Iain Gale on exhibitions

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The Independent Online
It may be undergoing a revitalisation in the hands of artists and artisans, but little has changed in the physical character of the East End over the last 100 years. Walk the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields and you will still feel the presence of Jack the Ripper. And this is the mood evoked by Stephen Harwood in his disturbing paintings currently on view in Hackney.

Harwood paints individual figures of such tortured intensity as to invoke the spirit of Francis Bacon. Variously decadent, thuggish, effete and just plain manic, they scream and stare at the viewer with a deeply disquieting furiosity. To that arch chronicler of the East End, Peter Ackroyd, they "united the past and present, mythology and reality, in artistic communion". These white-faced men, baldly silhouetted against scarlet skies evoke not only the bloody menace of butcher Jack, but also the deeper, more sinister spectres of Ackroyd's own novels. Harwood himself admits that each of his pictures is "a summing-up of the spirit of the place". "London," he says is "filled with a strong sense of accumulative memory... the East End is the most intense place, a concentrated system of energies and undercurrents."

At only 24, Harwood, who himself lives in Limehouse, has achieved something in these pictures that often evades artists twice his age.

Sutton House Art Gallery, 2 Homerton High Street, London E9 to 1 Sept

Below: detail from Stephen Harwood's 'Limehouse'

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