Isle of Dogs and Wapping Wharf don’t shy away from the area’s maritime legacy, detailing the exposed brickwork, pulley systems, gangways and cranes that characterised the Thames-side neighbourhoods. Gritty, grainy and sometimes with an air of decay, Winners’ portfolio reflects the period between the docks industrial demise and the regeneration that you see today. Looking through Winner’s catalogue of works, it’s clear that St. Katharine Docks still retains many of the original wharves, with many images easily recognisable. Throughout the modernisation of the Docks several industrial features have been preserved as iconic reminders of past glories and although the brickwork may have been sandblasted, the raw elements that give the area its defining character live on. The creative vibe in St. Katharine Docks, pioneered by the likes of Winner and Sedgley, also survives and is growing stronger thanks to modern office refurbishments at Commodity Quay and International House, creative spirit against an inspirational backdrop.