Local resident Dorrit Dekk (Dorrit Epstein Dekk) died on 29th December at the age of 97. In May 2011 we met her to discuss a forthcoming article which was printed in our June edition. Seven years before she held an exhibition at the Duncan Campbell Gallery in W8, and later a private exhibition with a friend. Sales of her work flew off the walls. Noted for her direct approach, she was genuinely interested in people, of all ages, and of all walks of life. She had been looked after for the past 13 years by Mary, who became a trusted and good friend to Dorrit.
Below is a copy of the original article printed published in June 2011:
Hidden Talent: Dorrit Dekk
“Dorrit, hi, I’m just phoning to thank you for inviting me to your exhibition last night. How are you?” “Oh my dear, well I’m still here, I seem to be completely indestructible” says Dorrit (with a distinct heavy accent), a 94 year old resident of Kensington who still paints, although dismisses the notion she is a ‘fine artist’. Instead she calls herself an art designer and her works range from abstract designs to quirky land/townscapes – with a particular bias for backstreets and their inhabitants.
Dorrit was born in Czechoslovakia but moved to Austria and studied theatre design at the prestigious Kunstgewerbe Schule from 1936-1938. Sadly the War intervened and her professor had to encourage her to leave as suddenly the college was no longer allowed to take any Jewish students. Her month’s English friends provided visas and guarantees, hence her mother, Dorrit and her brother came over to live in London. Dorrit was able to continue her studies at the Reimann School in London. She then worked in the WRMS as a radio intelligence officer, intercepting E-boat signals.
Later, as work in theatre design after the war was rather scarce, she moved to graphic design and worked for the Central office of Information (1946-1948) producing poster designs and illustrations for this government body. One day a printer came back with one of her posters and asked whey she had not signed it. Explaining her married name was Klatzow and maiden name Fuhrmann she did not eel either of these lent themselves very well to a signature. he asked what her initials were – DKK. So with the insertion of an ‘E’ Dorrit’s pen name became DEKK (signed for evermore in capitals). From the 1950s she ran her own (and very successful) design practice, when a chance conversation led her to designing a stand entitled ‘People at Play’ of the Land Traveller part of the Festival of Britain. The subject of the stand was British Sports and Games and included a large mural across the stand. This proved very popular and Dorrit is one of the few surviving contributors to the Festival of Britain exhibition. She can be seen on interview at the 60th Anniversary celebration being shown at the Southbank Centre.
Dorrit has always worked in gouache but her main medium in collage which she used for her posters and now for her paintings. Her works are bright and fun with unusual depth and texture. Hence when she starts on a piece there is no plan (“it just happens”), no idea of the end result, but rather an evolvement of what “jewels happen to be lying on the floor” at th time. This might seem a somewhat unorthodox approach to ‘art’ but then Picasso was famous for much the same approach!
Dorrit has lived in Airlie Gardens since the late 60s and must be one of the rfew people who can remember the beautiful Victorian water tower and the line of oak trees (now Kensington Heights). From her roof terrace she used to be able to see as far as Highgate Cemetery. It clearly still irks her that in the early 1970s Sir John Betjeman would not support a band of women chaining themselves to the oak tree in order to prevent the planning permission.
Just over ten years ago Dorrit had a stroke and since that time has had to use a wheel chair to get about. Years later on one of her ‘get a bouts’ and just before her 90th birthday, Dorrit met Duncan Campbell of the Duncan Campbell Gallery. Duncan encouraged her to have an exhibition, but she felt at 90 she was too old to work, and even more, to hold a solo exhibition. But she did – the exhibition was a huge success and gave many the opportunity to buy her works. As a result of Duncan “giving her a reason to live” she now continues to ‘work’ in the afternoon and just last month gave another (and extremely successful) private exhibition.
Like most ‘older’ people we interview for this page we never have room to mention all the aspects of Dorrit’s life; her first love of her life: a “handsome, brilliant physicist” who died in the war, or her second husband. But for the purpose of this article, she is a graphic artist and painter. And someone who remains, certainly at the time of writing, completely indestructible.
Copyright: The Kensington Magazine