diamond geezer

 Saturday, June 19, 2004

Home is where the Art is

Loyd Grossman was down my way yesterday evening. He was reopening the Bow Arts Trust, a huge studio space for 90 local artists carved out of an old nunnery. Yes, nunnery. We have proper history round where I live, remember? The front of the studio building used to be a drab slab of rundown Victorian brickwork. Not any more. A precisely constructed array of jet black planks has given the front of the building a striking new look, while a series of glowing fluorescent tubes now dangle over the lane down the side. Just a few thousand pounds of carefully placed design work has given a real lift to the street on which I live.

The Bow Arts Trust throws its doors open for one weekend every June for an 'Open Studios' event. We local residents were specially invited to last night's 'Private View', mainly so we didn't complain too loudly about the racket a guitar band was going to make in the courtyard until midnight. I missed seeing Loyd open proceedings in the Nunnery gallery, which was probably just as well, but I took the opportunity to look round the premises all the same. There were artists tucked into every cranny of that old building, lurking behind plasterboard partitions and hidden up rickety staircases in attic rooms. A swarm of Hoxtonites swept through the exhibition like locusts, fags and lager in hand, devouring each installation with faint praise.

I was able to see what entry-level modern art looks like, from sculpture to photography to drawing to glasswork to stonemasonry to mysterious twirly plastic phallic objects drooping from the wall. And paintings too, lots of them, some beautiful, some bland, some clever, some featureless, some inspiring, some slapdash, some devotional, and some so dull that even I could have painted them. Wish I had actually, there was an £850 price tag on one of the really poor ones. But I was impressed by much that I saw. Joseph Joy's portraits had an appealing simplicity and Anniken Amundsen's textile jellyfish floated my boat. Praise too for Mark Brogan's physical installations and Jonty Lees' turntable spirals. I was very much taken by Danny Cuming's bold graphic art and Zoe Marsden's contoured cartography. And I was enthralled by Tanya Millard's photographic montage showing every London bus from 1 to 100 arranged in ten rows of ten (photo here), but then I would be wouldn't I?

The relaunch of the Bow Arts Trust heralds the beginning of the development of an 'arts hub' round where I live, apparently. Bow Church is already floodlit and hosts the occasional arty show. And now, I kid you not, there are plans to restore the dilapidated Victorian public toilets on the traffic island outside the church and open them up as an exhibition space. Those toilets have been chained up for years, the original "terrazzo floors, glazed tiles and carved architraves" decaying slowly beneath the pavement. Soon there could be a Turner-nominated artist installing a mini-gallery among the urinals. I look forward to attending the opening night. And so close to my house too - imagine the convenience.

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