Where were we? East London? All rather fractured in terms of art now, and that’s way before we consider Covid and the various shades of lockdown that have kept us out of galleries for the last fifteen months. The picture is a little depressing when you get back out there, the developers have been busy, so many galleries knocked down or converted, fancy new unaffordable buildings emerging, most of Herald Street is now a building site, there’s something that won’t be for the likes of us spouting up where once Red Gallery and the Foundry throbbed with life, Vyner Street has of course long since gone and is now mostly forgotten, Redchurch Street long since lost to the soulless designer labels and over-priced coffee shops, lost save for the defiant space that is still Studio 1.1. Shipton Street Gallery is now home to a furniture dealer, even the Rivington Street space where the Black and White Building was is now a building site. Pure Evil long since stopped putting on shows in his space(s), and beside the handful of commercial minded urban art flavoured commercial galleries regularly putting on shows – Jealous, StolenSpace, Well Hung – there is very little left now, we’ve grasped at straws at Finch or The Tub in recent weeks, there’s the aloofness of Cell, a heavily funded space seemingly more interested in their wordy Arts Council approved press releases than actually opening their doors, putting a sign outside and, heaven forbid, engaging with anyone outside of their small art school circle. With the exception of Fred Mann’s ever pro-active New Art Projects space by Broadway Market in Hackney, Gallery 46 and maybe one or two more, there is very little left in East London now. When our Cultivate space on Vyner Street was knocked down and planing permission granted for a new building, we were told that a new art space was one of the conditions that Tower Hamlets has imposed, no sign of it of course, but hey, this wasn’t supposed to be a piece about the state of things in East London, it was just a case of heading out to the art shop on a Saturday afternoon to pick up supplies and at the same time checking out the latest show at the aforementioned Studio 1.1.
It is good to see the small artist-led Studio 1.1 space still hanging on there and that red door halfway along the once gallery-rich Redchurch street still very much open. Studio 1.1 is a strange place though, a place you’d quickly drop into on the way to other places back in busier art times, a quick look on the way to other East London shows. Information is always at best vague, even though there are shows happening regularly, their social media hasn’t been updated since December and getting them to answer an e.mail or any kind of communication is just impossible. There’s never anyone actually in the space, I guess there is an actual human hiding around the back somewhere? Studio 1.1 is a frustrating space, a space that has been consistent in terms of putting on contemporary fine art shows, a place to see painters and paintings, always somewhere worth your time, we’ve covered them on these fractured pages rather a lot over the last ten years, there’s always something good to see in there even if the hangs do look a little half-hearted and for the love of some god or other why the hell do they never ever ever put a label on anything? There’s another of their busy group shows on at the moment, “This Year’s Model ’21”, apparently there’s 21 artists showing work in the small space, but there’s not a label in sight and is there nothing more annoying than having to go search for a piece of paper to work it out when a simple label under the painting would be so so much more user friendly? Yes, there is a piece of paper, a stack of them actually (not very green is it? I assume most of them end up in the bin at the end of the show?), yes, there is a piece of paper although whichever way you slice it, it doesn’t seem to correspond with anything on the wall, it it really that difficult to put a small label under each piece? There’s one or two really interesting pieces (as there almost always is at a Studio 1.1 show), but really, besides the artists who’s style we recognise – that one there clearly is the work of Paula MacArthur, and that one over there is certainly a Michelle Fletcher piece although the piece of paper disputes that fact. I don’t know, excellent that Studio 1.1 is still here but hell, don’t they need a kick up their old-school arse, doesn’t the whole place need a shot in the arm, a wake up call, a little more than a half-hearted hang that looks like every other boring hang at every one of their shows for the last ten years and more? Gawd this place is feeling tired, this place is feeling half-hearted and we’re fast running out of reasons to be dodging the labradoodle poop and the designer label shops down Redchurch Street. Rather than just passing, I had made a point of heading down the street to check out the show today, however much I want to like this place, can’t help but feel slightly annoyed with it all.
Over to Jealous then, save the wasted afternoon, Jealous are probably open? Jealous is one of those galleries at the more commercial end of things, a gallery that likes everything very slick, very clean cut, maybe just a little bit too clean cut? Maybe a little too polite and dare we say a little too “coffee table”? Not that they pretend to be anything else, they’re nothing if not up front about who and what they are, and it is that honesty that makes Jealous (quite) likeable. You know what you’re going to get with Jealous, you know what they want from you, quite a healthy agreement and yes, of course, I remember now, one of their many e.mails did mention that the latest Rowan Newton solo show was on, the afternoon is not lost.
Do like Rowan’s work, the Brixton-born artist is rather prolific, you can’t help but want to see it without all the fancy gallery walls and the coloured “shadows” and matching colour coordinated canvas edges though, is it a case of style distracting from the substance? Don’t you just want him to ditch the gimmicks and let the paintings themselves do the talking? And they are capable of talking, they do have a lot to say, Rowan is a painter worth your time, there is emotion in his work, in the energy of his marks, in his movement of paint, in his very expressive style, in his commitment to his paintings. and yes, he does make you look a little closer and his subjects. Rowan Newton is a rewarding painter and this is, if you can get past the slickness and the slight hint of cheese that comes with the hang, a rather fine show. There’s some impressive pieces of art in here, especially the smaller pieces in the simpler white frames. Each time I see Rowan Newton’s work I like it a little more, he’s clearly growing and evolving as a painter, expanding, he’s a painter you want to see more of, a painter to watch and see where it all goes, and you do feel like there’s going to be more, he’s an already accomplished painter who’s surely only going to grow, you feel there’s more to come. I’d maybe like it more if the walls were simple and white, if the crap was cut and the paintings themselves did all the talking, but this is a damn fine show, I do like those smaller paintings, I will admit I do like Jealous.
And that was that, back to the studio, past many spaces where art once happened, past the Pure Evil shops, past the building sites of Rivington Street, past the slick shine of new buildings, past heartlessness of it all…. (sw)
Rowan Newton’s ‘Isolation: Self-Imposed’ will run until 18th July at Jealous East, 53 Curtain Road, London, EC2A 3pt – On the corner, over from the Old Blue Last.
And as we always say, do xlick on an image to enlarfe it or to run the slide show…