Although I know what I ‘want to do’ in an exhibition (I can often see the ending clearly before I have begun), I don’t always know ‘how’ to shape it and This Instead of That came along after an experience of not knowing what was going to happen. I wasn’t certain of what I wanted but knew that my idea had potential.
This is the story of This Instead of That.
I was sitting at a cafe with the artists Olha Pryymak and Julie Fountain on a beautiful spring March day last year. We’d just hung a show Silent Painting at Tripp Gallery and the sun was out and we were resting after an intense day. Silent Painting had been accepted to tour to Lewisham Arthouse in November 2018, but I didn’t want to repeat the show with the same work but in another London gallery.
‘How about we respond to each other?’ I said. ‘Make a new proposal for the Lewisham space about friendship, collaboration and exchange?’ Discussion amongst colleagues and contemporaries has been a central strand of fine art training, and is often sustained beyond the confines of art school. Artists have drawn upon informal networks, social networks, collaborations, shared studios and other innovative modes of exchange. For hundreds of years artists have shared ideas, derived energy from their peers or collaborated: there’s Matisse and Gauguin, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, Gilbert and George, and Jake and Dinos Chapman – to name a few. On that afternoon, in the sunny cafe in Kings Cross, I suggested that we could expand the show by asking an artist to find another artist they were inspired by and who they wished to collaborate with. It wasn’t clear at that point how this was going to evolve – some galleries draw on the model of inviting established practitioners to select and show emerging talents, I was hoping for something more responsive or site specific.
I brought in Trevor Burgess as my artist to respond to. I’d known about his work for a while and had admired his paintings hugely, we had similar interests and concerns to do with light, paint, surface and colour. He thought that my idea This Instead of That would fly and suggested we send out proposals. In the meantime Lewisham Arthouse Gallery agreed to the new theme.
Trevor, Olha and Julie visited my studio in August 2018 to discuss the project and to work out options to progress with This Instead of That. How were we going to do this? A visit to each other’s studios? Choosing a particular piece to respond to – making a version of it for the gallery at Lewisham Arthouse? Or something less specific… encouraging the other artist to follow a new path by giving them a new direction or idea?
For Lewisham Arthouse, Julie Fountain asked Olha Pryymak to respond in a conceptual way to a specific quotation from Tim Lotte’s autobiography The Scent of Dried Roses. Julie made paintings responding to Olha’s herb inspired work about mental health.
In my studio, Trevor selected a small canvas that was of a shop floor from a 1960s department store (Artemide). He was inspired by the presence of the figures and the patterned compositions. I worked from his painting Wigs and Chips (depicting shop windows seen from the street). We started to bounce ideas between us.
We hung the first This Instead of That show at Lewisham Arthouse Gallery in November 2018.
After the Lewisham Arthouse show I could see that there was clearly scope to expand the project to other artists. At this point I invited Trevor Burgess to co-curate a larger version of the proposal. Once he was on board the show rapidly developed into an exhibition at Arthouse 1 in Bermondsey. Nelson Diplexcito and George Wills, two painters who had been in dialogue together for many years, were invited to take part. Rebecca Fairman asked Hermione Allsopp and Meg Lipke, then Catherine Ferguson and Tim Renshaw.
Trevor hanging This Instead of That at Arthouse1 in March 2019
It is very satisfying to see pairs of work side by side that are connected both visually and ideologically. The exhibition at Arthouse1 put a strong emphasis on the relationship between artists and the bond that they share that can be further explored in the gallery space.
This Instead of That made it possible to make a conversion of an idea (or two) that has the transformative effect of changing its core meaning. The artists in both versions of the show have shown how embracing new ideas from other artists about their own work, can divert work in a new direction, transforming artistic development and allowing for extended collective discussion and understanding.
This Instead of That is open to the public Thursday – Sunday 3 – 7pm or by appointment.
There will be an ‘In Conversation’ event with the artists and a Tea Ceremony by Olha Pryymak on Saturday 30th March 4 – 6pm.
Arthouse 1, 45 Grange Road London SE1 3BH. tel. 077131 89249 Nearest tubes: Borough, London Bridge, Bermondsey.