View of Dalston Junction

© The Artist


Leon Kossoff (1926 – )


36.2 X 61 CM
Accession number


Railway lines are the veins and arteries of a view that Leon Kossoff cultivated from a studio in Dalston Lane, which he occu¬pied between 1972 and 1975. ‘London, like the paint I use, seems to be in my bloodstream. It’s always moving – the skies, the streets, the buildings. The people who walk past me when I draw have become part of my life.’[1] Having grown up in the East End, he is measuring out famil¬iar ground in terms of intense proximity. From the studio window, View of Dalston Junction swoops over a dense body of structures, heaved close to each other, like passengers packed into a railway carriage – houses to branches, girders to telegraph poles, sky to rooftops, grass to topsoil. One budge and everything is affected.

It was not until the late 1960s, after a decade of un-peopled building sites and no-go railway areas, that figures began to enter Kossoff’s city¬scapes, and here there is a passer-by, boxed into the foreground. In an essay for Kossoff’s exhibition at the XLVI Venice Biennale (1995), David Sylvester applauds the instinctive grandeur of the atmosphere: ‘The art¬ist convinces us that he has merely drawn out a quality that was inher¬ent in the figures or the places.’[2] That figure is a siphon into the place, making grandeur accessible. Tapping into the innate quality of a place is an ethos instilled by David Bomberg, whose life class at Borough Polytechnic Kossoff attended once a week for two years (1950–52). He recalls the energetic concentration of the class; for him and his friend Frank Auerbach, Bomberg’s teaching was a crucial supplement to stud¬ies at St Martin’s. View of Dalston Junction is grounded in Bomberg’s axiom, ‘drawing is sculpturally conceived in the full, like architecture’. It could, in fact, be seen as sculpturally-conceived drawing-in-paint. Hence the use of hardboard, rather than canvas: basic stuff, it copes with a lot of paint, built up and scraped off, leaving the traces from which to start improvising again, until the image is clinched.

Kossoff’s titles often draw attention to the specifics of time, place, season; for example, from the same period, Demolition of the Old House, Dalston Junction, Summer (1974),[3] Dalston Junction with Ridley Road Street Market and Salmon Curer’s Yard, Friday Morning (1973),[4] or Dalston Lane, Monday Morning, Spring (1974).[5] At less than a third of their size, the intimate scale of View of Dalston Junction adds to the sense that the landscape is not just a place, passive, to be inhabited, but a living, breathing character in itself. It is something to live with, actively. In a letter to John Berger, Kossoff explained: The subject is vis¬ited many times and lots of drawings are made, mostly very quickly. The work is begun in the studio where each new drawing means a new start until one day a drawing appears which opens up the subject in a new way, so I work from the drawing as I do from the sitter.’[6] On this partic¬ular day in 1975, Rembrandt, Constable, Van Gogh and Giacometti are invited to take a lungful of Dalston air – nippy, gleaming, potent city air. Here, as elsewhere, Kossoff’s colours are capricious, morphing across a streaked and pitted surface (Rudi Fuchs notes they ‘glow the way colours glow in the dusk’).[7] Texts about his work have accrued a certain vocabulary of ‘thickness’ and ‘heaviness’ over the decades, but extract the paintings from linguistic sediment and what they contain is a very particular, mutable light. They demand long-looking. They radiate a zeal for staying power.


1. Kossoff quoted in Paul Moorhouse, Leon Kossoff, (London: Tate Gallery, 1996), 36.
2. David Sylvester, ‘Against the Odds’, in Leon Kossoff: Recent Paintings, exh. cat. (London: British Council, 1995), 16.
3. Tate Collection, London.
4. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
5. Private collection.
6. Correspondence between Kossoff and John Berger, The Guardian (1 June 1996), 29.
7. Rudi Fuchs, ‘Leon Kossoff’, Leon Kossoff: Recent Paintings (1995), 22.

Published in Passports British Council Collection, British Council, London 2009