He died alone in his apartment. Then his work went viral.

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Whenever Alan Warburton saw George Westren walking the halls of their London building, his neighbor carried a blue canvas messenger bag.

“I always speculated on what it was carrying,” said Warburton, 41, who was chatting with Westren about the building’s below-average weather or water pressure.

After years of wondering what Westren was keeping in his tattered blue bag, Warburton finally got his answer last week: he was carrying his own artwork – which, in a cruel twist, nearly ended up in the trash .

It all started about a year ago when neighbors realized they hadn’t seen Westren in a while and called the police. He was found dead in his small rented apartment, where he had lived alone since 1999. He was 75 years old.

“It kept bothering me,” Warburton, also an artist, said of his neighbor’s unexpected death.

Warburton, who lives with his partner in the unit below Westren, decided to try to find out more about him.

After a quick Google search, Warburton learned that his neighbor had faced addiction issues and turned to art to help him heal.

“As an artist myself, I felt a kinship with George,” Warburton said, adding that the cause of Westren’s death has not been publicly disclosed.

Westren’s apartment remained as he had left it for a year, until June 20, when a crew hired by the local housing association suddenly showed up to empty it. From his unit below, Warburton – unsure why a year passed before the unit was cleared – heard the din.

He ventured upstairs, where he saw six workers rummaging through Westren’s belongings. Hundreds of felt-tip drawings, he soon saw, were piled around the unit. They were all heading for the trash can.

Warburton soon realized he was the only person standing between his neighbour’s meticulous abstract work and the trash can. He remembers thinking, “If I don’t save George’s work, I’ll probably regret it for the rest of my life.

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He grabbed as many works of art as he could and brought them back to his apartment, making several trips. He spent the next few hours wiping dust from stacks of wallets, admiring his neighbour’s geometric creations.

“I’ve just seen hundreds of these beautiful, pristine works of art,” said Warburton, who tried to track down Westren’s family members to give them the art, though he didn’t get a response. chance. “They are professional quality. He had talent. »

“I wanted people to see that,” Warburton said. “You don’t just save beautiful works of art from the trash every day.”

Warburton told the story in a Twitter feed, which quickly circulated with thousands of shares, likes and comments. Throughout the thread, he shared images of Westren’s work.

“George Westren, nice boy. From what I know he had a tough life but art was a lifeline for him,” Warburton wrote in a tweet.

“It’s such a privilege to see all this work that must have been carefully amassed over the years, each one took so much patience and control,” he says in another.

Comments poured in, many of them from people who knew and admired Westren and his works. Warburton was delighted.

“The most charming and sweetest man!” someone wrote. “One of his pieces is in my hallway. Thanks for sharing and for saving his work.

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“I remember George saying that making art gave him focus and helped him live with purpose,” another tweet read. “We absolutely have to do something to help preserve his work.”

Warburton privately connected with people who knew Westren well in hopes of finding out more about him.

Kim Noble, for her part, helped shed some light on Westren’s life. He was Westren’s art instructor for almost two decades.

Noble, 47, ran an art group for people with mental health issues, and Westren was an early member of the weekly class. When they met, Westren was living on the streets.

“He was homeless for quite a long time in his life and he really struggled with alcoholism,” Noble said. “He had no interest in art, then one day he went to an exhibition to protect himself from the rain.”

The exhibit was the work of Bridget Riley, a British painter famous for her op art paintings. Westren was inspired by it.

“He saw something in those pictures, and he kind of started drawing. He became an artist,” Noble said. “As he used to say, it saved his life.”

He quit drinking and got an apartment in an affordable housing community, where he eventually died and where Warburton lives today, Noble said. In his later years, art was everyone in Westren.

“The process for George was just as important as the outcome,” he said. “He was drawing and drawing and drawing.”

To Noble’s knowledge, Westren never married or had children, although “George is a very private person,” he said. “That group and his friends within that group were his family.”

Noble also knew that despite being a quiet man, Westren wanted his art to have an audience. He once attended an art show for Noble, bringing a small portfolio of his own designs to display.

“He wanted people to see his work,” Noble said, adding that he included Westren in several episodes of a series of podcasts he recorded in 2020. In a segment on mental health and fear, Westren was asked how he copes in tough times. .

“Just go on and fight the world. It’s not an easy fight,” he replied.

When Noble learned that his friend had died, “I was pretty gutted,” he said. “He was a good man.”

His classmates did not sign his yearbook. The older students then intervened.

Henry McWilliams, who has lived in the same building as Westren and Warburton for more than 20 years, said Westren was a kind neighbor and was never without a portfolio of designs.

“Every day he would go off and try to get it to show somewhere,” McWilliams, 71, said. “It’s a shame he passed before he got recognition.”

Now, however, “he won’t be forgotten,” McWilliams said.

Warburton tries to see this through. His goal, he said, is to “give George the legacy he deserves”.

After countless people on social media and in London asked buy westren art, Warburton hatched a plan. Although he does not sell the original designs, he has made prints of 30 unique pieces. They can now be ordered online and the proceeds will be used to create an exhibition of Westren’s work and preserve it in perpetuity, he said. Any additional funds will be donated to a cause that would have been dear to Westren, Warburton said, adding, “I just want to do the right thing for George.”

It’s a bittersweet story, he says, sad and beautiful at the same time.

“The story behind the work is really what gives it meaning,” Warburton said. “If people can attach meaning to art, it becomes infinitely valuable.”

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