“Bowie was wrong, Croydon’s always been cool”: Gavin Kinch’s new art exhibition at Boxpark

By - Wednesday 12th September, 2018

The creator of The Town That Love Built talks about art, Croydon, the gift of being an outsider, and his month-long exhibition at Boxpark

Gavin Kinch at Made in Croydon market, Boxpark. Photo by Vipul Sangoi, used with permission.

The work of Gavin Kinch, a blend of retro graphics and futuristic themes, is one of the coolest things to come out of Croydon in recent years. The Town That Love Built has become a buzzword for everything that’s stylish, cutting-edge and exciting about art, about Croydon and the place where the two meet. Now, in a new exhibition of his work running in Boxpark for the month of September, a whole other dimension to his work is revealed. Newcomers to his work, prepare to be wowed; loyal followers, step up to the next level.

“The exhibition is called Croy:Fi and I guess it’s a collectors’ edition: the hit single, a few rare cuts, a couple from the new record and one behind-the-scenes exclusive. As well as the pictures that people can see and buy, a lot of my work is for private clients so I’m really happy when I’m able to include these to exhibit.”

The Town That Love Built is a distinctive and unique body of work, overlaid with the artist’s characteristic signature themes. “If Walt Disney had bought up vast hectares of central Croydon instead of Florida swampland to build Walt Disney World, it would look like The Town That Love Built”, says Gavin.

Croydon Winter Olympics by Gavin Kinch, used with permission.

His working career started in the music industry – with a self-confessed passion for audio electronics, he has run a recording studio in Croydon for many years. He explains that when he couldn’t record, he was researching and building audio units, and when he couldn’t solder things together, he needed something else to occupy himself.

“I bought a half-price app for my iPad which allowed me to connect shapes together while watching a movie or trying to sleep, and around this time I received an email offering me a slot at a small art exhibition. I was sure I wasn’t an artist, so I ignored the request for as long as possible but eventually agreed, thanks to a little encouragement from the curator.

I had a few weeks to come up with the goods, so I stayed up each night and started sketching a kraken (a mythological monster) in Croydon underpass, a space rocket as the Clocktower and a proud stag in Park Hill. I named one ‘It Came From Croydon’ – a nod to trashy sci-fi fiction – and friends started asking for prints. I made a short run of posters and soon strangers started asking for prints, so I started a Facebook page and the rest just happened.”

“We spend so much of our lives engineering situations that stop us from looking at what we really need”

What drives his passion to create is seeing the beauty in “an engineered mistake”, he explains. “It’s seeing something the wrong way, a joke that nobody else would notice. The dominating theme of my work is taking something seen as commonplace and putting it in conflicting surroundings. In so doing, we see that it wasn’t so common after all. I believe that’s where the humour and beauty of art lies.”

Gavin is no stranger to Boxpark, where the works on his stall at the regular Made in Croydon makers’ markets at the venue regularly sell out by lunchtime. And, it turns out, preparing work for an exhibition is not so different to preparing work to sell at markets or to order for private commissions. “It’s actually very similar. Every artist wants to be perpetually treading new steps but we forget that for each person familiar with our work, there will be another who will be seeing it for the first time, so they should get to see the story from the start.”

Pulling together the works for a keynote new show in his hometown doesn’t faze him. “Manic queues and noisy bars are nerve-wracking for me; putting together an art show is where I thrive. We build these worlds because we lose control of our surroundings and need to find a place that we can control so that we might reconnect with ourselves.”

Private commission by Gavin Kinch, used with permission.

And while Croydon is his beloved hometown, for the past year he has been living in France.

“It started as a post-holiday dare that kept growing until I ran out of excuses not to go.” Before that, he says, he had been gaining success, living in a great town with wonderful friends, but he wasn’t happy. He describes it as “slow drip”.

“You don’t notice at first and if you’re not careful, one day you’ll wake up and a torrent hits you.

I needed to find the things that I had neglected and left behind along the way. We spend so much of our lives engineering situations – be they work, relationships, money – that stop us from looking at what we need because it’s reassuring to serve something else rather than look internally. So I wanted to feed myself – play the piano every day, walk in the sunshine, swim in rivers, learn a new language, exercise, eat well and – most importantly – have the time and space to create artwork.”

The process, he reveals, has not necessarily changed his work but certainly has changed his understanding of himself and the world a little. Why? Because it’s good for the soul to be an outsider once in a while, he explains – “even if our move was through privilege rather than obligation”.

“Croydon is my favourite holiday – I’d go mad if I didn’t return”

“I was terrified that it could be seen as career suicide but I’m having more success today than ever. It could be easy to take our lives for granted but removing everything that supports you makes you value it so much more. Since moving away I see more of my family, spend more quality time with friends and have more meetings and opportunities than I did when I was in the centre of Croydon, so I’m very lucky.”

Forthcoming plans include a series of fourteen Croydon murals for AMP House on George Street, which he says he is really excited about, as well as a large-scale canvas in the centre of the town that will be unveiled at the end of the year, which he promises will be a lot of fun.

But Croydon hasn’t lost him to France. Far from it.

“I’m regularly in Croydon, the only difference is that my commute has two wings and trolley service. Croydon is my favourite holiday; I’d probably go mad if I didn’t return. This is where David Bowie and I will disagree. Croydon has always been cool.”

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette has been a journalist since the age of 7 when she devised, designed and launched ‘Fallon’s News’ – much to her family’s delight. Brought up in Ireland, she was born in Addiscombe where she now lives, though it took her several decades to find it again. She works as a journalist and broadcaster. Follow her at Twitter.com/bernibee

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  • https://www.inthewritingroom.com Ian

    Great article. Can’t wait to see the murals.