London Street Gallery hosts works from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland's Acquisitions Collection
Precious Cargo is the latest show in Derry~Londonderry’s London Street Gallery. When it finishes on November 25, there will be a couple more shows, and then the gallery will close, on December 31, just as its owners, the Inner City Trust, always said it would.
The plan then is to turn the building that houses the gallery into a boutique hotel. There is no plan to find new premises for the gallery. Ironically, chances are the people who would want to stay in such a boutique hotel are just the type who would visit a gallery like London Street. But they won’t be able to, of course.
Derry~Londonderry needs accommodation, but it also needs places for visitors to go and things for them to see. It has two cutting edge art spaces in Void and the Centre for Contemporary Art, and it has the consistently excellent Richard Gordon Gallery and other commercial galleries. It also has many artists and craftworkers who need an outlet to show their work.
London Street provides such an outlet, as well as offering a space to exhibit more mainstream work by international artists. Precious Cargo is typical of the work London Street has offered throughout 2013. It is an eclectic jumble of delights – digital art, paintings, sculptures, ceramics – scooped up in a trolley dash through the Acquisitions Collection of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
The names featured are formidable and impressive: Tracey Emin, Bridget Riley, Basil Blackshaw, Colin Darke, Barbara Freeman, Susan McWilliams, Graham Gingles. Characteristically of London Street, these artists sit happily alongside the works of the unknown – young, innovative artists, experimenting with ideas and materials. It is fun, democratic, and full of surprises.
It’s tempting to try and avoid the stellar names – in an effort to sidestep a celebrity trap – but it’s not possible, and not worth it. Why would you avoid work as good as this?
'Birds', by Tracey Emin, was created for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Two birds balanced on branches lean towards each other beneath the words 'You inspire me with your determination and I love you'. The Paralympic symbols float down from the branches. It is a beautiful piece of work, full of freedom, fragility, strength and honesty.
Bridget Riley’s 'Rose Rose' is beautiful also. Layers of summer colours run horizontally down the paper, precise, contained and elegant. Basil Blackshaw’s 'Flower' is delicate and bold at the same time, the brush strokes giving a real sense of texture and power.
Oliver Jeffers’ 'The Substitute Window' is a large, striking painting depicting a flat and bare landscape. Despite the space and emptiness, it has great warmth. Lines, shapes and colours blur slightly, in contrast to a neat and precise redbrick house over to the right.
'Hug', 'Puppet' and 'Bound' are three photographs by Laura McDowell. This is powerful and gripping work. A figure is bound to electronic equipment, a patient dangling by electric cord, held by and clinging to machinery. In the same room are three pieces in glass by Catherine Keenan – rotund, colourful shapes, vibrant, tactile and full of life.
Victoria Bentham's 'Locus Amoenas' uses ceramic ribbons laid upright on the floor, presenting an enchanting maze which folds and curves, with depictions of rural scenes like stage backdrops. Majellan Clancy, meanwhile, works with a combination of paint and digital imagery. She takes inkjet prints and works with them using paint. 'Doubting Blue' is a hypnotic piece of work, for example. It is both blurred and clean, its colours and sheen producing a beguiling effect.
One of the most striking pieces is a three-part work by Aisling Kane – 'Joanne', 'Rosaleen' and 'Self-Portrait'. The central photograph is of Rosaleen, a tired woman in a cheap nightdress, sitting on the edge of a single bed, which is separated from its twin by a bedside cabinet on which sits a medicine bottle and a cup of tea. The woman’s face is lined with age and experience.
To one side is 'Joanne', to the other is 'Self-Portrait'. Both of these are nudes. The settings are everyday – one naked woman sits on the side of a bath, while the other sits on a kitchen table. These are human depictions: plain, unromanticised, open. They are shown in the same room as the Tracey Emin, and share the same frankness and honesty.
This exhibition is emblematic of both the City of Culture 2013 year and the London Street Gallery itself – a warm, tender, varied, precious experience, global, national and local. And like both, it won’t be here for long. It’s a crying shame – you don’t wake Sleeping Beauty only to inform her that it’s time for her next sedative – but, for the time being at least, we can appreciate this precious exhibition.
Precious Cargo runs in the London Street Gallery until November 25.