Event review: the Picasso Bestiary exhibition at the TURF Gallery

By - Wednesday 16th December, 2015

Tom Winter has a beastly time in Keeley Road

Photo by Ollie Harrop, used with permission.

TURF Projects‘ latest exhibition entitled ‘A Bestiary’ is a reflection on a little known inaugural exhibition held at the Croydon Clocktower gallery some twenty years ago. This was entitled ‘Cock and Bull Stories: A Picasso Bestiary’ and was a wonderful collection of some eighty works by Picasso involving animals or monsters, available for all of south London to enjoy for a short period of time. The present day ‘Bestiary’ exhibition at the Turf Projects’ Gallery space in Keeley Street is seeking to interpret the historic Picasso exhibition in a modern light.

Photo by Ollie Harrop, used with permission.

Walking along Keeley Road, I could glimpse the central table within the gallery space, and as is so often the case at the Turf Project exhibition launch nights, it was satisfyingly crammed with people deep in conversation. However, before I could reach the front door a striking piece of work, that I would later discover to be entitled ‘I Sin and Ain’t Much (branks with familiar)’, caught my eye through the gallery window.

It was a Darth Vader-inspired dominatrix pig’s head

On top of a plinth at around chest height, casually resting on a plate, was what I can only describe as a Darth Vader inspired dominatrix pig’s head.) Not a real pig’s head, I might add). I like to imagine that the artist, Mark Scott-Wood, was thinking about Picasso’s cubist style paintings of animals and how their distorted features in these two-dimensional worlds would manifest in a three-dimensional setting, creating a distorted view of an animal.

I grabbed myself a beer and began my journey into a world of contemporary cubist interpretation. Browsing in a clockwise direction, choosing to follow the ‘works list’ guide I had picked up rather than opposing it, as is my usual nature, I firstly came across a small charcoal drawing in a sea of red by Mike Davies.

The work entitled ‘Stay. Please’ depicts a person sitting down and somewhat pleasantly distracted by a mouse sitting beside them. The one faint but definite horizontal line that defines the surface in the mid-ground is quick to challenge the deliberate lack of detail and muddled background that portrays a sense of helplessness that the person and mouse find themselves in.

The work put me in mind of late nights working at university while mice scurried along the hallway

This made me recall times spent working on designs late at night during my second year of university, and becoming aware of the occasional mouse scurrying about our messy and cold hallway. I could somehow sense the presence of this mouse more than that of my many dozing housemates, and I wondered if the mouse was aware of my presence.

It was fantastic to see how the historic influence of Picasso had created such a vast array of work, both in scale and medium. There were a number of pieces of work, such as ‘Polymide-mix’ by Rebecca Gould, that arguably seized a great deal of inspiration directly from his style of work on animals. In these instances the work itself was seemingly less direct about what exactly was being depicted in terms of animal, and therefore allowed the viewer to imagine a scene of their choice, animals present or not.

There’s a cat. The cat requires discussion

Although all the pieces within the gallery had their own unique character and influence, one piece of work I feel worthy of particular mention was that of John Arthur entitled ‘Self Portrait with Cat, Wyvern and Centaurs’. From across the gallery this appears a very classical painting in which the artist has placed his subjects in the foreground: a lovers’ embrace on a warm summer’s day between centaurs, a man walking his wyvern (that’s a dragon-featured animal of legend) and a small family looking fondly over a typical lake scene, then a mid-ground change of landscape and colour, finishing with a building supporting the background. However, when observed closely, an entirely different world is revealed.

There’s also a cat, a black and white cat, featured in the painting, and this cat desperately requires discussion. For reasons I cannot quite enunciate, then or now, this cat creates unease. Caught side-on in mid-walk, the cat’s tail is bolt upright and together with the contrast of black fur against the lush background of green foliage, creates a sense of some evil.

I am sure I could have been caught staring wide-eyed and silent as I exchanged a probing moment with the cat from ‘Self Portrait with Cat, Wyvern and Centaurs’.

Despite deliberately being in the shadow of an exhibition some twenty years ago focused on the work of arguably one of the worlds most famous artists, this exhibition has yet again provided a magnificent and colourful opportunity in south London to view contemporary pieces of art based on a particular theme. The idea of interpreting animals onto canvas is something anyone can relate to and we have no doubt all done this as children. Seeing this same idea undertaken at a later stage in life with more influence and inspiration makes fascinating viewing.

The exhibition ‘A Bestiary’ on show at the Turf Projects’ Gallery is open until Saturday 19th December. Opening times are Tuesday to Saturday 11:00am to 5:00pm or by appointment.

Tom Winter

Tom Winter

Practicing Architectural Assistant and fabricator of Dirty Croydon Love architecture and urban-design blog, having worked for Fantastic Norway Architekten in Oslo over the summer of 2011 and now recently graduated with a postgraduate in Architecture at London South Bank University. Stimulated in and intoxicated with South London with a keen interest in the potential of Resourceful Design and Urban Social Spaces that can be created through provocative yet sensitive contemporary urban architecture, with a strong belief that architecture can further enhance Croydon’s complex urban community. Also a passionate cricket player, dedicated book reader and enthusiastic CD music collector.

More Posts