Art movements and artists like to sit on the edge of society, looking in, musing. So the label “coming of age” doesn’t sit as easily as it does with other movements more concerned with mass appeal. Whether or not south London is now an established part of the art scene is debatable, but it is certainly gaining recognition as a place to go for fresh and innovative art.
In 2009, the New York Times said of Deptford: “…with the unpolished location comes that most heady of urban ingredients: an edge.” In the same year, they also described Peckham as “… a countercultural challenge to the established North-of-the-river world of the Frieze art fair and the gentrified East End.”
They were right. Higher rents, partly induced by the credit crunch, have seen art communities moving south. The icon on the east London art scene, White Cube, closed up shop at the end of 2012, probably in the realisation that the best days are behind the Shoreditch and Hoxton creative hub. The renovation of parts of Hackney for the Olympics also impacted on the number of galleries in the area meaning that art galleries are now declining in number after showing steady increase for a decade or more.
All the good vibrations, it seems, are now being made south of the river. Peckham collective LuckyPDF are one notable group who have taken hold of the vibe of south London and are making noises outside of their constituency.
Self-proclaimed “post-internet” artists, they exist both online and through events; LuckyPDF occupy the space between the ethereal and the material, possibly in response to the same pressures which brings means that the area that they operate in is now flourishing. The evolution of this particular band of artists began with a successful collaboration with Auto Italia which saw the trendy space provided by the project transformed into something of a TV studio. Together they produced shows performed live over the internet and to studio audiences at the same time – a resounding success in Peckham and across London. The groups’ ultimate the aim is to subvert usual art relations and move art into an anti-elite sphere. LuckyPDF achieved this and appearances at the 2011 Frieze Art Fair followed as did residencies at Space Studios and Woodmill.
Sunday Painter is another gallery which has performance at the centre of its message. The Painter keeps its cool intact in not being a familiar name, although top grade artists past through their exhibition space. There is the same panache as Auto Italia but there’s less outreach.
Tucked in among the helter-skelter of Deptford’s fish markets is Bearspace, a gallery space which invites artists to respond to contemporary culture, with exhibitions often taking on a narrative framework. One-half of the space is a bookshop dedicated to exploring and highlighting symbolism which contrasts contemporary media. Gallop, another gallery in the vicinity is also split in two, one half a café where bohemians and urban explorers congregate and collaborate on projects. The splitting and double use of space is in keeping with the feeling of flux and improvisation which characterises the relatively small spaces which seem to be cropping up ad hoc.
The cluster of independent art galleries in both Peckham and Depford is explorable by foot. The surprise of stumbling into a small creative space can be as fulfilling as experiencing the space itself, however The South London Art Map is best if you are looking to plan ahead. Fast becoming London’s art bible, the site has up-to-date listings, reviews and, of course, a downloadable map to help you traverse and come into contact with as many art gems as possible.