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Locked out of galleries, Londoners find Caravaggio street art

Londoners locked out of galleries can find an alternative art fix on a wall under under some railway arches after street artist Lionel Stanhope painted a Caravaggio classic, updated for the coronavirus age.

The Italian baroque master’s “Supper at Emmaus” is usually available to view at the National Gallery in London, but with that shut, Stanhope’s giant interpretation is now on show in Ladywell, southeast London.

Lockdown has given the artist the time and the quieter streets to replicate a painting he said he has always admired and wanted to do on a large scale.

“I thought I wanted something that was going to take me some time, you know, quite a long time to do, just to get through the days of not doing anything else, so that’s why I took it on,” Stanhope told Reuters.

The artist is best known for his giant green and gold place-name murals near railway stations, a trend which in recent years has fostered local pride and provided a backdrop for outdoor food markets.

But since the virus shut down normal life in March, the 52-year-old artist has been unable to carry on with his commissions, and has instead turned his attention to the pandemic.

Caravaggio’s 1601 painting depicts a resurrected Jesus appearing to two of his disciples at a table spread with a meal. In Stanhope’s spray-painted version, Jesus is wearing surgical gloves.

“Christ is wearing a pair of blue gloves, just to make it relevant for today of what we’re all going through,” Stanhope said.

He also recently completed a mural tribute to healthcare workers under a bridge near London’s busiest rail station, Waterloo, and close to St Thomas’s hospital, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson was treated for COVID-19.

Stanhope asked Network Rail, owner of the bridge, if they had a wall he could use to say thank you to the National Health Service. In the mural, the NHS acronym is given the superman treatment and seen bursting from a blue chest in red and yellow.

“There’s a lot of street artists doing a lot of NHS work at the moment which is really nice to see,” Stanhope said by phone, adding that the pandemic was giving more meaning to street art.

“I think a lot more street artists that I know of, who would normally paint their own kind of work, are just putting a twist on it to make it relevant, and to maybe thank the NHS or key workers, or message about the coronavirus,” he said.

His Caravaggio is hidden away in a cul de sac but he said people were heading down on their daily lockdown exercise to have a look, and he had enjoyed the positive response on social media.

But now, after using up all his spare paint, he is keen to get back to real life.

“I need some paid work now … I’m hoping that on Sunday when we hear about the government’s proposals that I might be able to start doing some other work,” he said.

The government will review the lockdown this week and the Prime Minister is expected to set out a roadmap for easing restrictions on Sunday.