How We Met: Matthew Radford & Peter Ackroyd

'We share many obsessions: London, the river, the tide of humankind'

Matthew Radford, 58

A visual artist who graduated from Camberwell School of Art in 1970, Radford (left) has shown at galleries worldwide, including the Hayward and Tate St Ives in the UK, the Drawing Center in New York and the Cat Street Gallery in Hong Kong. He lives in Blackheath, south London, with his partner

I first met Peter about 12 years ago at the London Art Fair in Islington. I had just done a series of paintings of crowds of people crossing back and forth over London Bridge and he stopped to look. He is very sharp-eyed and immediately noticed that the bridge in the picture was the older version of London Bridge rather than the existing one.

Meeting Peter was like meeting someone I already knew. I am a big fan of his and have read virtually everything he's ever written. In fact, I was reading his book Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem the day we met. We talked about it; it was slightly intimidating because he is very bright and you feel as though you are having a conversation he has been through quite a lot of times.

He ended up buying one of my paintings and not long after, invited me to his house to view it hanging in his sitting-room. We had tea together in the studio in the back of his garden where he does his writing and we just talked and talked.

He is very quiet and observant in his enthusiasms and incredibly modest, which makes him very charming as well.

We share many obsessions: London, the river, the tide of humankind. A lot of the themes he used in London: the Biography were themes I was using in my paintings. He has an almost non-linear view of the city – he can write about it 2,000 years ago and he can write about it in the present day. He is also obsessed with the way things grow up, fall down and get transformed by events, and my work is all about change and shifting tides too.

He came to see me recently at my studio in Deptford. He comprehends the meaning behind my paintings and is able to sum up what I am doing very quickly. My work has changed a lot – the themes are the same but the way I paint is totally different – and he totally understands the mechanics and meaning of that too.

He's written a piece about my work for my new show that sums up exactly what it is about. I think he understands what I'm trying to do almost better than I do.

Peter Ackroyd, 61

A biographer, novelist and critic, Ackroyd is renowned for writing about the history and culture of London. His works include 'London: the Biography', 'Hawskmoor', which won a Whitbread award, and a biography of Charles Dickens. He lives in central London

We first met in the 1990s at an art fair; I bought one of his pictures of London Bridge. I've always liked his work; when you enter a painting by Matthew, you are introduced to a world of arrested movement, stillness, silence and slow time. Yet this is an illusion; the more you observe the canvas, the more you understand the play of light and shadow underlying the ceaseless flux of the city.

Matthew has an authentic London sensibility and a sort of visionary London sense. He is pre-eminently an urban artist entranced by the life of the city all around him. He understands the variety of the city and he also comprehends its darkness. His work is concerned with the movement of crowds and with the great general drama of the human spirit. He has a sense of energy and splendour, of ritual and display, and he shares the sublime indifference of the city itself.

When you come up close to his canvases the brush strokes seem almost abstract, and it's only when you step backwards that the world becomes recognisable again. It gives a sense of strangeness and familiarity and of unsettling proximity. It resembles the effect of certain children's books where water smeared across the page elicits an image rising miraculously to the surface.

I was at his studio the other week, looking at his paintings. He is a very nice, quiet, unassuming person. He paints in white upon a primed canvas, which he places flat on the ground, then waits until the paint is almost dry before pouring pools of colour upon them. Then he scrapes the colour from the surface and as he does so, faces and figures come forward or disappear just as they do in any crowd. His is the painterly equivalent of the urban process. These are images of people coming in and out of focus without any fixed purpose or determined identity. In these images without a story, you cannot tell what will happen next.

His is a completely different form to mine, so it's impossible to compare. The unacknowledged presence is indeed that of London. The city is, as it were, the frame of the paintings. No other contemporary English painter has so well expressed the haunted quality of the streets and their people, at once desolate and enchanted.

Matthew Radford's new exhibition, Pressure Drop '11, is at Agnew's Gallery, London W1 ( agnewsgallery.com), from 8 to 29 June

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003