‘Old stomping ground’: John Loker outside his former studio on Brick Lane. Photograph: Flowers Gallery

Flowers Gallery in Dalston is to host a six-decade retrospective of John Loker’s work next month to celebrate the renowned British artist’s 80th birthday – half a century after it put on his first ever solo show.

Loker shot to fame alongside David Hockney in the 1960s as part of the so-called “Bradford Mafia” – the nickname given to a group of exciting young artists who met while studying in the city.

His illustrious career has seen his work displayed at institutions including the Tate, the Barbican and the Royal Academy of Arts.

But it all began with his first solo exhibition in 1970 at Mayfair’s Angela Flowers Gallery, which later became known just as Flowers and opened up a second space on Kingsland Road – run by Angela’s son Matthew.

The gallery also has a third location in New York, but it is the Dalston branch that will display Loker’s retrospective, titled Six Decades, from 18 September until 27 October.

Still Life with Flowers, 1966, by John Loker. Image: courtesy of the artist and Flowers Gallery

Loker, who has maintained close ties with the gallery throughout his career, told the Citizen: “Forty-eight years later, it is an exciting prospect to find myself having my first major retrospective and celebrating my 80th birthday back in the old stomping ground where my work first found its direction.”

Loker is no stranger to the East End – he set up a studio in a former school just off Brick Lane in 1976 with a few other artists, where he worked for nearly three decades.

Reminiscing about this period in his life, he said: “At that time I had been making three-dimensional work and was making moves back to painting via photography.

“I was changing, moving to a part of the East End that was also in a state of constant change.”

Although he left the area in 2002, he says he often returns for a “nostalgic wander”.

“I can’t believe its new affluence and now-fashionable status, as I stock up with bagels from the 24-hour bagel shop – which is one of the few things that trends can’t improve,” he added.

“When I moved to the East End I was 33, so my work developed there. I travelled and I was influenced by many experiences, but all the real work happened in east London.”

Group Therapy, 1988-89, by John Loker. Image: courtesy of the artist and Flowers Gallery

Examples of that work will be on display for the retrospective, which takes visitors on a journey from Loker’s early, semi-abstract paintings such as Horizontal (1969) to later nuclear missile-inspired pieces like Group Therapy (1988/89).

It continues with works influenced by Loker’s overseas travels, from the geometric forms evoked by Eastern Europe to the Desert Debris series created in response to his experiences in Australia.

The gallery’s managing director, Matthew Flowers, said: “We are delighted to be marking John Loker’s 80th birthday with a comprehensive exhibition looking back on six decades of his ever-changing oeuvre.

“John has exhibited with Flowers Gallery since its very first year in 1970 and it has been a great pleasure to work with him over the past forty years.

“I have never had any doubt that John was one of the most important artists working in Britain and that one day he would receive his due recognition.”

Six Decades is open from 18 September until 27 October at Flowers Gallery, 82 Kingsland Road, E2 8DP.


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