The evening our art reviewer made an exhibition of himself

The Lonely Boat: Drew Peach’s prize-winning painting

Croydon Art Space, in Addiscombe, last night presented an award for an outstanding piece of work by a student at Croydon School of Art. In front of his MP, dignitaries and the artists, KEN TOWL delivered a piece of performance art of his own…

At six minutes to eight on Thursday, an email pops into my inbox. It’s from Paul Hall, the owner of the gallery Croydon Art Space, informing me that “the minor damage to the artwork can be repaired”.

I breathe a sigh of relief and think back to the events of the evening, trying to pinpoint exactly why it happened. At least that way I might be able to avoid future catastrophe.

At around 6.45, I had arrived, as invited, for the presentation of the Best Artist of the Year Award 2022, the culmination of a partnership with Croydon School of Art. In the reception area, I am made to feel welcome, offered a drink: “Red or white?”

I ask if the wine is cold and was informed that it was, but it is now room temperature. The temperature of the room is akin to that of a sauna turned up to full, so, contrary to habit, I decline the wine and opt for water.

In the main room, Paul Hall is describing some of the works on display to a crowd of perhaps 20 listeners. To my right are some colourful infographics based on one artist’s food intake during lockdown, behind me a group of delicate small sculptures in simple black wooden frames and, to my left, a table supporting beautiful, delicate razor-thin bowls, matt black powdered glass on the outside, copper and gold leaf within.

Sustainable: the ‘delicate, pale-coloured’ work of Ema Mano Epps and Jyoti Bharwani

Paul hands over to Ema Mano Epps who, in collaboration with Jyoti Bharwani, creates the most organic and sustainable of art, to the extent that they source and prepare their own pigments. Ema leads into the next room, where their art is displayed on all four walls.

It is delicate, pale-coloured fare characterised by natural plant and earth tones, easy to look at, enhanced in places with metallic leaf, and Ema is easy to listen to.

She speaks powerfully about the creative process, about how her and Jyoti’s talents are complementary and about how they try to work with nature and with natural resources.

Afterwards, I ask her about how the lockdown affected their art and she says that, with art suppliers closed, they were forced to lean into their chosen path of foraging for pigments, that the embargo on going out meant that their kitchens became their laboratories and their studios, and consequently, that they had to take care not to mix up food and painting materials so that they did not poison anyone.

If the lockdown had taught her anything it was that life was fragile and, in many cases, fleeting.

Ema was one of the judges of the students’ art, so I ask her what it is about Drew Peach’s The Lonely Boat that she liked. Ema speaks to its sense of parting, how it is evocative of tranquillity, the restfulness of its blue tones, and I reflect that what the winner shares with the runners-up (Lost Soul by Marwa Rahman and The Blue Scene by Yasmin Dias) is a melancholy sense of solitude. This is post-lockdown art.

Delicate: Tracey Nicholls’ glass is fascinatingly beautiful

We return to the main room for the main event. Sarah Jones, the local MP, is about to present the award to Drew Peach. Before introducing Sarah, Paul Hall explains that he went to the Croydon School of Art end-of-year exhibition and selected 12 works from the 300 or so on display there.

He then asked six artists to choose a winner and the result was that The Lonely Boat had got the most votes. As a result, Drew would be getting a wall to herself for a show at the gallery in February. The winner’s and runners-up’s works will also be exhibited at Croydon Art Space in its Harmony Exhibition starting on September 24.

Sarah says she remembers Drew’s painting from the student exhibition, an exhibition that, she says, “blew my mind”. I get the impression that Jones has a bit more cultural hinterland than most politicians. I am still trying to process the utter imbecility of David Cameron claiming to like “Eton Rifles”. You can only assume that the Old Etonian had never actually listened to the song. Or heard of The Jam. But then, he also said he supported Aston Villa. And West Ham. 

Sarah’s assertion, however, that there was an abundance of talent in Croydon sounded heartfelt and genuine, and I could only assume that she was happier here than in her day job in Parliament, facing the ghouls of the zombie Conservative front bench.

Disaster is about to strike.

Award-winning: MP Sarah Jones (left) at Croydon Art Space with (l to r) runner-up Yasmin Dias, Drew Peach, Artist of the Year, and judge Monica Mardare

As the applause subsides after Sarah presents the award to Drew, there are calls for photographs, first of all of the artist, then those of the judges who are present. Family and friends get out their cameras, form a friendly paparazzi.

“And the runners up!” someone calls. “And Paul!” The camera crew step back with each addition. “And Sarah!” She steps in, the photographers step back.

Behind them, I step back…


One of the framed pieces to my right hits the floor at a rate of 10 metres/second/second. There is the briefest pause as everyone looks back. It is clear that my jacket, dangling behind me, has caused the fall. We all look down. There, next to the frame, are two tear-shaped pieces of, I think, metal and bone. Mortified, I am close to shedding my own tears.

Paul retrieves the pieces and we are all encouraged to carry on. Having inspected the work, Paul says he thinks that it will be retrievable. It is this that he later confirms by email, having been in contact with the artist, Tracey Nicholls. I send My Deepest Apologies to Tracey. I am grateful for her forbearance and relieved that I was not standing on the other side of the room where the wafer-thin glass bowls were.

So there you have it. Sarah Jones is right. There is a lot of talent in Croydon, and some of it is on display in the Croydon Art Space.

So pop along and meet the amenable Paul Hall, see winning student artist Drew Peach’s melancholic Lonely Boat, Ema and Jyoti’s kitchen sink natural art and Tracey Nicholls’ accomplished and beautiful pieces in glass and other materials.

But please, watch your step.

Read more: Finding the perfect something in Addiscombe’s Aladdin’s Cave

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
This entry was posted in Addiscombe East, Art, Croydon Art Space, Croydon School of Art, Ken Towl and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The evening our art reviewer made an exhibition of himself

  1. David Fitzgerald says:

    I interpret your performance, its unexpected development, its crashing disturbance, in a gallery judging lockdown art, as an audacious, yet breathtaking, metaphor for the impact on our lives of COVID-19.

    Bravo, sir.

    I will be closing following the development of the school of the faux pas.

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