Event review: It Began On The Walls: the Banksy retrospective at Rise Gallery

By - Friday 7th August, 2015

A 400% increase in footfall in St George’s Walk – that’s the power of art. Katie Rose finds out more

Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

“Wtf is this doing in Croydon?”. Niroshan, lead singer of Croydon band Reptiles, is clearly as surprised as I am to find myself at an exclusive preview of a high-profile collection of Banksy artworks on display at RISE Gallery on a warm July evening.

“I’m just trying to figure out how this came to be in Croydon…” I wonder out loud to Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, owner of RISE. It just so happens that Croydon is actually an epicentre of art collectors – who knew? One such collector is South Londoner Bradley Ridge, currently serving drinks from behind his Inkspot bar. “I’ve been a keen collector for about ten years. I bought my first Banksy back in 2002 so I’m kind of part of that scene. I’m part of the beer scene and they kind of work well together”.

Kevin enthuses: “We’re really, really lucky to have a show of this scale here in Croydon and I think it’s really relevant because obviously the Art School’s here and Croydon’s really embracing the Art on the Walls and it’s almost what starts all this”.

A technicolour explosion in a retail wasteland

It’s obvious that Croydon is really, really lucky to benefit from Kevin’s inclusive vision, which saw him pioneering an Arts Quarter and building a gallery that is rising fast from the derelict post-riot ashes of the city centre. His collaboration with female graffiti artists Femme Fierce earlier this year launched a technicolour explosion into a retail wasteland. His award winning non-profit organisation Art Halo supports vulnerable people to access the arts and RISE also supports the development of art projects at Croydon University Hospital.

As an economist who began collecting art when he set out to source an Andy Warhol at a lower price than anyone else, Kevin also knows how to promote growth – there has been a 400% increase in footfall and an increase of new businesses opening in St George’s Walk, all without any funding support.

Kevin Zuchowski-Morrisson, owner of RISE gallery.
Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

It’s very rare to be given a gallery owner’s tour through a VIP collection of artworks by an internationally renowned artist, yet Kevin offers this with easy generosity. “It Began On The Walls is in essence a retrospective of Banky’s artwork so you can see from his very first edition here, Rude Copper, through to new releases like No Ball Games and mini canvases that he did – it’s kind of a journey through time”. He walks us through each of Banksy’s pieces, sharing fascinating details – Grin Reaper, (sic) printed on recycled paper, was the only print of which every copy was signed and in the early days, his Lady Di-Faced Tenners were given away with prints as an incentive to buyers. These days, every print is numbered and sold to carefully selected VIPS with strict Ts and Cs.

Banksy provokes, questions, teases and challenges

‘Iconic’ is a word that comes up repeatedly in responses to Banksy’s work. The immediacy of his images prompts instant recognition, whilst also allowing freedom of interpretation. Standing in front of The Donut Police in which a giant pink-iced donut is given a police escort similar to that of royalty, Citizen Editor-in-Chief James Naylor and I speculate that it could represent subversion of social hierarchy or a commentary on consumerism personified by junk food – or it could simply provoke a laugh. By constantly juxtaposing opposite and incongruous elements – from Flying Copper with a smiley face, machine gun and angel wings to a young girl hugging a bomb (Bomb Hugger) – Banksy provokes, questions, teases and challenges the stories that we are told and sold about society.

This’ll Look Nice When It’s Framed is the caption of a Banksy piece that appeared on a wall in San Francisco in 2010 and certainly Kim, one of the street artists visiting the exhibition, says that she prefers her art on walls rather than in frames. Another street artist, Stephen, is capturing as many photos as he can for his London Calling blog. RISE Gallery, with its transparent glass front, exposed brick ceilings and accessible, inclusive ethos is certainly as close to the wall as it can get. Tonight it’s a place where the worlds of virtual, street and gallery art collide.

Described by Jon Savage as ‘the concrete cage of Croydon’ that triggered the ‘starting pistol’ of punk, the streets here have spawned many a rebel including Jamie Reid, creator of artwork for the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren and David Bowie, who all attended Croydon Art School. It is the social relevance of Banksy’s work that Kevin feels is a “great narrative for what we’re going through in a weird way… it challenges all kinds of social injustice… suddenly Banksy came along and made everything so relevant, people just got it and felt included in art again”. I certainly feel that I’ve been included in provocatively brilliant artistry as I leave the preview, feeling the hum of the party rise from the streets beneath my feet.

It Began On The Walls continues at RISE Gallery until Friday August 28th.

Katie Rose

Katie Rose

Katie Rose - Singer, Composer, Conductor, Writer - Katie loves singing and helping people sing. Described by the Guardian as a 'fine singer' and by fRoots magazine as an 'eye (and ear) opener,' she has released three albums. Committed to creating uplifting, inclusive experiences of singing, Katie has led singing sessions in hospitals, hospices, festivals and community choirs across London. Convinced of the power of music to make waves in the world she has conducted mass choral events for Sing for Water and is directing Croydon's first Festival of Peace 2018. For more information visit www.therosewindow.org

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  • http://batman-news.com Mark Johnson

    Great news for Croydon. This positivity about Croydon is fabulous.

  • http://idioplatform.com/ Jonny Rose

    Superb review with a very powerful lede. Kevin deserves our enduring support and love for all that he is doing to bring an arts renaissance to Croydon: http://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/st-georges-walk-become-epicentre-croydons-independent-arts-revival/ :)

  • Carol Robertson

    Great to hear new ideas coming into Croydon and inspiring people. Though I think the phrase “derelict post-riot ashes of the city centre” is a bit harsh and untrue. I work on the High Street just along from St George’s Walk and I see vibrancy and diversity. St George’s Walk and the buildings surrounding it did not suffer due to the riots, but due to a council plan to redevelop this area.

  • Charles B.Wordsmith

    pleased to stumble across this fascinating exhibition, though on the afternoon
    I went, I was the only punter. Wonder if they’d put up some sort of Banksyan
    sign on St George’s street,
    they might get even more visitors. Can you please enlighten me as to the
    meaning of Cs and Ts. Who selects the VIPs, I wonder – somehow, although I
    believe Banksy to be one of the most interesting and exciting artists of our
    time, who clearly deserves to be well rewarded for his art, the prospect of his
    prints only going to VIPs seems to negate the very democratisation of art that
    his original wall-works implied.