Thursday night in East London, out and about hunting down art. Enough has been spilled already on these pages in terms of the demise of First Thursday, enough of the negative, what about the positives found last night? Was anything discovered on the first Thursday of November? Was the East End alive with the sounds and smells of art? Were the streets abound with creativity, was squalor alive in every corner? Was the east end of London Alive with engagement and open gallery doors? Well things were a little scattered and a touch thin on the ground, the art was there, a little hard to find, but it was out there, art was encountered both out on the gallery walls and on streets.
Roads were walked, art space explored, Stolen Space, Whitechapel Gallery, along Brick Lane, up to Rivington Street in search of Revolution, cut through Redchurch Street in the hope of something True, First Thursday events are thin on the ground and the events that are happening are scattered high and wide, scattered all over the East. The official First Thursday website offered nothing and well, the First Thursday of the month in East London is not quiet what it once was. Art is out there though, and as we may have said already recently, art excites.
What did we find? What was out there? is the First Thursday of the month just another day in East London now? You can find a handful of art show opening on any given Thursday around the back streets of Hackney, Shoreditch, Dalston and such. Art is still happening, disconnected now but there and happening all the same. So what did we find (beyond the neon light shops and the painted white vans that are the new trains), what did we find on the first Thursday of November?.
Here then are the five stand out things from a night of free beer, expensive beer, outrageously overpriced beer, not so good almost reasonably priced beer and the occasional cold gin (You know it’ll always win). We discovered bands, art, book readings, galleries, female artists lost to history and brought back by herstory, names on brown envelopes, we did quite a bit of walking the streets in the hope of an unexpected encounter, there were bits of The Krah, the latest bit of Bay Watch vandalism, was that a new Oust? There were giant glowing Soundgarden billboards, dogs, stik figures, toilet walls and there was… Well here’s a list of five, we know how much you internet types like lists, click bait, hook line and sinker, here comes the list….
FIVE POSITIVE THINGS FROM NOVEMBER FIRST THURSDAY…
1 EVOCA1 and JASON WOODSIDE – Stolen Space had two shows opening in their two gallery rooms, Jason Woodside’s show is a treat, a show alive with vivid colour, a review went up on these fractured pages yesterday, we make no apology for repeating those words and photos again here today, really is an uplifting show.
Woodside’s paintings occupied the back room, hung beautifully on the raw brick walls, meanwhile the front room was alive with the painterly warmth of a new solo show from Dominican born artist Evoca1. A figurative painter and muralist based in South Florida. an autodidact, paintings birthed via an art education gained from the “compulsive study of the old masters works and techniques. His works are a personal reflection on life as well as from observation, focusing on human behaviours and social struggles”.
Apparently this is a new body of work that has been coming together over the last couple of years ‘This exhibition of oil paintings, and drawings will reflect on what we endure through our lives overcoming childhood struggles and experiences. The stories portrayed in the work are based on personal child experiences and from observations during my travels. These circumstances that range from corporal punishment/discipline to child labor, have been the main focus of my work and have been a means to shine a light on these social issues that children involuntarily endure around the world.” These are deliciously created paintings, and yes it is a pleasure to discover two rooms alive with “proper” painting, two very different rooms and styles excellently put together by Stolen Space. Evoca1 has a free style, the delicate detail and attention paid to the subjects makes for a compelling body of story-telling (or story suggesting) portraits. The painting of lips, the look into eyes, and of course the photos here do the art no justice whatsoever, the big paintings really do need to be seen in the flesh, this is a fine show of fine art, a fine present, a fine right now, classical art for these muralist days of streetwise painters, things really out there, art really out there, old for new as it were. And what is the story behind those painted lips or the bound hands or.. ?
New York based artist Jason Woodside’s latest solo show opened at East London’s Stolen Space last night, a room full of beautifully slick paintings hung perfectly on those raw brick walls of the gallery. Woodside’s very bold work is alive with vivid colour, with contrasting layers of simple, geometric patterns. The paintings kind of look like piles of textiles, piece of clothing, flat colour though, no texture, no sense of a texture, well almost flat colour, there’s some very clever playing with depth and dimension, some delightful shadowplay that almost requires you go try to lift a layer to reveal more of the next..You’d have to be a really cynical artsnob to not feel good in here with these bold colours, with these gloriously bright canvases alive with graphic goodness, with these very clever pieces of simplicity that are making people smile (and no smartarse mentions of Paper Chase). Rather like Hackney’s own born and bred Charlie McFarley, Jason Woodside “brings the bright colours to the concrete jungle of his hometown of New York City and around the world”. Known for creating huge murals and apparently widely recognised as a leader go the ‘post-graffiti movement’, he is indeed pushing the boundaries of what traditional urban art is (and thankfully not a hint of a Mickey Mouse with a gun, a bad Bowie stencil or another damn rat holding another damn balloon). And yes, there is a bright optimism here, a kinetic uplift, this is gloriously bold, crisp beautifully performed, a dance of confident colour, shape and parallel play. Excellent show, Impossible not to smile in here with Jason’s clean lines. Another excellent art show, another triumph, do go refresh yourself
2 THE BRICKLAYERS ARMS TOILETS:: Our First Thursday ourney took us from Mare Street and A quick look inside Space Studios, past the top of the ghostly Vyner Street where even the bars at the top of the street looked dead and the railings free of bikes where once there would have been hundreds chained up by the people getting there early for the art. Do hope the rich kid self-proclaimed regeneration architect and impact entrepreneur feels good about how he’s arrogantly ripped several communities apart and replaced them with very very little). Up past the Roman Road (there just wasn’t time to head for Roman Road Gallery and that Natallia LL show that does look intriguing, we will check it out in the next couple of days). Up to Stolen Space via The Whitechapel Gallery itself – there’s a William Kentridge show alongside other things but really the stifled formality of a big gallery is not what we want on a First Thursday. Tonight we need cutting edge art in strange places, we need artists doing it for themselves, we need unexpected performance, cross-pollination, we need attitude, we need energy, we need to be challenged, we need to be astounded, astonished. Stolen Space was a decent enough start to the evening’s adventure but really in truth, Stolen Space is almost the urban art establishment now with their glossy coffee-table street art books on sale and no, Stolen Space, as good as the two shows currently on their walls are, won’t quite do for tonight.
The painted and tagged graff’d-up white vans of Whitechapel look good in the early evening street lights and the chaos that is the end of the market, but where is the real art? Where’s the excitement, where’s the challenge? Where is the cutting edge art? The searching of the streets goes one, the looking for those hidden doors and basement spaces that First Thursday was once so alive with, those tell-tale signs of a gathering outside a front door? There’s a show called Objects of Desire in a basement hairdressers on Redchurch Street, a London-based painter called Michael Gurry. The very small venue is cramped, the intentions are good but they surely could do things in a far more viewer-friendly way down those steep stairs? Gurry’s work looks raw, his paintings look like they might be primitively interesting, like they might have some energy and edge, if only we could see them properly and if only someone had though that the art might just be a little more important that the crisps and the cheap red wine.
“My practice is an attempt to dissolve the myth of separateness we often feel as human beings. Through the work I am exploring the departure or return of our connection to the natural world” or so the artist said. Further investigation of the art of Michael Gurry will have to wait for another day (a day without the crisps, and a hang people can actually see). Good to see an art show happening down in a basement hair-dressers, they maybe need to re-think the layout down there just a little…
We head for the red door of Studio 1.1 – almost the last gallery on Redchurch Street – as pointed out last week, you never quite know what’s going to be happening in the defiant Redchurch Street art space. There usually is something to explore behind that red door, tonight Charles Williams has some paintings. More of Williams and Studio 1.1 in a minute. Studio 1.1 was rewarding, see part three. Charles Williams kept us off the street for a while before the search continued. Off we went in search of the promise of Revolution on Rivington Street, via a quick pint in the Bricklayers Arms where we have to say the layers and layers (and layers) of tags and names on the stained red paint and the grime of half torn stickers in the toilets and the smoking area might just offer some of the best art we saw all night..
3: CHARLES WILLIAMS: Louise Bourgeois And Me – A solo exhibition of paintings and narrative by Charles Williams at Studio1.1. – ‘I can’t paint nothing,’ Charles Williams says, ‘I would like to, but I cannot. My recent series of still life paintings started as an attempt to escape the tyranny of meaning and narrative by painting things and not people, but quickly fell into a meditation on mortality that led to my getting the horrors when I painted them. I cannot escape the figure because painting is a means of dragging out things about my own existence from my mind and making them ‘real’ in front of me, and hoping for validation from other people.’
And it is heartening to see so much actual painting tonight, must confess to having no idea who Charles Williams is, I could read the gallery blurb, bluff it and talk about how he “paints and re-paints the Russian Protestor seen in a tv documentary, making a public demonstration in the only legal way in Russia today, as a person on his own holding a placard on which nothing is written. Making, of course, a perfectly clear statement” but that really would a cop-out on, any fool in a red hat can cut ‘n paste a gallery statement and make out they know what they’re talking about. I know nothing about Charles Williams and his paintings, I know nothing “of the greengrocer and the butcher set up as Chardin might have done, to observe, and demonstrate to us, how the light falls on the different textures of glass and peachskin and eviscerated rabbit”. There is a pleasure in paint, and if you can shove the people with their bottles of beer wine out-of-the-way of the art (very busy in here), then there’s some fruitful paintings in here, paintings the artist clearly needed to paint – painting really isn’t a choice, having to paint is almost a burden and “that orange isn’t one we particularly want to own, and eat. Though we might want to buy the painting”, something good going on here whoever Charles Williams is. .
“We tell each other stories, we paint pictures to share something of our world, an impossibility of course. So we approximate and hope for the best. Your reality probably doesn’t look like mine and ‘I gotta use words when I talk to you’: here’s an apple, a skull, a Russian gay rights protester…”
“Charles Williams was born in Evanston, Illinois. He lives and paints in Faversham, Kent. What he tells or shows you exists, as Auden put it, in the valley of its saying”. Charles Williams is at Studio 1.1 on Redchurch Street, London, E2 7DG, until November 27th. The gallery is open from Thursday to Sunday each week, 12 to 6 pm (or by appointment)
4: PERSONAL BEST – The quest for art continued, we ddin;t find much more before giving up in favour of a hopefully better pint that the one at the Bricklayers. Who’s at The Old Blue Last? No idea, let’s go see, the bands are usually decent, entry is often free and the beer might be (very) over priced but it is usually half-decent and well the search for art appears to be over for the evening, the last gallery really was that fruitful and let’s go drink beer and….
Personal Best are a feisty throwback, alive with 90’s indie pop energy, “spirited power-pop and blissed-out indierama” so they say – “spirited” is a good word, not sure how blissed-out they are live, there’s a lot of positive indie pop energy up on that stage (and indeed around the room). I guess what comes around goes around, we could be in the back room of the Falcon or over at the Sausage Machine or the downstairs bar of the Monarch (before the fly infestation), this tastes of 1994 and zines and seven-inch DIY singles and everything good about the spirit of indie pop, that bloke from Org Records was overheard to say something about how he would have wanted to sign them immediately back in the day. Personal Best are brilliant actually, they’re breezy, powerful, they have an edge, a personality and like all the best feisty indie pop bands they’re not afraid to “sing unashamedly about love; exhilaration and the anxiety of being in love, realising what you have but being scared to lose it”, Personal best are a breeze, they taste of innocence, of the poppy hope of youth. Third on the bill and full of energy, This Is What We look Like is an anthem, it grabs the room from the off, and they look like they’re enjoying it so much up there…
And as tempting as is was to hang about for headliners Doe, the night was still young and there was still a need for art and paint and galleries and Happy Accident were pretty good as well but tonight is about the search for what remains of First Thursday We need more art! What’s that over there? There’s people gathered outside a building over there, is that an art show? L’etrangere appears to be open and with it just a hint of First Thursday and that thing about accidentally coming across an unexpected art show, L’etrangere is a gallery in Charlotte Road
It seemed to me that the interrelation between these two sides: order in nature on the one side, and the human condition on the other, was the undefinable drama to be grasped, dealt with and communicated by me.– Franciszka Themerson, Bi-abstract Pictures, 1957
We appear to have stumbled upon a solo exhibition of paintings, drawings and calligrammes by Franciszka Themerson – “a seminal figure in the Polish pre-war avant-garde. She developed her unique pictorial language during the shifting years of pre- and post-war Europe, having settled in Britain in 1943. Together with her husband, writer, poet and filmmaker, Stefan Themerson, she was involved with experimental film and avant-garde publishing. Her personal domain, however, focused on painting, drawing, theatre sets and costume design”. This is what it was (and occasionally still is) about, just going out there and finding art, spotting another art gallery or gathering and going and finding out
L’etrangere is busy, a little too busy to really see the art, to rudely push past the groups of friends talking and drinking wine, difficult to get to the lines and thoughts, and there are some rather fine lines in here in the white frames on the white walls. A show to return to and explore properly now we’ve had a small taste – and that was always the thing about First Thursday, scout out the new shows and then return if they entice enough – Franciszka Themerson Lines and Thoughts is on from 4th November until the 16th December at L’etrangere, 44a Charlotte Road, London, EC2A 3PD.
5: ALICE WROE‘S HerStory – Back at Whitechapel Art Gallery at the start of the evening there was a table of brown envelopes with names written on them. Herstory is apparently something set up by Alice Wroe and “uses feminist art to engage people with the women’s history absent in the curriculum”. The names on the envelopes are the names of female artists apparently ignored by history and tonight Alice Wroe and her team are busy explaining it all in a very excited way to anyone who wants to go over to her table and engage with them. You can follow the project over via Twitter and
@herstory_uk – “championing women artists, rupturing the canon!” so she says. As for what was in the envelope, come back later when we’ve explore the contents, I took the envelope above, we’ll tell you what was in it tomorrow….
And that was out slice of First Thursday November 2016. We didn’t get to every gallery, a physical impossibility to get to all points East in one night, we did fine some good art though, and a good band or two (we didn’t really find a decent pint, the gin wasn’t bad though), we’ve got some envelopes to explore (thanks Alice) and well, art still excites and East London still delivers, not quite like it once did but the art is still out there, the galleries are hanging on, occasionally a new one manages to open, and you can’t quite kill that spirit on the streets. Art Excites, London excites, more tomorrow (and the day after), now let me go explore Hilda Af klint, “a Swedish artist and mystic whose paintings were amongst the first abstract art. A considerable body of ..”. (sw)
Click on an image to enlarge or run the fractured slide show….