Never mind the weather. The mother of all icebreakers is public transport. Every city dweller has an opinion on public transport, an opinion which is often swiftly followed by a disaster story or two. And, given the demands of modern life, it’s not surprising that so many of us cringe at the thought of public transport.
We’ve got ourselves so wrapped up in how much of a ‘nightmare’ it can be that we rarely stop to appreciate the special moments that do occur on public transport. Those quiet introspective thoughts that bubble up as you wait for your Tube train. That victorious and slightly relieved feeling of catching the last train home, while your mind plays back strange encounters from that night. The stories told and the secrets shared with friends as you travelled together.
Gail Brodholt makes oil paintings that bring forth precisely these feelings. Much of her work depicts the London transport network, and it’s a world away from the dull, robotic discourse of the news, with its ‘commuters’ and its ‘maintenance works’. There’s a stillness to her work, and a continuous reaffirming of distance. Train tracks, power lines, lighting and platform edges draw your eye further into her intricately detailed paintings.
Take the image Remember Me – the figures, and their trailing shadows, against the pastel sky perfectly evoke the atmosphere of the end to an unusually long day. It’s about bidding someone farewell, and perhaps the guy and girl in the foreground are the focus, but there are many other ways you could interpret this: A memory long past, the final parting before leaving for a new town and a new life or the end of a relationship.
That’s what I love about Gail’s pieces: they’re each in their own way individualistic snapshots of life on London transport that, deliberately or not, invite the viewer to put their own narrative, their own mood, at the heart of it. For me that’s a dash of solitary epiphanies, a twist of melancholy and at least as much romance as some of my favourite detective films.
It’s wonderful to see an artist expressing another side to London’s transport system, which is so often vilified as just an urban nuisance: noisy, uncomfortable rides between one temporary space and another. Transport in London has always had a strong identity. Gail’s oil paintings express the stillness, the intricate genius and the unappreciated beauty we encounter every day on our journeys across the city. That’s a sentiment I never want to forget.