Things get a little fractured when you’re knee-deep in fruit down by the flower market. Solo shows are interesting things, you learn a lot about yourself as well as others, about how people view you, how they view your art, you learn a little more about how you see things, about the sideways feel of it all and there’s no time for villains and Iron Hoof or Captain Pride or long walks to Stoke Newington via that tower in Hackney this week, things are way to busy with all the fruit and the people and the slightly crazy French woman who bought a plub for her wife or the Ccokney geezer who walked our with a “what is the bleedin’ point mate?” . Busy fruit-packed week but we really can’t let two openings that happened back at the very end of March before pass without a word or two, one the shows is still on and well worth a moment of your time, the other has been and gone now, but hey, you put on a show, no one mentions it,, these things need recording….
The Fields Beneath happened up those tihght twisting stairs at St. Augustine’s Tower, Hackney, it takes quite a bit of concentration to clime those steps. The Fields Beneath seemed intriguing, a show full of promise, a “Hymn to an empty building. Vacant lot. A scratched graffiti the first sign of life, scraped back to reveal the fields beneath” so they said, What were we to make of that? Who knows? The venue was an exciting prospect, and those images of the art we were told we could expect that were out there as part of the advance publicity did look rather intriguing –
– ”We are three artists with a history of living, working and art making in the forgotten corners, architectural oubliettes and urban interstices of this most multi layered, trans temporal metropolis of them all… London! We were attracted by St Augustine’s Tower as a unique exponent of these qualities of a living urban history. We share a sense of ‘psycho geography’ – the exploration of urban environments that emphasises playfulness and drifting. The term “psycho geography” was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.” It has also variously been defined as “a total dissolution of boundaries between art and life”, also “a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities… just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape”. These strategies for survival in an ever evolving urban environment are, I think, to be found in different ways in our individual approaches to making art. Psychogeography is perhaps most immediately identifiable in Pete’s street photography, using an ancient Nokia camera phone to capture and re-contextualise glimpses of the hoardings and temporary structures of urban regeneration/gentrification. However if you retrace the steps taken by Rocco to retrieve the fragments and echoes of industrial processes he uses in his day to day work life, you can glimpse the same restless energy for dissolving the boundaries between art and work, and for an almost pastoral joy in the materiality of things.For myself I suggest that my art comes from a need to create narrative structures that incorporate or contextualise the disparate forms of my body and the world into matrix within which I can live. I suggest that this romantic relationship with the material world feels more urgent than ever before with the arrival of the new communities and structures of social media, globalisation and the online worlds adding to the overcrowding of human experience. Each of us three urban “flaneurs” has brought to this special building the results of his own enquiry and response to the post-industrial environment. Exploring a mishmash of themes ranging from the fetishisation and alienating effects of work and the workplace, the materiality of the body, and the location of the humane within the industrial . We invite newcomers to discover St Augustine’s tower for themselves, it is a historical gem, hiding in plain sight (site?), in the midst of the Hackney you thought you knew… Hope you can make it”. Adam Zoltowski.
The opening night of the show in the tower was busy, three artists, Adam Zoltowski, Rocco Turino and Pete Burke, the light was low, the evening was a dark one, the people and the lack of light made the steps of the tower even more difficult to negotiate, but you see, that was the thing, we were all marvelling at the tower, the names scratched into the wall, “1776”, early Hackney graff! And what where those images of a building carved into the wood and those names and look at the view and the workings of the clock and you really did have to pay close close attention to every foot placed on those tight twisty steps as others tried to climb up or down. Amazing place, amazing building, magical and well where’s the art? True there was a big foot in the gloom (how did they get that up there?) and a rather intriguing piece hanging from the ceiling but so much of it was lost in the noise of the information boards telling us about the tower, that or piece just propped against the wall and lost in the low light or the distraction of, well the distraction of everything else. As an event it was excellent, as an art show, maybe not so much, the words talked the talk, the show statement and such, but the walk all kind of got lost in the walking up those steps and everything else which is a damn shame, I suspect there might have been something good lurking? The artists didn’t quite engage with the building or those visiting the building, they kind of let the place take all the attention, it was rather good climbing those steps and negotiating through small doorways and out on to the roof though…
Off to Atom Gallery over in Stoke Newington then. now graphic art is not my thing, comics are not my thing, superheroes are not my thing,(well besides Sean Scully maybe), and in all honesty i wasn’t really sure who Villain was, but those images had something about them those names of the superheroes, the text, the actual imagery, the pop art subverting of it all, the playful twisting around the horn of the familiar superhero comic book iconography. Atom is a specialist print gallery, with a print works underneath, that glass floor that allows you to see the print studio underneath the gallery is almost as disturbing as those twisting steps of St.Augustine’s tower, don’t step on the glass. Half the small shop-like gallery features whatever the current exhibiting artist is, the other side of the space features a revolving collection of Atom’s “greatest hits”, familiar images for those with half an eye on London’s street flavoured urvan pop art print making scene (do they know about Atom Seed I wonder? The Lost Tribe and such ). Villain is a larger than life graphic designer who apparently has been working in the London fashion business for the last twenty or so years, he;s a delight actually, happy to talk, to laugh, he very much like is art, and his art is great fun. You have to get up close, read the details, the playful twists of rhyming slang, Iron Hoof indeed, his mischievous play on polari, a London thing, an East End thing so some say, “a secretive language widely used by the British gay community from the 1900s to the 1970s”, back when the law of the land meant things had to be a little more secretive, a little more coded, a language based on slang words deriving from a variety of different sources, including rhyming slang, and backslang (spelling words backwards), a mix of all kinds of subcultures –
. “Polari is a form of cant slang used in Britain by some actors, circus and fairground showmen, professional wrestlers, merchant navy sailors, criminals, prostitutes, and the gay subculture. There is some debate about its origins, but it can be traced back to at least the 19th century and possibly the 16th century”/ Villain’s superhero take on polari is brilliant actually, his prints are beautiful fun, his palette just right as his his humour, there’s a bold charm to it all, a serious point to but those comic book covers are amusing, “have you seen what it says there in the bottom corner”, and if you don’t know over there in California or wherever you happen to be reading this then insulting someone back in the 79’s or 80’s (or maybe even now?) by calling them an “Iron” came from the slang, iron hoof, poof, and there he is on the wall , Iron Hoof, what a superhero! The whole thing is brilliant, excellent art, great conversation, friendly space, and you do rather suspect those comic book covers are going to be big news sometime very soon, get in on it now while you can afford them… (sw)
“Fantabuloso – graphic art by Villain” is on until 20th April whenever that maybe. Atom Gallery is at 127 Green Lanes, London N16 9DA. The 341 and 141 bus routes run past the gallery, the gallery is also a ten minute walk from Canonbury Station (London Overground)
Click on an image to enlarge or to run the fractured slide show.