Thursday, 23 October 2014

London through three pairs of eyes

Marc Gooderham with The Ghost of Southwark Street
As the tail end of hurricane Gonzalo lashed Britain, I found myself near London’s Petticoat Lane and with time to burn, having turned up rather too early for the opening of a new exhibition.

Shelter from the intermittent downpours and whipping wind was available around a corner in The Bell – and if ever you wanted a simple illustration of how this part of the city has changed – and is changing – then here it was.

Just a decade ago, you’d have ventured inside with a certain caution.

Now, although the décor remains authentic, the crowd is rather more booted and suited than once it would have been, there are comfy sofas to relax in and, while the young lass at the bar is pierced and tattooed, she’s also perfectly happy to discuss the two rosés that the pub serves – one from either side of the Catalan Pyrenees.

Christ Church, Spitalfields
It was an entirely appropriate taster for the main course ahead.

A London Eye: Three Artists Look, gives a trio of painters the opportunity to show their different interpretations of the city in one place.

Although this isn’t a solo show, it’s dominated by the work of Marc Gooderham – 22 works as opposed to 12 and 10 from the other artists here.

Writing briefly about Gooderham’s work previously, I’ve touched on how he finds beauty in the run-down and the derelict, complete with street art – often faithfully captured in his hyper-real acrylic works.

While there are paintings here, there are also works in graphite and chalk, giving a great idea of the artist’s range.

Christ Church, Spitalfields, a beautiful chalk on black paper, has a delicate, spectral quality about it.

It’s the antithesis of The Ghost of Southwark Street, a large acrylic on canvas that catches the eye as soon as you enter the gallery.

Blue Skies
Here, in a way, is the epitome of what interests Gooderham, as he explained. It’s not just the derelict – or even the past – but the constantly changing landscape; the process of transformation.

He captures a part of the past that is still with us – even as some of it is about to be razed to the ground or changed into something considered more apt for the new bustle that is London.

Indeed, even documenting the street art and graffiti captures part of that transformation – many of Gooderham’s subjects are in a part of town where street art has developed into having commercial pull for visitors.

The Bell – indeed, the entire area around Spitalfields – is all part of the transformation (for good or bad) that is taking place almost on a day-to-day basis.

Wilton's Music Hall
Many of these subjects are places I’m familiar with: Christ Church, Wilton’s Music Hall, the Rio Cinema in Dalston and the Regent’s Canal in Hackney are pretty much my patch, so they have a particular personal resonance.

The works show such places as rather worn, yet still glorious for all that, and with an atmosphere to match.

It’s all achieved with a satisfying variety of techniques, from the hyper-real acrylics to a rather looser style (The Blue House), the softness of graphite and chalk, and the near-abstraction of Blue Skies.

It is also, of course, a call to look at and explore our built environment – and most particularly where you least expect: to look and find the unexpected glories that the urban world has to offer.

Try it some day. You can even do it on the nightmare that is Oxford Street: cast your eyes above street level and there is a different and fascinating architectural world to be discovered.

London Face
Miranda Benzies’s work offers a very different perspective – her London Faces series is an intriguing and surreal world where iconic aspects of the city are reimagined into human faces – a London Eye car becomes an eye, for instance, as in the eponymous London Face.

In London Lady, a red phone box becomes a mouth – which did remind me of the anecdote about Max Bygraves telling Julie Andrews how to speak Cockerney for My Fair Lady: “just open your mouth like a letter box and it all comes out!”

There are also landscapes here that convey London – and particularly the Thames – in a different and sometimes rather darker way.

The execution is excellent – Benezies’s works are all in oil, with a very fine finish

Nicholas Borden paints en plein air – which is a challenge in itself in the bustle of London – and explores the city in bold, bright and deceptively simple canvases.

The selection here includes oil on canvas and on wood, plus drawings.
This may be a small exhibition, but it’s a fascinating presentation of London – and not least, of the less well-known side of the capital.

A London Eye: Three Artists Look is at the Leyden Gallery, 9 Leyden Street, E1, until 15 November.

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