WANDLE WANDERER: Art fan KEN TOWL set off on another walk this weekend, but this time in the town centre, where one of the lowlights was a limited edition, £20,000 balloon dog shitting balloon shit
From the town that brought you the £10 Boxpark burger, we present the £10 Art Walk.
Fortunately for me, Inside Croydon stumped up for two tickets, and therefore 40 per cent of the organisers’ revenue from this somewhat bizarre exercise in “monetising” graffiti.We began our guided walk at the Rise Gallery in St George’s Walk, that strange mini-shopping mall that always makes you feel that you have time-travelled back to the 1960s.
The Rise Gallery is currently dominated by what, at first sight, appears to be a Jeff Koons inflatable dog but which, on inspection, turns out to be a derivative (or, in the words of the gallery’s website “delightfully playful spin”) piece by a Polish artist called, apparently, Whatshisname.
The piece is called Popek, and it is a balloon dog shitting balloon shit. For a mere £20,000, this limited edition piece could be shitting in your living room.
But the art we are interested in today is not the sort of art you take home.
Our genial host is Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, the chief executive of Rise Gallery, who welcomed us and started the tour by pointing out the several pieces of art that he has commissioned on the shutters of the shops in St George’s Walk itself.
Most of these are visible since most of the shops are closed for business.
We emerge on to the High Street, where we are able to admire the portrait of Churchill on the corner of Park Street. This work, described by Zuchowski-Morrison as “one of our permanent pieces” is made up entirely of words from the “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech. It is by David Hollier, a Brummie artist who lives in Brooklyn.
Zuchowski-Morrison tells us his account of helping the artist to produce the work overnight, he controlling a powerful projector that beamed the image on to the wall while Hollier, up a ladder, painted. All this in the middle of Croydon’s club central on a Saturday night. Not an experience, Zuchowski-Morrison assures us, that he would like to repeat. Real spirit of the Blitz stuff.
We see other, more ephemeral pieces of work at street level along Park Street. One, a portrait of Croydon grime artist Stormzy, has been damaged. Zuchowski-Morrison suggests to us that the culprit is known, a Tory, he says, who was miffed at Stormzy’s Grenfell speech at the Brits in February this year.
Along the same wall is a stunning work by Dan Kitchener (or “Dank” – these street artists like to use names like that) a quite beautiful hyper-realist nightscape of cars and the lights of the city reflected on rain-soaked surfaces.
Beautiful as it is, people walk by as if unseeing. I ask Zuchowski-Morrison if he thinks people see street art, notice it or pay it any attention, and he concedes that perhaps, in many cases, they don’t. It becomes part of the background.
In Surrey Street we find a mural that did not escape people’s notice when it was first painted by Rich Simmons on the side of a cafe last summer.
It is a Leichtenstein-style giant comic book piece of two men kissing, something which, for some, turned out to be just a little bit controversial. There were those who complained that, being on the street, it could be seen by children. Imagine that, exposing our youth to images that promote tolerance?
Nearby, there is another Simmons work, a poignant image of Princess Diana and attendant paparrazi stencilled on to the Watertower.
Later we get to meet Simmons, an affable character who, it turns out, has a studio in the very same St George’s Walk just two doors down from the Rise Gallery.
Across from the Water Tower we come across two Milanese artists whom Zuchowski-Morrison has flown over to add a mural of their own.
He shouts “Ciao!” and “Arrivederci!” to them and they shout the same back. They are dressed in plastic to protect them either from the rain, I surmise, or from their own paint. They are just setting up their ladders.
I make a mental note to return later to see what they have done.
We see more art. We see the “legal wall” where unsubsidised artists are allowed to paint in the hope, perhaps that they too will be taken under Zuchowski-Morrison’s wing and become part of the Croydon’s art clique.
I’m not knocking it; I saw some great art on this walk in a bewildering variety of styles, from the stunning images of toys high above the High Street either side of Davis House, to the South African rhino mural at the bottom of Fell Road opposite the flyover, and the “graffuturism” of St George’s Walk.
But here’s a tip, though.
Save yourself the £10.53 that Rise Gallery charges for the walk. You have, dear Croydon ratepayer, already paid. Just enjoy the art and maybe go for a burger afterwards. You’ll be quids in, for once.
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