Sunday, 3 March 2013

Send Into Outer Space - Ross Ashmore in Southgate

“I’m at a gallery opening in Southgate,” said the text. Gallery opening? In Southgate? You intrigue me, my friend. 

Born and bred suburban North Londoner that I am, Southgate is peculiarly un-redolent of associations, I discover. I had a school friend who lived there. It’s, er, on the Piccadilly Line by Arnos Grove. After that I sort of draw a blank.

Well, no longer! This week I have had cause to visit Southgate twice to see two very different but both excellent exhibitions of painting at the new gallery Space at Southgate. Opened at the beginning of this year, Space is a collaboration between Fionn Wilson, who manages painting, and Gosia Stasiewicz, photography. It’s housed in a cavernous, rough-round-the-edges (and at the top) space which allows the works a lot of room to breathe and be seen properly. This is no bijou Mayfair hobby nor self-consciously gritty Shoreditch basement. This is, as the name suggests, A Space.

First visit was on Wednesday to catch the last day of Maciej Hoffman's huge, disturbing oil paintings – great primal howls of black, grey, red and white. Many of these were suspended from the ceiling, so they pressed in on you like a particularly distressing maze. Hoffman is a painter from Wroclaw, Poland, recently relocated to the UK.  Hoffman’s work has something of the Francis Bacon about it, as if you're seeing something very deep and dark screamed across the canvas. There is an impression of movement in many of the paintings with violent, sweeping brushstrokes, but not a sense that it is happening in any ‘real’ place.

Then back again last night for the opening night of Ross Ashmore’s ‘underground paintings’ – thickly daubed 'Expressionist' paintings of tube stations. Ashmore is on a mission to paint every tube station in London (and beyond). So far he’s completed all of zones 1-4, and sees the paintings as a single work-in-progress. He is firm that he won’t be selling any of them, but it’s not difficult to see why he’s getting offers. The paintings currently on show at Space are just a fraction of his completed works, currently over 200.

Acton Town (detail) click to enlarge
 Each one captures a moment – Arsenal on a match day, with mounted police overlooking a sea of red and white, The Boston Arms rising high behind Tufnell Park, Mill Hill East commuters taking the tube out of Narnia while one lucky person escapes on a bus. In their commonalities without repetition, in their authenticity without photorealism, in the excessive thickness and tangibility of paint, these paintings hold the attention for a long time.

St John's Wood
Space also shows work by local artists and outsider artists, and by photographers, including the work of Gosia Stasiewicz, one of its founders. It has an exciting calendar of exhibitions planned for upcoming months and I strongly recommend visiting. 

Ross Ashmore is at SPACE, 141 High Street, Southgate, London  N14 6BP throughout March 2013.

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