Review: Frivolous Convulsions at TURF Gallery, Whitgift Centre


By - Wednesday 14th February, 2018

A feast of fantasy and colour enjoyed at the Whitgift Centre’s bold TURF Gallery


Photo by Peter Ball, used with permission.

As an antidote to a dull, cold winter’s day and the mundane reality of everyday life, I’d warmly recommend TURF Projects’ latest exhibition, Frivolous Convulsions. This riot of fantastical art shows off the work of several artists whose vision is sometimes humorous and sometimes dark and challenging – and, indeed, quite often both. Yet what all of the artists seem to share is a delight in and affinity with the wonderful world of colour.

The first two pieces that you might view are simple sculptures by David Harrison, made from cardboard and other found materials. The first is a colourful court jester’s hat with little plastic balls hanging from its pointy ends, which I was rather disappointed to find didn’t swing as much as I’d hoped when I flicked them with my finger. The other, named ‘Pink Lady Drag’, was a cardboard box that seemed to have the face of a somewhat surprised drag artist with badly applied pink makeup, a cheap necklace but rather subtly coloured beautiful feathers rising from the back of her cube-like head. Quite ridiculous, but also funny.

Harrison’s other two works in the exhibition are paintings that both have a dream-like, fantastical quality to them. The first, titled ‘Sticky End’, shows a frog more than ten times the size of a suited businessman running along a log, about to catch him with his long pink tongue. To the left of the picture, a skull in pantomime drag suggests that all creatures will ultimately meet the same end. Yet the other creatures, flowers and fungi in this fantastical landscape are really beautiful and vibrantly alive.

Numerous half-human, half-animal creatures, all displaying their phalluses… this is the explicit material warned about

The second, titled ‘Kissed By A Witch (One Night In The Woods)’, seems to portray a male homosexual sex fantasy with numerous half-human, half-animal creatures all displaying their eager phalluses. This must certainly be the explicit material warned about at the door, and would suggest that it’s certainly not an exhibition for parents to take young children to.

I was particularly impressed by four paintings by Babette Semmer. The largest was a portrait named ‘Cecilia’, showing a young woman on a chair, reading a book in a fairly empty room. Her beautifully painted, bright, casual clothes were splashed with paint, and the broom to her side seemed to suggest that she’d finished her job, tidied up, and was now taking a well-earned rest. The other three smaller paintings were in more muted pastel shades and far more humorous in tone, taking an amused look at various aspects of human activity and character.

My favourite painting of the exhibition was a kaleidoscope of colour called ‘Night Owls’ by Denzil Forrester. Four figures in different degrees of light and shadow were seated around a table. Was it a book that one of them was holding in his hands? Why did the woman’s face seem to be bathed in a purple light? I couldn’t really tell you, just as I couldn’t really tell you why I liked this pleasing display of shapes, colours and characters so much.

Photo by Peter Ball, used with permission.

.There are many other paintings by different artists in the exhibition, but to find out about them you’ll have to go and see them. I have merely tried to describe some of the ones that appealed to me. The one that disturbed me most, though, was called ‘Measure For Measure’, by Grant Foster. Here the heavy, muddy boot of authoritarian censorship seemed poised to stamp on a book called – ironically – ‘Book Burning’. A little flame stood next to the book, as if suggesting its inevitable, ultimate fate. Presumably inspired by Raymond Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451, it seemed a chilling metaphor for the power of state censorship in the world today. Whatever our current woes, we are still able at present to say, write and paint what we want in this country, and this is a freedom it seems ever more vital to protect.

It is also sometimes free to wander into a gallery and look at some thought-provoking art that can change the way that we view the world. So I’d suggest that you take advantage of TURF’s latest exhibition while you still can.


The TURF gallery is situated in the Whitgift Centre on the ground floor near the Wellesley Road entrance. Opening times are Wednesday to Sunday, 11am to 5pm, and the exhibition runs until Sunday 25th February.

Charles Barber

Charles Barber

Adoptive Croydonian, currently trying to publish a book and find gainful employment within the Croydonian urban jungle. Environmental campaigner, Twitter@rainforestsaver, founder of the Croydon Rainforest Club and of the Friends of Whitehorse Park.

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