Art Review: Croydon Galleries

Croydon has always been an important place to me – as a teenager growing up in the Kentish commuter belt it was the nearest place I could get to that had record shops, and much of my time and money was spent in the sadly defunct treasure troves of Beano’s and Shake Some Action Records.  The town has been my home for most of my adult life, and despite having moved a couple of miles north, it’s still a place I visit regularly to catch up with friends and of course to present The Joyzine Radio Show on Croydon Radio.

In the media it tends to be portrayed either as a run-down, worn-out, dull, grey concrete wasteland where you’re lucky to make it from one street corner to the next without getting stabbed or, with the new Westfield shopping centre, Boxpark and dozens of shiny new skyscrapers full of luxury flats on the way, the new frontier for South London gentrification.  It’s rarely presented as a cultural hub but if you know where to look, there’s plenty to see for those curious enough to explore.  I took a self-guided art walk around the town centre to see what was on offer.

Banksy Grannies Croydon Rise Gallery
Two Grannies by Banksy at Rise Gallery

Rise Gallery, opened last year by art dealer and Croydon native Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, has become the centre of the Croydon arts scene with an impressive array of both established and upcoming artists on display.  Work by the likes of Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Jamie Reid and Jean-Michel Basquiat have all been on show, and the current main attraction is a collection of works by Banksy, including well known images such as Pulp Fiction and his replica ten pound notes with the face of Princess Diana replacing that of the Queen, alongside many less famous but just as eye catching and thought provoking designs.  In the adjoining room, Mark Petty‘s fantastical screen printed unicorn skeleton Believe – Gold HornSchoony‘s life cast sculpture Boy Soldier and Faile‘s pulpy pin-up mutations are equally worth of your time.

Banksy: It Began On The Walls runs until 29th August.  All works at the gallery are available to purchase.

Street art by Fio Silva on Park Street
Street art by Fio Silva on Park Street

I step out of the gallery into what was once an unwelcomingly dark and neglected shopping area, but St. George’s Walk has undergone a transformation at the hands of Rise, who commissioned all-female street art crew Femme Fierce to cover every available piece of exposed concrete and metal into a work of art.  Since the original works went up, they’ve been added to by a range of artists from the local area and beyond, with the surrounding streets covered in a diverse array of images.

Turf Projects Bruce McLean Soup Croydon
Soup by Bruce McLean at Turf Projects Photo Credit: Tim Bowditch

Another recent addition to the Croydon arts scene is Turf Projects.  Tucked away on Keeley Road, Turf is a non-profit project run by local artists, architects and curators.  As well as hosting events, tours and workshops to promote the arts in Croydon, Turf runs regular exhibitions.  The current show Art in restaurants is on the same level as food in museums, takes its title from a catty remark by Niles Crane from the TV series Frazier and uses it as a jumping-off point for an exploration into the relationship between food and art.  Showcasing a range of abstract, representational and surreal forms, the show caters to a range of tastes (if you’ll excuse the pun) and my personal highlights were Simon Dybbroe Møller‘s Negative Plate, whose grey food remnants had an unsettling, visceral effect and Bruce McLean‘s playfully absurd video installation Soup.

The Reality Effect by Rossella Scalia at Click Clock Gallery
The Reality Effect by Rossella Scalia at Click Clock Gallery

Housed within the Clocktower Cafe, part of the Victorian clocktower complex that until a few years ago was the focus of council-run arts in Croydon, The Click Clock Gallery houses an eclectic and ever changing body of work.  Much of the work is by local artists with several pieces based on Croydon itself, including an exhibition in the main gallery space by local photographer and digital artist Simon Shaw.  Amongst the highlights are gallery co-curator Rossella Scalia‘s atmospheric black and white photographs.  Most works are available to buy, and exhibition space is also available for hire.

Hero of the Court by Bareface at DescART.es, Matthews Yard
Hero of the Court by Bareface at DescART.es, Matthews Yard

The final stop on the tour is a familiar one – Matthews Yard is home to Croydon Radio and over the past three years has become a hub for creativity and the arts in Croydon hosting live music and comedy events, community groups and a studio theatre.  Until recently its visual arts offering seemed to take a back seat to the venue’s other activities, but with the opening of the refurbished DescART.es Gallery and a new show by London artist Bareface that state of affairs has been corrected.  Mixing comic book, pop art and street art styles, often depicting cultural icons splattered over newsprint, Bareface has an instantly recognisable style which, judging by the number of ‘sold’ stickers dotting the walls, has already proven a big hit.

Croydon’s art scene is growing, with new artists and spaces popping up all the time – why not head down south and discover it for yourself?

Review by Paul Maps
Cover photo from rise-gallery.co.uk

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