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Berwick Street, Soho

Jesus Army John tells me about the spirit of Jesus and asks if I have any place to stay tonight. I am in the gutter, painting Berwick Street in Soho. Its a cold wet night in December and I think I better slow down now and get some warmth-and thank the Lord, it feels like the job is done. I started the painting a few days ago. The recky raised a number of problems- notably how I was going to transport all my gear down here when there is little or no parking. I needed somewhere to sort the stuff so traipsed around the area going from one seedy shop to another. To start with it was research - trying to find something interesting and new to feed into my new dark work. Then it became an issue of practicalities - somewhere to store my board and paints while I did the work- all I would have to do is catch the tube in and get the stuff out. "Eros- mags and vids" was most obliging,. It took a bit of time, "come back this time tomorrow, "and then , "he'll be over in a couple of hours" Carlos wanted me to meet the other "owner", Brian to give the green light to my project. The deal, as usual, was an offer of free prints of my work in exchange for the use of their premises.

Its a hellish place here at night. Red lights , shady figures, drugs, violence, secrecy and deceit. In the day time there is a busy market, selling pans full of aubergines or fresh ginger for a pound. Great bargains compared to supermarket prices. I am working under an overhang, with boarded up shops behind where the market chaps store their fruit and veg- and the porn seller keep their original copies. Father sells grapes and his son sells group sex. The night comes quickly and the market slows down. Bulgarian road sweepers laugh at the hypocrisy of capitalism. Crack head pimps entice bespectacled suits to see the girls upstairs. I work away until cold slows my ability to think and I loose my balance. At least I don't have to take all my gear home.

I feel embarrassed walking into Eros. Through the hang down blinds in primary colour. There are a few men in the shop. studious in their research- engrossed in thoughts of gross indecencies. Carlos is gushing when I show him my work- and invites his customers to give their opinion. It's a humorous situation as they talk eloquently on the subject of art, serious in their judgments and opinions while behind them rows and rows of the smuttiest images known to mankind. They buy their films, handing over an original box, getting a VHS copy in a brown paper bag.

Gary works for the rest of the week on nights. He is into art as his Dad used to hang out with Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud. His dad ran illegal drinking dens, he tells me, and "had a right old laugh, he did." His dad paints in his bedroom now, and his clothes stink of turps and paint. Gary is Soho born and bred. The other owner is Carlos and he has 5 more days until the new moon ends his fasting. His wife doesn't know what he does for a living and he's been doing it for 25 years. " it used to be a good business, he tells me, when I was a young, you ducked and dived. But now its so different - "they raid us 'cause we got no license, and take our stock. " So I'm on the pavement with Jesus Army John thinking I was with the others - and silver foil cigarettes hanging from their top lip. John was in the real Army and it wasn't until he was thirty until he was really saved, then he cried and cried and realised that he had done a lot of bad things but he didn't want to tell me what they were.