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Stephen McCann


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Audio interview with Stephen McCann

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McCann, Stephen (Subject of)


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In 1976 we were evicted from the home we lived in. It was terrible, it was really depressing. And this is our introduction to Hackney you know, this is my introduction to leaving the promised land of Islington into something I thought was like flat land. It was all flat round Hackney, you know, and I always remember it. I remember Highgate and all that was hilly. I thought like it was a place you could get flooded or something. So moving into Hackney was like moving into another world really. What do you do once you go over that step into Hackney you know. And we moved to a place called Pembury Estate. And it was good, it was not a bad flat, but I was going through my own devils, and I was introduced to AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, and I started to go there and I did eventually stop drinking. That was over thirty years ago, you know, thirty-one years ago, like. I was always interested in art. And that’s one of the things that came out of when I was drinking, I did this art therapy sort of thing.

I got introduced to art, and it was like a spiritual awakening for me. I had this opportunity to stop drinking and drugging and get into the world of art. A lot of people, you know, seem to be okay about drinking, drugs. And I had a friend and we both went to see an exhibition of Lucian Freud’s work and I thought it was fantastic, you know. Sort of what he did as a painter, and I sort of wanted to - I felt as if I was in the club - that it was my destiny to be a painter you know. And I started to go to adult education and I got all the books I could on art and painting. I had that opportunity to stop drinking and I had to take that - to stop doing that, and move on to something which is good, or just die. So I thank god I did move on, and I came out of it. It was very difficult. But I got to love Hackney by then, ‘cause I looked at buildings, and trees, and railway stations and all that and people and I could see in them what Van Gogh might see in people, you know, like features and all that sort of stuff. So eventually I went to adult education - drawing and painting and I really did well there,.

I did lots of paintings around there, but I wanted to try to stick onto Homerton, you know. I went to the old hospital- it’s called Hackney Hospital and in them days, it was, when I went there it was just about phasing out as a secure hospital, It was almost like a sort of a secure unit sort of place. And next to it there was big empty studios - we had like artists were invited to be there. So I went there and I was introduced to this world of mental illness and all that stuff, and it was people with genuine illnesses, mental illnesses and all that, you know. And it was incredible, like in another world you know - like the underworld.

But the East End fascinates me. Like the Kray twins. I didn’t know them, but I did go to their funeral, as a spectator, you know. I remember going to the funeral of Ronnie Kray and Reggie was there. He was escorted by the police and all that sort of stuff, you know. And I remember seeing that. I did a great big painting of him, and I tried to catch the pain in his face, you know. Anyway I left the painting down in Core Arts, it’s been there for years and when I had my last exhibition, that was hanging and one of the psychiatrists actually bought it. She bought the painting. That was six hundred quid, you know. So thank you Reggie! It was really good, and erm… I’m not in the underworld by the way!

Recently I’ve had a book published about my art work and, it was done by Core Art and it’s really nice to think I’ve struggled all these year, years and I’ve got something from it. And I’ve sold a few paintings, you know, which is good for me. And I wanna carry on doing that, you know. I do love art you know. And that’s been thing I’ve kept doing, you know I’m always learning more, I go to the national gallery a lot and I do drawings down there and there’s lots of places in Hackney that you can go to and draw, like Hackney Downs and Springfield Park - I usually take Katherine over there, she likes it, you know. We usually over go there for a tea and, and a walk and all that stuff.
Well, Core Arts was started by Paul Monk and there was another guy and I can’t remember his name now, like I do… I forget his name but there was two of them that started this - they were given the opportunity to have a studio, ‘cause the buildings weren’t being used down at Hackney Hospital, some of them were, it was still a psychiatrist hospital you know. And they allowed artists to go into this building and you could have a bit of space and you could store your work. And I went there for about two years. And Paul was the guy that was running it… and it’s meant to help people that have had mental problems basically. I don’t really know the full story of it all, but I do know that I was one of the first people to go there. And you know, people got into music there, they got recording facilities and they had people that teach you and all that stuff and the same in the art thing, you know - they had art teachers there and all that. There was a lot of people that had just come out of hospital or that had problems, mental health problems, and they were allowed to go there. And they were very good, Core Arts because they, they helped you too with things like your benefit and all that sort of stuff, like you know. There was lots of things going there like and that. So I went there for about two years and Idid my own thing in other places and all that. I’ve gone back there recently ‘cause they published this book on me. And they’ve got quite a few of my paintings. You know, there was all these people coming in there and then there was people that were really crazy and they were throwing bricks around and smashing the windows and all that sort of stuff, you know, and at the same time, you’d be chatting to someone and all of a sudden you’d hear this screaming in the background or a car going ‘eeuuuuueee’ you know, and so it was very much a real thing, a real living experience, and I did get a bit scared a few times, you know like, people talking about cutting up people and that and I thought ‘Ah Christ, Lord - where am I, where have I got to?!’ you know, but nothing like that happened as far as I know. If you misbehaved, they did ban you - some people got banned indefinitely. But it’s helped a lot of people, you know - you can do music down there, like recording sort of music and stuff like that, um but so, so with me I did mainly painting like you know– they’ve got so many things Core Arts, you know, they’ve got so many things that they get people to do, and … you know, it’s only done good I think.

And Core Arts is doing well, it’s in Barnabas Church innit. And Paul’s been the only one I know that’s stuck there, like you know, he’s the one in charge, I think. Recently I sold quite a few paintings and they only took a little bit of interest … Fabulous really ‘cause a lot of people really try to rip you off, especially if you’re a vulnerable artist like. But Core Arts, you know, they’re really good, I’d say that I’d give them full marks for that, you know… they’d better pay me that 200 quid they owe me!