When I was an art student at Central Saint Martin more than 10 years ago, a tutor took us on a gallery tour of Hoxton. At the time the White Cube gallery still had premises on Hoxton Square and the Shoreditch area of London as a whole was an effervescent hub of artistic innovation and urban cool. Our wide-eyed little group of dishevelled and scruffy students happily visited hip gallery after hip gallery and listened with rapt attention to those owners and staff who had agreed to talk to us about the big bad art world and how they picked and nurtured their artists. I remember it being incredibly exciting, mysterious and glamourous to my student-self.
Recently much less wide-eyed but still unashamedly dishevelled and scruffy, I decided to return to my old Hoxton haunts to have a look at some of the galleries we had visited on that day .The White Cube has long left the area for larger and more prestigious premises and rampant regeneration has driven away many local artists and art spaces. But thankfully some continue to display great art amongst the over-priced artisan coffee shops, luxury flats and the oh-so-trendy bars.
Journey, Josef Herman, Flowers Gallery, Kingsland Road
This exhibition documents the fascinating life journey of Polish-Jewish artist Josef Herman (1911-2000), from his escape from Nazi-occupied Europe in 1940 and through his time spent in Glasgow, South Wales, London and Suffolk. It brings together works from private collections that have not been seen in public since the 1950s.
Josef Herman (RA, OBE) was born in 1911 in Warsaw, where he grew up in a predominantly Jewish working-class neighbourhood. He moved to Brussels in 1938 then fled to France and finally to the UK in 1940 where he remained for the rest of his life. In 1942, Herman received the news that his entire family had been killed by the Nazi.
This is a very comprehensive show which includes paintings and drawings from different periods of the artist’s life and development.
The works evolve from the lively representations of the lives of Jewish families in Poland and Brussels to the more sombre depiction of mining communities in Wales, for which he is best known.
Throughout his career Herman was inspired by working-class communities including miners, farmers and fishermen.
Text and poems written by the painter have also cleverly been added next to the works.
This allows us to follow, diary-like, the artist’s journey and take a peek into his emotions and thoughts.
There is real sense of humanity, loss and menace in the works but also a moving celebration of survival, resilience and of the beauty and simplicity of life.
Some of these paintings brought a little tear to my eye. I cannot remember when a painting had last made me cry...
Journey is part of Insiders / Outsiders, the nationwide arts festival celebrating refugees from Nazi Europe and their contribution to British culture.
This show is on at the Flowers Gallery until 25 Jan 2020.
Words that transform, vibrate and glow: 13 paintings inspired by the lyrics of Nick Cave, Charlie Smith Gallery, Old Street
Music, writing and art have always had close connections and fed each other’s muse.
The works in this show are all inspired by the lyrics of iconic musician Nick Cave. A few of the artists showing are also musicians, and in the case of painter James Johnston have played with the man himself.
There is lovely creepy, slightly hallucinatory, yet seducing vibe to most of the works on show.
The artists have done well in going beyond what could have been simple illustrations of Cave’s written word and an homage to his talent to instead create something that stands out for its own artistic merit.
Bizarrely, although I am usually a big fan of Rose Wylie, one of the artists on display, I was disappointed by her ‘Red Right Foot’ collage which I thought lacked her usual wit and sense of playfulness.
Overall it is good to see that the Charlie Smith Gallery still happily lives above a pub, in a space where alcohol fumes and the sound of drinkers enjoying themselves below drift into the rooms, which added a non-pretentious feel and sense of general euphoria to the show's well-attended private view.
This exhibition is on at the Charlie Smith Gallery until 8th February 2020.
This Year’s Model 2020 - Studio 1.1, Redchurch Street
This entirely not-for-profit gallery space has thrived in the area since 2003 and thankfully continues to show innovative work.
One of the few artist-led space not driven away by high rents, it is currently holding its Annual Members’ Show (part 1) .
This is a great opportunity to see a display of works by artist with varied practices in one small but welcoming space.
This show is on at the Studio 1.1 Gallery until 2nd February 2020 and the second part of their members’ show will take place in August 2020.
These days many professional artists and art students have long moved on from this East London hipster heaven to cheaper, edgier (and maybe cooler) locations in other parts of the capital, or left it entirely, to be able to afford studio spaces and accomodation. But this liitle trip was a nice bit of nostalgia for me with a great Nick Cave soundtrack thrown in. May I never sop to be inspired, surprised and moved by some of these glamourous and mysterious galleries and their artists.
‘Yeah, you know we real cool’
(Nick Cave, We real Cool)
About the writer: I am not, and have no ambition to be, an art critic. Instead I am an artist and art lover who enjoys sharing my artistic journey and writing about the sights, people and experiences that inspire my art practice and my life in general.