Monday, 4 April 2011

New Decade @ Pop Up Gallery, Store Street

A never ending appeal of walking around central London is that it can take very few steps for you to find yourself somewhere much more pleasant or interesting than where you were only moments before. This became clear to me about five years ago when the agency I used to work for moved from its theatreland location of St Martin’s Lane, WC2H, to Whitfield Street, W1T. It was not a big move in distance but the change was significant in terms of realising what hives of social activity were buzzing around areas that would have largely been overlooked to someone who didn’t spend enough time there.

Whitfield Street is found in the northern part of Fitzrovia, an area bound in the north by Euston Road, by Oxford Street to the south, by Gower Street to the East and Great Portland Street to the west. It gets its name after one of my favourite pubs in the area, the Fitzroy Tavern. The drinks are cheap, it’s always busy, and when the weather is good I find it one of the most pleasing places to stand outside watching the world go by on Charlotte Street.

I was there the other day, late afternoon, the sun feebly trying to give me an excuse to put on the sunglasses that hadn’t been worn since Spain in August 2010. A private viewing was taking place on Store Street, across Tottenham Court Road but as I had an hour to kill I soaked up the atmosphere on the first Thursday evening since the clocks had gone forward and enjoyed a pint of Sovereign.

As mentioned in my previous review on The Orange Dot gallery there seems to be a growing sense that smaller galleries, whether of the pop up nature or not, are migrating further west than what has been found in the past. There must be a number of reasons why this is the case; lower costs for renting uninhabited commercial sites presumably being the most pertinent. Even the latest issue of GQ has stated how London’s art hub is on the move, relocating to Fitzrovia due to it being “smarter than Shoreditch and cheaper than Mayfair”. The piece in the issue explains how six galleries have recently opened in the area, four of which are based on Eastcastle Street - interesting and, more importantly, convenient stuff.

New Decade is a promising title for a show that promises new works by eight promising young artists. The Pop Up Gallery is a venture started by Nolan Browne last year, and this exhibition is one of many planned for 2011. What caught my attention initially was the manifesto that states “Nothing less than progressive work will be shown”, and that the galleries (which will appear in various regenerated locations around the city) “plan to make art even more accessible to others while filtering out the good from the great”. These are assertive words. These are words that made me want to go and see what this was all about.

Living Arrangements, Henry John, 2010
 Browne has been brave. Going with variety can sometimes be detrimental to a theme but if anything it gives the exhibition more gravitas in what he has tried to achieve with the title. Artists whose work exemplified this progressive tone were by Henry John and Will Martyr. The former’s obvious willingness to experiment with both technique and subject in his charming paintings and Martyr’s due to the candidness in which he taps into a clean lined, aspirational aesthetic which many visitors that night probably felt familiar and safe with.

Provider, Will Martyr, 2010
Living Arrangements is an example of how John’s interest in both form and depicting everyday life can exist so directly on one canvas. The composition is opened by the drapery at the top, displaying a room scattered with belongings and objects, yet when the shades of grey are considered, and the ochre hues of the chairs, wood and dog lying on the sofa matched up do you see this interplay between shape and form. It quickly becomes an abstract work. Other recent works of his that were not on show, particularly Spare Time And Snapshots, show us his quiet way of observing a scene and how everyday people exist in that space, yet they also show us his commitment to seeing the form and image as a whole. In contrast Martyr’s bright, arresting works of buildings with titles nodding vigorously to financial excess show a distinct lack of humanity, or any relationship with it other than the fact they involve places that we would like to inhabit. It’s a strange sort of idealism, reminiscent to Hockney’s idyllic scenes of 1960s Californian cool, which don’t necessarily hold a sense of subtlety or personality, yet strangely have that feeling of human presence.  
How To Spend It, Will Martyr, 2010
Humans are integral to the work of Benjamin Senior. I got talking to him at the show and quizzed him on whether or not his works reference the symmetry found in some of Pierro della Franceca’s frescoes and he said they did, although perhaps not as vehemently as I wanted them to. The everyday scenes of people jogging or dancing in woodlands and parks have an unnatural feel in the same way ‘natural’ scenes of past masters were made up of carefully crafted models. The soft palette and commitment to symmetry is what gives them this classical mood.

Equilibrium, Benjamin Senior, 2011

Hydra, Benjamin Senior, 2011
Madonna del Parto, Pierro della Francesca, 1457

Each artist in New Decade holds their own in what is a fun and optimistic show, and that is largely down to Browne’s curatorship expressing the progressive feel of his manifesto for the Pop Up Gallery. From Simone Rowat’s videos and photographs using food to create scenes more suited to an episode of Nature’s Great Events, to Katie Sims’ Poussin like landscapes blobbed with pretty colours, all the work reinforces the connecting themes of the exhibition; It’s a new decade with artists who don’t want to turn their back on the past but want to make use of it to help their development. 
Mountains And Mist, Simone Rowat, 2010(?)

Snake Pass, Katie Sims, 2011
Where we have lacked art of resonance and consideration in place of a quick sale in many small shows I’ve seen in the past, this one surprised me in the best possible way. The artists were talkative, the guests were smiling, there was support from friends and family of all ages and it made the event feel both slick and inclusive. The point of The Pepper Pot is to review smaller shows to help give artists and galleries exposure to a wider audience. It’s important that art, when being exhibited on this sort of scale, gets all the help it can get. This was a charming exhibition with a charming crowd, in a charming part of London that I would recommend you get to know better as new galleries (hopefully) begin to take hold.

New Decade runs until the 8th May 

Pop Up Gallery, 42 Store Street, WC1E 7DB