Artist captures east end gangsters in paint

Charles stands before his portrait of the Kray twins

Charles stands before his portrait of the Kray twins - Credit: Archant

In movies gangsters spray walls with bullets and blood, but to preserve a violent chapter in east London’s history, a painter has turned the tables by hanging villains’ portraits on the walls of a favourite drinking den.

A portrait of 'Mad' Frankie Fraser

A portrait of 'Mad' Frankie Fraser - Credit: Archant

Charles Delafeld’s paintings of infamous characters from the world of organised crime will be hung for one night on Sunday at the Arts Theatre Club, famed for being a favourite haunt of the notorious Kray twins.

Explaining why he decided to paint the portraits of some of the capital’s most fearful criminals of the past, Charles said: “We’ve always used painting to document things. I saw it as an important part of our history and I wanted to capture it.”

During the 1950s and 60s, Ronnie and Reginald Kray dominated the organised crime scene in the east end running a protection racket with their gang, known as “The Firm”, as well as carrying out robberies, arson attacks and the murders of rivals Jack “the Hat” McVitie and George Cornell.

The Krays were given life sentences for murdering Cornell and McVitie in 1969, but they were acquitted of the murder of “the Mad Axeman”, Frank Mitchell, who the twins helped to escape from Dartmoor prison in 1966, hiding him in a Barking Road flat until his unpredictable behaviour threatened to expose them all to the police.

Charles's study of the Kray Twins

Charles's study of the Kray Twins - Credit: Archant

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Jailed for life, Ronnie died of a heart attack in Broadmoor’s prison hospital in 1995 with Reggie dying of bladder cancer in 2000.

Charles, 29, commented: “A lot of these people are disappearing. It almost feels like the end of an era. It was a different world back then. You couldn’t do things they did then, now. It was almost like a Western, the way things ran.”

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The Cambridge-based artist, who often paints from photographs using oil colours, started portraying east end villains after designing the cover of “Dodger: Pupil of the Krays” written by former criminal Steve Tully, who befriended Reggie Kray when they met in Parkhurst prison in the 1980s.

Charles, whose taxidermist stepfather worked with artist Damien Hirst on some of his pickled animal installations, has since met several characters from the criminal underworld, including the Black Widow murderer, Linda Calvey.

After the launch, he went on to paint more and more of the area’s infamous gangsters.

“Where I haven’t managed to meet the actual person, I’ve managed to meet the next of kin. As well as documenting these people, it’s important to meet the people themselves.

“Part of it is because I want them to be seen in a different light. I paint them in a more sensitive way. I’ve spent one to one time with them. They’re just like anybody else. But they don’t do anything wild anymore,” Charles explained.

Commenting on the exhibition, the artist, added: “It’s a piece of social history.”

The Gangland Art Exhibition will be at the Arts Theatre Club in Frith Street from 5pm until 10.30pm this Sunday. Visit for ticket details.

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