The Elizabeth James Art Gallery and the creative arts in Upper Norwood

By - Friday 3rd March, 2017

Art, culture and creativity in Croydon doesn’t begin and end in the town centre

Photo by Elizabeth James Gallery, used with permission.

With the focus on what’s happening in the middle of Croydon, it’s easy to forget about the various neighbourhoods that make up the borough. Many of us are only vaguely aware of venues and events other than those in our own particular environs.

South Norwood is getting some attention for a number of reasons, including the presence of Stanley Halls, a multipurpose venue incorporating an excellent café. Over the last few years it has gained a following for regular film screenings and provided a temporary home for the South London Theatre, not to mention hosting a recent Northern Soul night, which I can confirm was well worth the £7.00 entrance charge. Furthermore, the area now has one of those signifiers of gentrification with a hint of edge, an Antic pub in the form of the Shelverdine Goathouse. Now add to that an art gallery, in Portland Road.

The mayor of Croydon with Zoe Akroyd Parker.
Photo author’s own.

For me, the story began in Boxpark, the very antithesis of ‘neighbourhood Croydon’, at the very successful Made in Croydon art and craft market held during November. I’d heard that someone called Elizabeth James had won the bid to get the use of a shop unit in Portland Road as part of a regeneration initiative by Croydon to make use of empty units in the South Norwood thoroughfare. Then, as I wandered around the market, there she was. This was before the gallery opened, so in addition to selling her own photographic work, she was using the event as an opportunity to publicise the gallery opening. Unfortunately I was unable to get to the opening but I duly subscribed to her Facebook events feed.

All then went a bit quiet, until the Made in Croydon social event towards the end of January, at another key ‘new Croydon’ location, the Byte Café in the TMRW tech hub, possibly more familiar to some as Davis House. There I met Zoe Akroyd Parker for the first time, then a week and a bit later found myself attending one of her excellent charcoal drawing workshops at the Descartes Gallery in Matthews Yard.

Whilst my efforts won’t win any prizes, both Zoe and the current life-drawing exhibition at the gallery were inspirational. In a tidily circular fashion that seems to happen frequently in Croydon, Zoe has work in the current Interpretations of Love exhibition at the Elizabeth James Gallery, which opened on Monday 13th February, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Interpretations of Love is a group show featuring six very different artists. Notably the exhibitions features photography, prints and painted pieces. The artists are from a diverse range of backgrounds ranging from the traditional art school pathway to self-taught. This means that for some, this is the first public showing of their work. You can find a list of artists represented together with their biographies on the gallery’s website. The private view was well attended, and included the first visit to the gallery by the Mayor of Croydon, Councillor Wayne Trakas-Lawlor.

The gallery works within the community, supporting local artists

Wayne is also a local South Norwood councillor, and it was great to see him bumping into old friends from the area as well as the time he took to talk with everyone present. Given how busy the event was, I was unable to chat with Elizabeth James herself, so I made plans to return on the following Saturday.

I reached the gallery to find a live art session in full swing. First time exhibitor Ilona Kasprzyk was working energetically on a number of pieces simultaneously. Her preferred medium is acrylic on canvas and the energy of her execution shows up in her work. Ilona is an example of how the gallery is able to work within the community, for she noticed it on her way home from Norwood Junction station, spoke to Elizabeth and is now on the artists’ roster.

Elizabeth James.
Photo by Rob Wilson Jr at Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

Later, I asked Elizabeth James how she came to open the gallery in South Norwood. Remarkably, she revealed that for the first twenty-one years of her life she lived directly opposite and could see the building where the gallery is now located from her bedroom window. Although she currently lives in Richmond, she says the opening the gallery feels like coming home, and that from the age of five she has wanted to run an art gallery. The offer from Croydon Council has therefore fulfilled a dream that she never imagined would come true.Her plans include a monthly themed group show (next up is abstract work) and an exhibition of work by under eighteens. As well as making primary school visits, she’s also in talks with local secondary school Harris Academy over collaboration.

Engagement with the local community seems to be key, and encouraging participation is another passion. Zoe Parker will be running another of her popular charcoal workshops in the gallery on Saturday 25th February. Elizabeth’s mission statement is ‘to create fun, uplifting art that creates a positive vibe in any environment’. From what I’ve seen so far she’s succeeding in that; I wish her luck and I’m looking forward to future events at the gallery.

The Elizabeth James Gallery is open from 11:00am to 6:00pm Tuesday to Saturday. Interpretations of Love continues until Tuesday 28th February.

Zoe Akroyd Parker has a solo show (with some works by her son) opening on on Saturday 4th March at the Click Clock Gallery in Katharine Street, central Croydon. It will continue until the end of the month.

Ian Marvin

Ian Marvin

Ian is a product designer who moved to the borough in 2003. His interests in all things Croydon stretch from being on the committee of the Constructing Excellence Croydon Club to active membership of the Croydon Clandestine Cake Club. During the day he works on his interior lighting businesses which are also based in Croydon. In the unlikely event that he has any leisure time, he enjoys creating ceramic pieces and playing bass guitar. Any opinions expressed here are personal.

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