Gerry's Pompeii

Gerry's Pompeii

First published: Winter 2019

In a modest little flat and garden backing onto a canal, London’s outsider art discovery of a decade has just been unearthed

Gerry Dalton was a lovely man. That’s what his neighbours say. They also like what he did with his place. Located in an ordinary street in Westbourne Park, in west London, it is a ground-floor, social-housing flat with a garden that backs on to the Grand Union Canal. Dalton died recently and for now the property is uninhabited. Actually, strictly speaking, it is not uninhabited. It is populated with Dalton’s artwork. In the garden are dozens of knee-high statues made of concrete and mixed media. Historical figures, military heroes, members of royalty, Roman emperors, poets and other famous people are lined up in rows, like soldiers, wearing reclaimed, sparkling objects, like military decoration, and each boasting a concrete scrawled nameplate. At the end of the garden, down a few steps on to the canal bank, are yet more statues. They are standing guard along a 50-metre-long wall painted grey and studded all over with decorative tiles, fancy doorknobs, plaques, padlocks, a Jack Daniels hip flask, and other quirky market-stall finds. Facing outwards, the mural is an astonishing sight to behold for passersby on the canal or its towpath.

 

Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, Titus, Vespasian, 'The Mighty Caesars', cast concrete, house paint, found gems, 10 x 73 x 5 in. / 26 x 185 x 13 cm, 1996–2019, photo: Jill Mead

Inside the small flat itself there is also a treasure-trove of the late artist’s creative output. The walls are hung, all over, very neatly, with Dalton’s vivid paintings and collages of royalty, each one framed and titled. And carefully positioned on the floor are 20 or so models of famous British buildings – such as Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral – complete with removeable roofs which when lifted reveal rooms decorated in tiny, meticulous detail.

This interior and exterior sculptural environment is Dalton’s unique vision of history, which he spent the last 30 years or so of his life quietly creating, at one point nicknaming it “Gerry’s Pompeii”. His choice of creative hobby for his retirement days could not have been predicted from his early life. Born in 1935, in Athlone on the River Shannon in Ireland, Dalton was brought up on the family farm which dealt in livestock and vegetables. He and his sister Kitty went to school locally but, as he said, they “didn’t get much education really, too much time taken up with Irish language instead of other subjects we should have been doing”. His formal education ended prematurely when he became too ill with asthma to go to lessons.

The war was on, times were hard and the young Dalton did his bit for the family working on the farm. And, although technically underage, he did time in the army for a while too: “Doing just duty, you know. I didn’t shoot anybody”. With his strong work ethic, he went on to a lifetime of almost constant employment in a variety of jobs, crossing paths with people from all walks of life, from factory workers and postal porters to film stars and royalty.
 

This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #104