Peckham Perspectives // Mark Pearson

As we meet with more and more people across SE15, we keep discovering more about the creativity at the heart of the community. We spent an afternoon with local artist Mark Pearson and his wife Nicola in a local fav, Spike and Earl on Peckham Road, to talk about their long history living and working in Peckham. Having been in the area for the 24 years, they shared their unique insight into the history and changes that Peckham has gone through during their time here.

How did you end up here?

We Previously lived in Camberwell on the Glebe Estate. Nicola got a job as a solicitor and it was the only place that we could afford somwhere that was larger than the rather large council flat we lived in at the time, and that had a garden! So we just walked in the door of our house and it was just right, we've been here ever since.

The area was still very rundown then. When we told friends and family we were moving here they were shocked. They asked if we couldn’t just save up some more money and move somewhere else! Bellenden Rd, which is jus around the corner from our place, was like a shanty town with places boarded up, just a newsagent and kebab shop. It was genuinely quite rough! It’s amazing how it’s changed over the years.

Things changed initially when the Bellenden area received an EU grant, then the area was renovated, rents kept reasonable and so change came. It meant people could try things out, suddenly things started popping up, like a restaurant called The Peckham Experiment.

 

What is it that kept you here?

When we moved we didn’t think we’d be here for 24 years. I was working in Camden, travelling up and down every day on the trains.

This area’s always been artistic, because it’s always had the college down the road. And it’s always had South London Gallery, which has been there since the war. I was aware that the area had that edge to it, but when I went into the Bussey, it was just madness. It reminded me of a ship that hadn't gone to sea, all creaking and ramshackle. There were textiles workshops making huge frocks, churches with loads of candles dripping wax everywhere.

It was a really different place in those days, but it was still really arty. Straight away I got to know people in there. Especially the boys who ran it, straight away I thought this is really nice, I really like it here..

I’ve been there about 16 years. So I suppose I was one of the earliest people in there.

Lots of your work uses Peckham as a subject, and you get out in the streets to paint. Does being out there give you an interesting perspective on the area?

Yes, people will come and take a look over my shoulder at what I'm doing. Most people are really positive, they'll strike up a conversation and tell you stories about the area. I did a few paintings in in the arcade, and you get a lot of input. It's amazing how many people do a bit of drawing and will give you their advice!

When you’re drawing outside around the rest of London, you know that the people you include in your paintings will always be strangers, you're never going to meet them again.  But in Peckham you're going to run into those people again. That's what's really nice about it. I could paint the same street every day, there's always something different about it every time. It's so interesting to watch how things change.

 

We were thrilled to discover the subject of Marks first Peckham Painting…

It was the carpark! I've still got a sketch for it somewhere. It was a night time painting, from 2001.  I just turned around, and looked at the carpark for the first time from the studio window in the Bussey. I just thought, oh my god it’s beautiful. I’ve jut got to do it. And that was it, I did a whole series of them on the carpark. That was it, then I was hooked, I sold them outside the gallery, then I started painting the high streets and the station.

Mark and Nicola have been aware of Peckham Levels since the initial planning stages and are both feeling incredibly positive about the potential of the project and the opportunities it will offer.

There’s a long waiting list for the Bussey building, so Peckham Levels is the perfect thing to offer more studio spaces and take the pressure off them. I think it’ll fit in really well. The only sad thing is that it isn’t going to be a permanent thing. 

 

We already can’t wait to open up our workshop and workspace areas for artist like Mark and other creatives who are looking to share their skills and offer them out to a whole host of members from the community. Mark and Nicola have plans to use Peckham Levels to host art classes and workshops.

Nicola said, “If we can do our teaching there, I’d love to throw it open to schools. Mark’s a great teacher and used to do courses in India. He keeps coming up with all these ideas – teaching families as a group with children and adults drawing together, even teaching art students classic drawing skills as a lot of colleges don't actually offer this any more."

 

It was such a pleasure to meet with both Mark and Nicola. There is so much more to share on this wonderfully inspiring couple and their future involvement in Peckham Levels. But you’ll have to stay tuned.

Jacob Read