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Cranky and Idler may sound like sneaky nicknames for your deadwood colleagues but in the hands of artist Clare Woods, they are shimmering takes on the River Thames.

“They’re both sailing terms,” she says. “Cranky’s a knot and an Idler is a fender that hangs over the side of the boat that doesn’t really do anything.”

But don’t look for hidden meanings beyond the obvious nautical link. 

“I collect titles and I write these huge lists, I have thousands of titles. When you make a painting it becomes relevant. But nobody needs to know. They’re a good way in but nobody needs to know.”

Cranky is a scene of Blackfriars (“the bridge is almost like a space ship it’s got this futuristic but very old fashioned feel to it. It’s just quite magical.”) And Idler is the Isle of Dogs foreshore, site of the construction of Brunel’s SS Great Eastern.  

“Industrial heritage is why the river is here. You look at medieval paintings and the river is full of merchant ships and you look at paintings from 1800s and it’s still very busy and that’s what’s left, those traces,” says the artist

The pieces, launched on the same day as Totally Thames festival on Monday, signals an expansion of TfL’s Art On The Underground programme. The posters will appear at river piers including Greenwich and on the Woolwich Ferry as part of the push for more river passengers. 

Southampton-born Clare, who has permanent installations of her work at the Olympic Park, said: “I lived for 15 years in London and the river always felt like a spine that went though the city that was really unused so it’s exciting to help get more people on the river.”

River from the river

Explaining the genesis of her paintings, she said: “I started looking at historical images of the river, the Tate archive, the Transport Museum archive and how the river had been represented. 99% of the time the river is represented from the riverbank so I wanted to get a feel of the river about being on the river. I used to sail so it was very much about being on the water.”

The artist went out on a Port Of London Authority launch and took more than 400 photographs which she worked into six paintings. Each took up to six weeks. 

“I’ve always been very interested in this layered history you get with London. On the river you can actually see that. You’ve got this huge tidal drop and you can see the history – you can see the Georgian steps, see the medieval posts.

“Where the architecture meets the water, that’s the starting point. 

“I also wanted to work in watercolour – it just felt right for the subject and I work in oil a lot and it’s a lot harder, it’s more dense and solid and I wanted something more expressive. Something that, when it’s enlarged, you get a feel of the brushwork and the paper and the movement of the water and river.”