Ed Gray Art



The development of the Emirates Painting

A long standing desire to paint about football in London coincided the centenary of the team’s relocation from Woolwich to Highbury. I set aside other paintings and began working with a passion and fury from some sketches I had made of fans gathering in the January cold on several matchdays. My aim was to celebrate the dedication of the fans gathering beneath their icons so I set the scene beneath the large murals on the side of the Emirates stadium for a match against Manchester City, to create a painting within a painting.

Progreess is slow and I redraw the painting over and over again, almost finishing it at one point. Always in the back of my mind is the feeling that the result is lacking in the spirit and the energy of the crowd. It is a devastating realisation when I finally let go of it but at this point I am unable to unite the dual persepectives of the crowd swarming up the steps and those milling about at the top of the steps. I can’t evoke the movement and energy of the crowd.

Seven months later and I’m reworking again.  I realise more than ever now that the painting is about faith  and belief: the faith of the fans in their team and the faith of this artist in his abilities. Careful study of Gentile Fabriano’s beautiful ‘Adoration of the Magi ’ 1423 (Uffizi, Florence) and Sandro Boticelli ‘s  similar Adoration scene has enlivened the composition and afirmed my desire to rework it with a renewed sense of self belief.

Gentile Fabriano ‘The Adoration of the Magi ’ 1423 (Uffizi, Florence)

Sandro Boticelli ‘The Adoration of the Magi ’ 1475 (Uffizi, Florence)

The realisation  that my painting was a kind of  modern day  adoration painting gave me the inspiration to unite the composition and capture the sense of the anxious, superstious,  prayerful, sustenance- seeking, jostling, faithful, bantering crowd had come to worship at the shrine. I think again about the gestures the fans were making when I first made the sketches and I try to fill the painting with the devotional energy I had gained from the Adoration scenes.      

A lone City fan sneeks passed the assembling fans towards the Gents: predicting a two nil victory, navigating through horse dung, he is literally ‘taking the piss’.  Another cheekily tweaks the golden balls of a man in an Arsenal jester’s cap reading the Gooner fanzine- ‘Pull the other one it’s got bells on it!...’- doubt is evidently present amongst the faithful gathering for battle.

The ‘Stadium Tours’ sign spells out ‘Dium’ meaning  ‘Blessed’ in Latin. We are on hallowed ground. The fans make the climb to the top of the steps hoping for a similar climb in the division. The pointing hands of the red and white army form the shapes of the cannon, and the ground  is scattered with oak leaves and  laurel leaves singifying the ancient military roots of this London team that will endure; father to son to grandson and on and on.  A man stands facing the stadium in silent contemplation- dates on his hat relate to the club’s history in the area.

A supplicant raises his hands in prayer, gazing upwards to past gods Berkgamp, Hapgood, George . The Emirates slogan reveals one word- ‘Fly’. Hopes are raised and ready to soar above the crowd.

The yellow gravel bucket reads ‘Grit and Salt’ – determination and sweat are the currency needed to overcome defeat  today. An elderly fan’s foot accidently kicks the bucket as he walks by, his hand making a fist with all the fight he can muster. The sun bursts through the dark winter clouds, beams illuminating the golden Emirates logo. Could this be a portent of better things to come?

Ed Gray  Rotherhithe 2014