Chiswick Artist Alfred Daniels Turns Ninety

Age is no barrier to painting says the popular local artist


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Local artist Alfred Daniels celebrated turning ninety recently but despite a career ranging over seven decades, he says he is still learning.

Affectionately known as 'Danny' to his friends, he lives in Bedford Park with his wife Margot (a former theatrical costumier) and continues to attend life-drawing classes and to paint almost every day in his studio, which was formerly the front living -room of his home.

Born in 1924, his paternal grandfather emigrated from Russia in the 1880s, and his maternal grandfather from Poland. Danny was brought up in Trellis Street, near Bow, in the east End, where his father was a tailor. The family were not religious and he only realised he was Jewish when he was sent to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah.

"My Uncle Charles said, you'll never be a lawyer, I'll get you into something. Well he was a commercial artist and he brought me to learn lettering at the Lawrence David Studio in Chancery Lane. Then I went to work at my uncle's studio in Fetter Lane. I was told what to do but not how to do it, so I watched and learned, all for a pound a week. The Vogue photographic studio was on the same premises. I spent all my time drawing and photo retouching which taught me a lot about the visual world."

Danny had learned a lot in short few years, from lettering and layout, how to use different coloured inks, and very importantly, the discipline of working to deadlines. When the War broke out in 1939 he was evacuated to Kent with his brother. Later he joined the RAF but did not see active service.

In his free time, he visited the National Gallery where most of the displays were of war artists' work.

"I was impressed by Stanley Spencer and Eric Ravilous so I sent war subjects to the RCA, mainly conte pencil drawings washed out with inks, watercolours and white on cartridge paper and oil paintings of air raids."

1947, Danny was accepted to study at the Royal College of Art.

"The college was crowded with demobbed students and it was difficult to get any instruction. fortunately I was able to visit Italy and what I saw there helped me to decide what I wanted to do. I decided to become a mural painter and tell stories about people, places, events, work and games".

Danny's travels abroad were highly influential. In Florence, Venice, Ravenna and Siena, he was impressed by the Italian Primitives. His award-winning murals ( 1952-54) hang in Hammersmith Town Hall depicting life on the Thames and are regarded as modern classics. Some examples of his early work were included in a survey of 1950s British Art at the London Barbican Centre.

Danny's picture for the Chiswick Dog Show 2014

Danny met Margot at a dance in the RCA in 1949. Margot became interested in the theatre and her career moved away from art into designing sets and costumes. The couple moved to Chiswick in 1969, into a house which Danny's parents had bought at the end of the War.

All Danny's paintings and drawings are instantly recognisable for his 'narrative' style and his whimsical touch. Despite leaving the East End in the late 1940s, he has returned there many times over the years sketching buildings and people and street scenes, many of which he uses as inspiration for paintings several years later. From fruit sellers in Hessel Street, to Billingsgate Market, Tower Bridge, Brighton beach, pets, he particularly likes painting cats and dogs (including his own cat Flinty), all appear as characters in his work, and every painting is full of colour and detail. Danny was once described as a "Lowry for Londoners", though he prefers to be seen as an artist who tells stories about everyday life in his work. His work appears to be impressionistic but is actually very detailed.

Danny has had a long association with the Russell Gallery in Putney and has exhibited there on many occasions since the gallery's inception ten years ago. In October 2013 a retrospective exhibition of his work was held there. People have travelled to the Russell from all over England to see and buy Danny's work. He always likes to have people or animals in his pictures, as can be seen in his recent painting of the Chiswick Dog Show (see above).

Underneath the affable personality is a very serious committment to art. He has been a member of the Royal Watercolour society since 1973, the Royal Society of British Artists since 1983 and a keeper of The Royal Society . For many years Danny taught at Sir John Cass School of Art, where his former students remember him with great affection.

Though he and Margot are taking life a little easier these days due to advancing years, he still attends life classes in drawing and says he is "still learning".

"At ninety I've realised I'm reborn- there's no longer a past or a future, you must believe in the now. The past is history, the future is a mystery but the present is a gift."

December 18, 2014

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