This work is a large rectangular oil painting by the British artist Leon Kossoff depicting a semi-abstract, elevated view of an area of north-west London. The scene is mostly rendered in thick lines and patches of yellow, blue, grey, white and orange-brown paint. In the painting’s foreground, metal structures are shown suspending a set of electrical wires above a railway track, and the track itself can be seen receding into the distance, giving the painting a sense of depth. In the background is a clouded sky, a horizon made up of buildings and trees and, to the left, a large bright yellow building with what appear to be chimneys rising from its top. The abstract style of this scene and its dark palette make it difficult to identify individual forms among the painting’s mass of lines, although the scene becomes more easily decipherable when the viewer stands a short distance away from the painting.
Kossoff made this work in 1971 in his Willesden Green studio, which he had occupied since 1968 and which was located a short distance from the part of London depicted in the painting. Before applying paint to the board, Kossoff drew the scene multiple times from life and in his studio, both on paper and on the board itself. This practice stemmed from Kossoff’s belief that drawing was an essential part of the process of painting. He stated in 1986 that ‘drawing is a springing to life in the presence of the friend in the studio or in the sunlit summer streets of London … painting is a deepening of this process’ (quoted in Annely Juda Fine Art 2013, p.18).
As the title of this painting suggests, the train tracks that are shown in the work are those of Willesden Junction railway station. Kossoff had lived in Willesden Junction from 1963 to 1968, only moving to Willesden Green when his studio flooded, and he made many paintings of the station during this time and throughout the 1970s, when this work was produced (see, for example, Willesden Junction, Summer 1966 1966, Alfred East Art Gallery, Kettering). He worked on each one sporadically, often exploring a possible view of the Junction for several years before he began to make the final painting. In 1996 he described this process:
The paint is mixed before starting – there is always more than one board around to start another version. The process goes on a long time, sometimes a year or two. Though other things are happening in my life which affect me, the image that I might leave appears moments after scraping, as a response to a slight change of movement or light.
(Quoted in Leon Kossoff from the Early Years, exhibition catalogue, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York 2009, p.7.)
In a 2013 interview with the art critic Charlotte Higgins, Kossoff observed that ‘something happens when you see Willesden Junction stretching out in front of you. What else can you do but draw it?’ (quoted in Higgins 2013, accessed 4 December 2014). In this same interview Higgins argued that the continued appeal of Kossoff’s Willesden Junction works is connected to the fact that although they are ‘the kind of landscapes that many people would hesitate to regard as “scenic”’, they nonetheless ‘carry their own rough loveliness’ (Higgins 2013, accessed 4 December 2014).
Kossoff is well known for his paintings and drawings that depict scenes of his native London, and this work is typical of the expressionist style that has earned the artist increasing renown since the mid-1950s. Kossoff is part of the influential School of London, a group of painters working in London during the 1960s and 1970s that included R.B. Kitaj, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and Francis Bacon. Although only loosely considered an art historical movement, the School of London explored new approaches to figurative drawing and painting at a time when art had become dominated by minimalism and conceptualism.
Paul Moorhouse, Leon Kossoff, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1996, pp.18–20.
Leon Kossoff: London Landscapes, exhibition catalogue, Annely Juda Fine Art, London 2013.
Charlotte Higgins, ‘Leon Kossoff’s Love Affair with London’, Guardian, 27 April 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/apr/27/leon-kossoff-love-affair-london, accessed 4 December 2014.