New York-born artist Valerie Phillips’ tenth book is, she says, “a journey through London, pie and mash shops, Victorian dinosaurs, Lycamobile branded shopfronts and dragons galore.”
This is what the capital “looks like, really looks like”, she adds. Entitled Alice in Londonland, after the titular young muse who appears in most of the images, it shows us “the beauty and the bizarre in the corner shops, the caffs, the back alleys, the pot plants, pubs and the peeling paint.”
The pair walked “and talked and took pictures all day, lots of days,” she says. “Alice would ask unpredictable questions and make me laugh non stop.”
And much of it was shot in Valerie’s adopted manor of Kentish Town, where she’s lived for thirteen years. Drained by the constant moving for freelance jobs, she took a “self-imposed” break from travelling, taking a year to enjoy and explore her home surroundings in London.
And it was this that led her to see her north London habitat in a new light, becoming an explorer in her own backyard (a very Kentishtowner aesthetic, in fact). Here she talks us through her favourite local images – in her own words.
Mario’s menu board
“Mario’s is more than a cafe to me, it’s my self appointed clubhouse. He’s changed the menu board a few times since I’ve lived in the area, and this one is my absolute favourite. When gentrification took over Farringdon and I was kicked out of my studio there, I set up in our house in Kentish Town. Mario’s became my go to spot to meet friends, edit photos, write, clear my head, chat with the interesting eccentric regulars and have a laugh with the legendary Mario. And of course eat my favourite breakfast – skinny cappuccino and sour dough toast. The best around. I usually eat my breakfast in the afternoon.”
“Kentish Town has somewhat held its ground amongst the hipster, tech, and food-served-in-a-glass, invasion of east. As as well as the mass gentrification of everywhere else. Of course it’s got an unnecessary amount of high street coffee chains but the neighbourhood is, for the most part, nicely overlooked if you turn almost any corner. That makes a great hideout for strange and ancient buildings, shops and oddities the bulldozers have missed.”
Parliament Hill Mansions/ Pang’s Fish Bar
“I love the Arts and Crafts mansion blocks in Lissenden Gardens, built when late Victorian merged into Edwardian. The insanely beautiful tiled entrance ways make me happy every time I pass by on the way to the Heath. The man who built them was the first to bring electricity to Hampstead after making his fortune in automatic vending machines.
“This image is paired with another local classic – Pang’s Fish Bar and Chinese Food on Kentish Town Road. The interior and photo menus remind me of early 1990s London before the city discovered other types of food were available. I think I lived on a vegetable chow mein for £1.00 most days for the first few years I lived in London – though that was south, and it was no fun.
“I love everything about Pang’s – the chips are delicious, the owners are super nice and happy to share interesting facts about the place – its subtle changes over the years, including the signage. The pink and turquoise colour combo frontage is somehow perfectly in tune with the mix ‘n’ match of the area.”
“I’m not overly excited by the played-out street art images of Amy Winehouse all over the adjoining Camden, but I’m a massive fan of collage. If you throw in an outerspace reference I’m pretty excited. This piece strangely includes a scribbled mention of some other “Alice” which is nicely synchronistic.”
Main image: Valerie Phillips