Monday, July 24, 2006

In Search of Art...

On Saturday Crazy G and I decided to explore South East London in search of cultural interest. We headed to Temporary Contemporary, who've been going a couple of years, but the space wasn't open. Then we discovered the excellent new gallery 'Mashed Potato' in the same building as TC at the Old Seager Distillery Building. Their current show is 'Muscular Pet', an exhibition of work by an artistic collective of recent graduates called Black Cube.

Our favourite piece was by David Atkins, who makes sensitive plantlife out of tissue paper and watercolour. It was fragile and tiny, sprouting from middle of the floor and only about 20cms high. We were so busy chatting to one of the artists in the show, that we almost missed it. In fact we would have missed had it not been pointed out (just in time... it was in danger of being destroyed by G's big clumsy feet).

There was no info on the artists though. It was a big room full of interesting work but no information on who was who or even a mention of the collective's website. I guess you had to ask (which I happily did) but a lot of people wouldn't.

Wandered to the Bear Space gallery up in Deptford High Street, which according to the listings opens at 12 but we were there at 12.45 and all was locked and dark. Galleries being closed when they're supposed to be open actually make me quietly furious. It's a crime against artists in my book because the gallery can never second guess who's planning to pop down. I've been lucky a few times with reviewers for example with no inkling or notice that any luck was on the cards (it's an odd sensation opening The Independent on the tube and seeing that you're 'Pick of the Week'... one of those pinch me moments) . Not opening the gallery when you're supposed to removes any sort of lucky chance for the artist and gets my goat, frankly.

Anyway, thankfully APT (Art in Perpetuity Trust) were open. I've seen the place listed for years and often thought 'Creekside' sounded like a cool address: sort of dropsically dickensian and narrow, lots of old wood, with willow trees and tidal reflections (in reality it's a dusty slip road through an industrial estate).

APT is huge, with a long-standing block of artists studios attached that subsidise the gallery space. We enjoyed Alex Ramsey's exhibition 'Nowhere Special'. Alex lives and works in Ladywell and teaches at Central St.Martins. His paintings are big and dark, lots of paynes greys and inky-stained backgrounds with strange signs and symbols scattered all over in waveringly unsteady white chalk. The chalkings falter and fade in and out across the large canvases, like snippets of stories or chattering voices struggling to be heard. Alex was invigilating his own show (a braver man than me) "I'm the artist!... can't you tell by my scuffy t-shirt?" so we had an interesting chat about South East London. Talking to Alex reminded me how much I enjoy talking to older artists.

After that we had a look at the Laban Centre which I thought was mildly terrific (but not blow-your-head-off terrific) then continued towards Greenwich into more familiar territory, but unfortunately it started raining and we decided to cut our Cultural Exploration short. Greenwich is definately a sunny sort of place, or an autumnal one, so we went round the sales in Canary Wharf instead. I purchased a veritable bounty. A 'tootal' blue and white stripy silk scarf with tassles, a skull and crossbones tie from Cecil Gee (I'll buy anything with skulls on, it's the goth in me), and a pinstripe waistcoat (a bargain at £12). I also toyed with the idea of a panama hat from John Lewis but decided it might look a bit silly.

I must admit artistically speaking I've given South East London a wide berth for several years. There used to be a superb project space called Gallery Fresh on Greenwich High Road in about 1999. They did some great group shows called Disaster, Concrete Jungle, Go Girl Show Girl and Diamond Geezers and were always in Time Out. I did two solo shows with them. The first was practically a sell out, with the great and the good beating a path to the door, but the second kicked off (or rather spluttered into life) with a lacklustre private view on a dark and rainy October night in 2000 with a grand total of about six people over two hours. The opening was inexplicable and an omen of things to come as I sold one piece for £500 when I needed £5,000. Living solely off my work at the time meant that I lost my flat in the aftermath and art and South-East London have not sat well with me ever since!

I intend to resume cultural explorations into South East London again soon; if anyone has any suggestions of venues I might not have come across I'd be grateful.