Early morning muse

Brighton artist moved to paint Clerkenwell’s buildings by Oliver Bennett 

‘5:37AM’ by Tony Mills
‘5:37AM’ by Tony Mills

This painting of a building on St John Street EC1 – called 5:37AM, after the time of day it was painted – is by Tony Mills. Something of the light captures the dawn atmosphere, which came out of Tony’s early morning perambulations in the area during lockdown, when – against the general flow – he moved into London. 

“I moved from Brighton to be with my girlfriend in Islington about ten months ago and in lockdown took up running,” says Tony. “I’d never run before and found it a great way to explore London. I found myself running from Angel into Clerkenwell and that’s when I saw this Ingersoll building.I thought: gosh, there’s something about it and decided to paint it.” 

As Tony relates, the precision of the time in the title is about the early morning and also a nod to Ingersoll itself, which used to make watches here when the building was a factory in the 1930s. 

Tony has wanted to be an artist since he was young. “I grew up with family and friends thinking I’d make a career out of art in some way,” he says. “But then that turned into the idea that I should do a “real job”. About 10 years ago, a friend of mine told him to start painting and he went to an evening class and started painting. 

Then another event then moved Tony to truly follow his calling. Five years ago, his son Scott died unexpectedly aged 18. Then in Brighton, Tony spent the first year after the awful experience “in a daze”, then decided he needed to do something. 

He befriended a homeless man who lived on the seafront in a bus shelter and asked if he could paint his picture, with a view to selling it and donating the fee to him. A woman in Australia bought it online, while Tony sold prints, and it went so well that Tony painted eight other homeless people, raising £26,000 to give them a fresh start.

“It was a win-win – good for them and good for me as well too,” he says. “I needed a focus, they needed some help, and if people liked the paintings, the money they paid would help get somebody off the street.” 

Tony is always looking for interesting buildings and will take commissions. 5:37AM, in acrylic, is for sale at £2,300 (40inchesx30inches) and unframed prints are available at £60 for A3, £120 for A2 and £240 for A1. 

Get in touch with Tony at tonymills.com