Art on the Island

London City Island is a place where art and creativity flourish. The Islander caught up with Trinity Art Gallery founder Ian Felton to learn why this is and his role in the Island’s creative vision

To say that Ian Felton has had a varied career would be quite the understatement. Although “career” is probably the wrong term for someone who, in his own words, hasn’t had ‘a proper job’ since leaving school at 16.

The son of a technical draughtsman who learned to draw at a young age, Felton initially pursued a career as a DJ, aged 17, before his love of BMX took him to an unexpected career in extreme sports. First, he established a skateboard distribution company, then a snowboarding brand with his graphic designer brother. An amateur snowboarder himself, Felton entered competitions before switching to broadcasting, where he worked briefly as a commentator and announcer at British and American snowboarding championships. He describes this time as ‘incredibly fun and crazy’, albeit not without its challenges. ‘Over three decades of living the artist’s way you can achieve and learn a lot,’ he says. ‘I always say: “If you work for money, you get money. If you work for love, you get love.” It was a choice I made a long time ago.’•-LCI_website_July_ArtOnTheIsland2.jpg

Image from Dock Lands People, by Michele Turriani

Creativity has always been the driving force of Felton’s life and career, which ultimately led him to establish Trinity Art Gallery at London City Island in 2017. The roots of the gallery stretch back much further, to when Felton was selling his own paintings in a car park in Greenwich. The self-taught painter was asked to lead an art market in the Greenwich space with fellow creatives – dubbed the “Arts Collective” – who later moved to studio spaces at Trinity Buoy Wharf.

‘Before City Island or Goodluck Hope were built, we were based on a small piece of land at the southern tip of Leamouth Peninsula, under a lighthouse where the River Lea meets the Thames,’ Felton recalls. ‘It was a shelter and sanctuary for an artistic community, and we had so much fun.’•-LCI_website_July_ArtOnTheIsland3.jpg

Trinity Art Studios

Over three decades of living the artist’s way you can achieve and learn a lot. I always say: “If you work for money, you get money. If you work for love, you get love.” It was a choice I made a long time ago

Ian Felton, Trinity Art Gallery

Having been based at these studios for 16 years, Felton saw City Island ‘grow out of the ground’. As he watched the Island slowly take shape, he was approached by the developer to supply art to one of the on-site buildings, before being offered a commercial space to set up a pop-up art gallery. The rest is history.

‘The thing that inspires me most about London City Island is the vision and excitement it generates from the designers and the developers to create a destination for the arts and creatives. Their passion for the project is genuine and I’ve been enjoying assisting them to fulfil their vision.’

Unlike certain areas of London that, for various reasons, attract artists and grow organically as creative hubs – often unexpectedly – Felton makes no bones about the fact that London City Island’s creative nature was more orchestrated.

‘It was designed that way,’ he says, simply. ‘The developer took a very bold step in attempting to create an environment for arts and creativity to flourish. I think they took a big gamble, firstly bringing in English National Ballet, then making space for arebyte Studios and Gallery and Sokari [Higgwe] with London Lighthouse Gallery, then us with Trinity Art Gallery.’•-LCI_website_July_ArtOnTheIsland4.jpg

Image from Dock Lands People, by Michele Turriani•-LCI_website_July_ArtOnTheIsland5.jpg

London Lighthouse Gallery & Studio, another artistic neighbour of Trinity Art Gallery

In a short period of time this community has rapidly expanded, and Felton is enthusiastic about how his neighbours and fellow creatives inspire him. Even those who would traditionally fall outside of the “artist” label. He namechecks Dantae Johnson, founder of The Woods Studios (‘rarely do Dantae and I meet without coming up with a great collaborative idea’) and MasterChef champ Sven-Hanson Britt.

‘I only met Sven last year. He is a chef but, more importantly, he is an artist whose medium happens to be cooking. When he speaks my mind creates visuals. He is abundant with ideas.’

The seeds of a creative community can be planted but it’s only through hard work, passion and support that those seeds can flourish. Trinity Art Gallery is now in its fourth year, and Felton has plans to introduce performing arts alongside the usual painting, sculpture and photography. The gallery’s most recent exhibition was a photographic essay, Dock Lands People, by Michele Turriani, funded by Royal Docks and the Mayor of London. There’s also a collection of paintings by Lithuanian-born artist Rita Krupaviciute, who Felton helped out with studio space and has watched go from strength to strength.•-LCI_website_July_ArtOnTheIsland6.jpg

Image from Dock Lands People, by Michele Turriani

“I like art to have genuine expression; a representation of something the artist wants to share with us. I’m striving to deliver art that carries true sentiment”

Ian Felton, Trinity Art Gallery

A self-taught painter with an unconventional career path, Felton is similarly drawn to artists he has a connection with, rather than those with high profiles or who are commercially minded.

‘We represent artists who we meet and who we like; both them and their artworks,’ he explains. ‘Most of these artists tend to be ones who have some kind of connection to the local area. I’m not particularly interested in decorative wall art. I like art to have genuine expression; a representation of something the artist wants to share with us. I’m striving to deliver art that carries true sentiment. I also consider it our job as a gallery not just to represent artists but also to encourage and cultivate art collectors.’•-LCI_website_July_ArtOnTheIsland7-768x1007.jpg

Nucleus by Natanya Barrett, based at London City Island•-LCI_website_July_ArtOnTheIsland8-768x1007.jpg

Penny Farthing sculpture by Andrew Baldwin, based at Trinity Buoy Wharf

Art has been a cornerstone of London City Island since its inception, and there’s plenty of artistic activity on the horizon.

First up are plans for The Line, a public sculpture trail from Stratford to Greenwich, to soon incorporate London City Island, followed by the unveiling of an installation by visual artist Rana Begum. This year also saw the unveiling of Nucleus, a bronze sculpture by artist Natanya Barrett in a small public garden on the Island. ‘It is a proper piece of art; something to engage with and reflect on,’ Felton muses. ‘It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and some might find it challenging and even disturbing, but many good art pieces do that to us.’

“The world falls silent around me when I paint. It holds such personal value to me”

Ian Felton, Trinity Art Gallery•-LCI_website_July_ArtOnTheIsland9.jpg

As for Felton himself, he is busy planning a ‘whole cabaret of live acts’ at his gallery and acknowledges that the public sculpture at City Island ‘has only just begun’. He is also hoping to host a solo show in the near future, something which he hasn’t done since 2015. He may be a man of many talents and interests, but painting is his passion and something he describes as ‘creative therapy’.

‘The world falls silent around me when I paint,’ he explains. ‘It holds such personal value to me, not in a commercial sense but in a soul connectivity sense. I like to approach a blank canvas, squeeze some oil paint onto the pallet, pick up a brush, start painting and see what comes out of my mind. I go on a journey. My thoughts transform themselves into colour, bleeding onto the canvas. I watch what shapes they take and how they react when they meet other colours. If I have conflict in my mind, I like to see it pour onto the canvas where I can make better sense of it and find resolve. Painting helps me understand myself better and, on a good day, it takes me beyond myself to a point where I no longer exist in thought but rather as pure presence.’

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Words by Gemma Billington
Photography from Trinity Art Gallery, London Lighthouse Gallery & Studio and Amy Murrell