Monday Monday and a chance to grab a breath after a rather intense couple of weeks and two rather busy shows, two of the three parts of the latest Cultivate month-long Columbia Road Takeover, that and Deptford X and that Can I get A Slice show over at Atom Gallery that opened a week ago and well, way too busy with the actual getting on with the doing of art to find time to be writing about it. And It was rather positively intense down Columbia Road last Thursday evening with the coming together of the very busy Nothing is Square group show and a short can-throw away the simultaneous opening of the My Dog Sighs solo show upstairs at Nelly Duff. Two opening nights, two shows pretty much across the street from each other, one from Cultivate and the other with quite a lot of Cultivate association – it very nearly almost felt like those much missed days of Vyner Street. As you probably know, the artist known as My Dog Sighs made most of his early London moves via the walls of Cultivate during those Vyner Street days some seven or eight years ago – that In Rust We Trust show that really did mark his arrival, that Rust show has become almost semi-mythical now, if I’Ludicrous were still around they’d probably be telling preposterous tales of once seeing a My Dog Sighs show down Vyner Street (now then, now then), tales of the lines of people that started in the morning for a show opening at 6pm, the fight for the cans and those beautiful rusty canvas pieces, that My Dog Sighs show back there when Cultivate lived in Vyner Street was one hell of a show. A lot of dirty water has flowed under a lot of spray-painted bridges since then of course, our paths haven’t really crossed that much in recent times, the slick urban street art world and the galleries you find My Dog’s art hanging in now and the (dare we say) more left-field artistic paths we’ve follow at Cultivate haven’t really brought us together that much in recent times. We don’t really do slick graphic urban art at Cultivate, it was good to see both shows enjoying big crowds though, good to see a lot of crossing from the Shipton side of the street to the Nelly Duff side (and vice versa of course), a lot of faces we hadn’t seen for quite a while and it is “interesting” to see how often the various art worlds just don’t crossover, so many people at our show on Thursday night who had no idea that the long-established Nelly Duff gallery even existed or indeed had no real idea about who My Dog Sighs actually is, come on people get out of your safe little art boxes, you might just find a reward or two outside your own little bubbles, My Dog is part of the Cultivate family, good to see him doing so well, he’s one of those who doesn’t try to brush old history under the door mat, may he bark long and hard…
So the Nothing is Square show is a Cultivate show, the show opened last Thursday, the show is happening right now, we put it on (and it did take some putting on!) You surely know by now that Cultivate is something run by us Organ people, well those of us with our art heads on rather than out Other Rock flavoured radioheads, Cultivate is an ever evolving artist-led thing run my myself and painter (and sometimes installation maker) Emma Harvey, Cultivate and Organ are very very closely associated and yes we are blowing our own damn trumpets yet again – hey, if we don’t do it then who the hell will? I don’t see the self-appointed London art press getting out and covering any of these things do you?, We don’t expect the likes of Artlyst or FAD or the rest of them to come out and actually get their boots dirty at one of our shows any time soon – or for that matter I don’t see that many of the many many other shows we regularly cover on these fractured pages being covered by any of them, you don’t really see the art press getting out and covering anything much that’s slightly outside their safely zones and the fact of the matter is last Thursday evening we had two packed galleries, two very busy opening nights and a whole load of proactive artists sharing quite an expansive, slightly drunken, rather happening rather exciting evening.
Okay,so we can’t blow our own trumpets that much (it was a damn fine opening and it is a damn fine show though, we do need to blow a little bit), Nothing is Square was (and is) a show featuring 25 invited artists and 97 pieces of identically sized art. 97 slices of art, one piece on a plinth, 96 hanging in a very regimented way on the three white gallery walls. The idea was simple, and no, we’re probably not the first to come up with the concept. The idea was the strict demand that the invited artists all work on exactly the same 20cm square canvas, it seemed like too much for some, we had ot be strict about it, if you didn;t obey the one and only rule then you simply didn’t get in. The hope was that a whole load of diverse artists, styles, thoughts, abstract paint manipulators, pop art printers, situationists, a film maker, a figurative portraitist, and whole mix of things could come together and be hung in a way that united the whole collection as one,
Personally I’m really pleased with how Nothing is Square flows as one whole thing, with the conversations between the carefully placed pieces, with the way it feels in the gallery – and those who know me know well I’m hardly ever truly pleased with a show or a hang – I’m really pleased with the rhythm of Nothing is Square, but we can’t be blowing our own trumpets, it really isn’t our place to say these things, (hey, if no one else is going to document these shows and things then we damn well will! say it, we’ve been inviting the guy from Artlyst to our shows for eight years now, he hasn’t bothered coming to one yet, so many good art shows going uncovered these days unless we do it here of these pages). Nothing is Square works, we’re very nearly pleased with it, she’s pleased with it, I’m pleased with it – lots (and lots) of people came, people reacted in a positive way,, lots of photos were posted on people’s social media feeds, lots of people ‘liked’ lots of people’s posts, art sold on the night, art has sold since, fun was had, people drank, friendships were formed, a Huge Baby contributed, another Huge Baby showed up, someone brought some rather deadly home made blackberry wine (can you bring some more? It was rather good), people talked, people shouted is a positive way, good to see some of the local residents from the estate behind the gallery at the opening (the locals from the estate are one of my favourite things about that gallery), the cat came in, it all went on way past closing time. Hey, we can;t be blowing trumpets, you’ve got a whole load of photos down there, a fractured slide show to run – and as good as it was we can’t really be blowing our own trumpets about it like this – and no I can’t be picking out individual artists or answering the constant question about which of the ninety-odd pieces is my favourite, I love the whole thing, I think we might do it again now that people have got the idea …
it was packed on out side of the street, wasn’t much time to get over to Nelly Duff where the My Dog Sighs opening was happening upstairs above what I guess you would call an urban art shop mostly full of slick prints in slick frames and such, My Dog Sighs had an small solo show, something called Crylong, apparently a reference to old school spray paint, Krylon, and the original excitement of that Martha Cooper book back in the day (come on, none of us could get our hands on that Krylon stuff back in the day, it was all about Halford’s and getting past the guy on the till who wanted to know why you needed so many colours just to respray your dad’s car). I have to confess here, My Dog has got a little slick for my tastes these days – no doubt the guy can seriously paint, and if you like your street art slick then My Dog is up there with the slickest, and those faces do still have individual character, you still can’t help but pick out your favourite as they catch your eye and almost wink at you,, and it is good to see him doing so well, but it is all a little too safe for me these days. That rust show back there was so alive with risk-taking texture, there were canvas pieces up on the wall back there that people petty much ignored in the scramble for frames cans, there were pieces up on that wall in Vyner Street that really did excite. This time around we’re talking slick prints, graphic colour And perfectly executed hand-painted cans, and yes Mr Dog deserves all the admiration he rightly gets but I need a few more risks, I need him to take off his safety belt and take a risk or two, make a few more off-kilter moves, throw a little curveball or two and not be afraid to miss once in a while/ I want more rust, more texture, more danger, more flaws, more mistakes – and this is something that hits me again and again with so-called urban artists at the moment, the Moniker/upfest mentality, everything is way way too slick, way too safe, way too obvious, way too well behaved – get the limited edition print out there, get the coffee table book out, don’t challenge yourself or anyone else too much, keep it neat now, be “the bomb” and let them tell you you’re “smashing it”. Hey look, I like My Dog, I like the person, I like the art, I love that so many people love what he does, I love that his night was busy, that his show was full, that people were lining up before it opened yet again but, like most of what I see the street artists doing now, it is all just a little too polite and rule-obeying – go on, I love you to bits, but break your own rules and get out of your comfort zone just a little bit, go on, cut your finger on a bit of rust, take a risk! We did go back for another look on the Friday without all the crowds and the distraction of meeting of people and the having to rush back to our side of the street, do like the glint in the eyes of some of those faces on some of those old cans, good on My Dog, excellent, but there were four or five paintings on canvas in that original Cultivate In Rust We Trust show back there that he’s never really quite touched on again and I do so wish he would. Hey look, I fully admit I don’t get the limited edition print culture, I like my paint to be alive, I like my art flawed rather than “perfect”, i don;t like perfect frames, “slick” is not a word I get on with, good on the Dog though, really pleased to see him doing so well. Great show, great night, great vibe in the street, good when things happen in more than one space, when it all comes together like it did last Thursday, not that Nelly was that bothered – did she even notice? We need more coordination, we need more galleries and curators and artists coming together and making things happen at the same time, it isn’t a competition, audiences need to be considered, lots of people came out on Thursday because they were getting two shows rather than just one, The East London art scene is way way too disjointed these days, last Thursday felt a little like it was five or six years back, it almost accidentally came together back then, it needs a little more effort, a bit more talking and a bit unity to make it happen like that now, we got a taste of it last Thursday over on Columbia Road…
Anyway, never mind the dogs or the squares or that Stefdies swore for the very first time, we’re half way through another of our Month-long Cultivate Columbia Road take overs, the third time we’ve done it at that Shipton Street space now. This the whole takeover thing kicked off at the start of the month with a short sharp two day weekend show, a kind of installation thing, and yes, you guessed it, more damn blowing of our own damn trumpets – a show led by Emma Harvey and her on-going questions about Joan Jett, about Joan Jett or chips? About what Joan Jett might do about any of it? Another Harvey and Worrall show, a kind of follow up to that time and that show in that East London Edwardian dressmaker’s shop a couple of years ago, that and this year’s Art Car Boot Fair adventures from Emma – a two day show called Chips, Starz, What Would Joan Jett do? Just a two day show, no opening night, partly out of respect for and consideration of the Atom Gallery Can I get A Slice show that opened the evening of November 1st, no way did we want to distract from that one – a fund raising benefit event for the Hackney Foodbank feature something like fifty invited artists all painting or printing on or in pizza boxes, we didn’t want people coming to our show rather than heading over to North London for that one (and anyway we both had work in the pizza box show), and anyway, why does there always need to be an “opening”? We put up the work on the Friday, we went off for a pizza at Atom Gallery, then we opened on the Saturday morning and we closed it all on the Sunday evening – bang, rocking at least six times, a short sharp two day art show over one weekend down by the Columbia Road flower market.
A two person show yes, but a show that really was all about Emma Harvey and her big wall of Joans – there wasn’t a print release, none of them were on sale, it was one piece of art, 96 very (very) bright handmade punk rock lino prints alive with dayglo attitude, what would Joan Jett do? No one’s permission was needed, no one’s reputation was cared for. Sure, there were two artists sharing the space, I was the other one, but it really was all about that head-to-foot wall of glorious Joan Jett riot-grrrl-fuelled dayglo intensity. The wall looked brilliant, it was exciting, people reacted, “Oh I loved Joan Jett”, “who is Joan Jett?”, “we must go home and ask Alexa to play some Joan Jett”, the council Roadsweeper went past singing “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” very loudly, people came down to have their photos taken in front of it all, I knew it was going to be dayglo-bright, the photos go nowhere near capturing how bright it actually was, 96 Joan Jetts on the wall and a couple of Joan Jett tapestry pieces as well, I loved it, they loved it, I’m pretty surer Joan would love it, Yes, it started off as a two person show but it really was all about Emma (and Joan) this time/ I kind of knew what she was going to do so I reacted with some old gig posters from my days when I was silly enough to put gigs on as well as run a record label and sit in the back of transit vans touring the land and such,, old dayglo gig posters full of ancient history, that and one last Organ t-shirt left from the end of the last century – there’s been a whole roll of old gig posters up on a shelf in the corner of the studio for years, forgotten about half of those gigs – oh and an old piece of art from way way back, an old textile piece, a resist print from a screen print and a leafy line-drawing (no it wasn’t Batik!) See, it was always about leaves (check some of those old record sleeves, they’ve all got leaves Growing on them). Anyway, a two day show, a whole load of old Organ history dusted off for one last time and a whole load of recent paintings on found recycled pieces of wood picked up off the street or out of skips all hung in response to the wall of punk rock on Emma’s side of the gallery. It really was all about that wall of Joans though, that wall looked brilliant and I don’t care what you think about me saying so (sw)
The Nothing is Square show, featuring ANITA KUTSAROVA, DAY BOWMAN, EMMA HARVEY, JAMES BELL, JAMES JOHNSTON, JOHN GATERCOLE, JOSEPH SAKOILSKY, KELDA STORM, MADELEINE STRINDBERG, MANDEE GAGE, MARY T SPENCE, MATT ATKINS, MIA-JANE HARRIS, QUIET BRITISH ACCENT, SAL JONES, SEAN WORRALL, STEFDIES, STEPHEN HARWOOD, SUSIE HAMILTON, SUZIE PINDAR (aka The Naked Artist), TONY BERKMAN, TRIBAMBUKA, TWINKLE TROUGHTON, VESNA PARCHET and YULIA ROBINSON goes on for one more weekend, 11am until 5pm on November 16th/17th (or by appointment via us at Cultivate before that) at Shipton Street Gallery, Shipton Street, off Columbia Road, London E2 7RZ We take it all down and put up a Yulia Robinson show for the last week of the takeover, we’ll probably blow trumpets about that one as well.
The My Dog Sighs show is upstairs at Nelly Duff until November 14th. You find Nelly Duff at 156 Columbia Road, London, E2 7RG
As always, click on an image to enlarge or to run the fractured slide show (and if was you who made the blackberry wine, bring some more next time) .