Eyton first visited the Whitechapel and Spitalfields area of east London in 1949. Armed with his copy of Baedeker’s London guide, which “invited everything to look foreign.” He recollects in his diary with total fascination the sights and sounds of his surroundings with an artists’ eye excited by the exoticism of the experience – “The cakes at the barrow were creamier, the men tougher, the women bigger... and Hawksmoor’s huge Christchurch, locked, but standing out mightily in Commercial Street.” Importantly the experience informed and anticipated a major part of his art practice, that of travelling to far locations to paint, this compelled the artist to challenge his preconceptions and see his subjects afresh.
It was evident from his first encounter with Spitalfields that Eyton was attracted to the gritty reality of the east end – its people and its decaying architecture in the grim grey light of a war torn London. In the twenty-first century the area has been restored into a heritage playground, a magnet for the trendy. Yet, the contrast of clashing cultures is apparent; the seedy striptease pubs, the pungent fumes of the Bangladeshi curry houses on Brick Lane, the pretty affluent eighteenth century buildings and the sleek modern art galleries.
It would be a mistake to define Eyton as a topological artist who relies merely on the novelty of the place to exploit its picturesque possibilities. In fact Eyton empathises with his location - how the architecture expresses space and how crowds reveal a visual rhythm, they are the catalyst that informs the way the painting has to be made.
In 1968 Eyton set up a studio at 34 Hanbury Street, painting in the various neighbouring streets, whilst in the studio he produced a series of paintings of the dilapidated interior, nudes and figures such as ‘Christine’ 1978 and views of Christchurch and the back yards of Princelet Street seen through the rear window. There is a sense of purpose in the scale of these ambitious paintings; they possess an energetic grandeur. Writing about ‘Open Window, Spitalfields’ 1976-81 in the Tate collection, Eyton recalls the making of the painting, both the physical struggle of observing from life and realising a painting that was the product of influences from art history and his visits to Italy. “I found confirmation in what I saw in front of me in Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s ‘Good Government’ in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, with regard to the colouring and details of the buildings; and in the plain pink brick addition to the empty house found echoes in Masaccio’s ‘St Peter and John distributing Alms’ in the Branacci Chapel, Florence; and initially in Rothko’s horizontal divisions”.
Anthony Eyton’s paintings are the sum of physical gestures made with brushstrokes; their apparent crazy energy is the result of an eye that sees rhythm. The paintings keep alive the initial excitement - the sensations of the first encounter, and as the flux of creating the painting ebbs and flows, the composition becomes firm and settled.