RISEgallery and Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison: art, inspiration and surprised faces

By - Wednesday 26th November, 2014

Bernadette Fallon meets the Croydonian with Damien Hirst on speed-dial

Photo by RISEgallery, used with permission.

There was a quote I read by Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, owner of Croydon’s newest gallery space RISE, that stuck in my head for weeks before I met him. Speaking to local media at the launch of his gallery, he said that it was his ‘gift’ to Croydon.

What sort of a man was this – who went around gifting entire art galleries to slightly downtrodden areas of London? Croydon may have a large number of artists working in the borough, but it has no fancy Mayfair-style galleries. Nor, on the face of it, the sort of people with enough money to patronise them.

So was this man being a bit cocky with his shiny-new gallery concept, or just slightly deluded?

Neither, it turned out when I met him. Kevin is somebody with a powerful desire to do something positive in Croydon, brimming with ideas for community-led projects, for rejuvenation of the area, for art as a force for social change and for the healing power of art. He also has the means to make his ideas work – no sitting around talking about what ‘could’ and ‘should’ be done – he’s just doing it!

At the start, art was a commodity – then it became his passion

This is a man after all who has Damien Hirst’s number in his phone – a show of Hirst’s works, still on display, is the opening show at RISE. He travels the world buying and selling art and runs a number of business ventures from his Croydon base. He’s a local, with a background in finance, and first became interested in art when he started trading Andy Warhol prints after the recession in 2008. Back then, he explained, art was a commodity, just another thing to be bought and sold, but it quickly became his passion and how he has used it to improve the lives of people around him – including now the people of Croydon – is nothing short of inspiring.

One of those improvements, the ‘regeneration’ of the area around the gallery on St George’s Walk, is already under way. RISEgallery has breathed new life into this looking-rather-sorry-for-itself pedestrian walkway between Park and Katharine Streets. ‘You should see the looks on people’s faces when they wander past and see a load of Damien Hirst paintings through the window,’ laughs Kevin as right there in front of us, two people pause at the window to look in, open-mouthed.

I want to do as much as I can for Croydon

And if you were to think this is the first-of-its-kind gallery in the area, you’d be wrong. The building next door was a cutting-edge gallery back in the ‘50s, when owner Nicholas Treadwell not only waited for people to come to him, but put artworks in Routemaster buses and took them out to the local community. Fitting, then, that Kevin has just bought this building as well, and will open a framing shop there. (Plus it turns out I was wrong to assume Croydon doesn’t have the sort of people who deal in galleries like this. Two of Kevin’s most prolific collectors live in the borough.)

His plans for an ‘Art Quarter’ in the area include a street art project, already underway, where eye-catching murals are blasting life and colour onto security shutters on shop fronts. Once completed, it will include over a hundred murals, on shops, walls and wooden holdings. Anyone can submit a proposal for consideration, though special preference will be given to artists from the local area, and the murals will be replaced every three months. He also hopes to establish an art market outside the gallery, showcasing and selling handmade or local products: ‘I want to do as much as I can,’ says Kevin.

But one of the most inspiring stories is his Art Halo project, a not-for-profit organisation that works with vulnerable people to allow them an expression through art – in whatever form – that may have previously been denied to them.Looking through paintings produced by a group of adults with learning difficulties, after a 12-week course that culminated in a group exhibition at Croydon University Hospital, it’s impossible not to be moved by the beautiful and striking images produced by the group.

If you want to experience first hand that inspiring feeling that spending time with a ‘do-er’ rather than a ‘talker’ can bring, go and seek Kevin out in RISEgallery. He might not thank me for sending a long line of ‘inspiration-seekers’ his way (sorry about that, Kevin), but anyone who cares about Croydon and the future of the town will definitely benefit from time in his company.

RISE gallery is located at 7-9 St George’s Walk, Croydon CR0 1YH; open Tuesday to Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 10am-4pm, or by appointment. Find out more at www.rise-gallery.co.uk.

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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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  • Sean Creighton

    Kevin’s mural project is brilliant as it will encourage people to walk through the area. As I have discussed with him if this could be extended from his arts area into the whole of the Council’s Cultural Quarter area this would help lock the different sections of the Quarter together, encouraging people to walk from East Croydon Station to the Minster. See my discussion on the Quarter at http://historyandsocialaction.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/is-croydon-cultural-quarter-top-down.html.