I believe it was Edwin Starr who so eloquently sang “Art huh, yeah what is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Good God, what is it good for! Absolutely nothing! Say it again, y’all! Err……Sorry that’s War not Art, simple mistake both have the letters A and R in them…..no? moving on swiftly. It would appear, Peckham now pronounced (PEE –CAM) is now the official up and coming, already arrived, trendy, urban art hotspot! This level of artistic excitement has not been witnessed since William Blake consumed those funny mushrooms on Peckham Rye and was visited by the Prophet Ezekiel. This is similar to what happens to me. The exception is I grow a Jheri curl and quote from Ezekiel 25:17 whilst contemplating the difference in cheese quality from burgers from around the world. I really must avoid meat items from some of those dodgy butchers on rye lane, great vengeance and furious anger indeed. Anyway all manner of trendster outlets and publications have hailed Peckham as a cornucopia of artistic pleasures. If media reports are to be believed, Peckham is a gluttonous mass of artists being constantly stuffed to bursting point by the loving but abusive feeder/enablers of Camberwell college of arts and Goldsmiths college graduates. The “wafer-thin mint” that may cause Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life- The Autumn years” like consequence to Peckham’s inflated form being provided by London college of communications and Central saint Martins graduates.
A lot of this has to do with the spectacular response to the Hannah Barry gallery’s Peckham Pavilion at this years Venice biennale. However they’re not the only show in town. Area 10 on the site of the former Witten Timber yard, has been around since 2002. Auto Italia southeast at the former fiat showroom and garage on glengall road just off the old kent road has recently arrived. Not to mention the Anthony Gomley bollards, the Sassoon Gallery under peckham rye station arches. The artists in the Bussey building, The chronic love foundation In fact big shout out to all the others setting up and preparing to take their places in the pantheon at a latter date, word is born, Underdog art Company and Nolias gallery on old kent road…. word is born! Right, quite enough of that then. It must be boom time for warehouse proprietors.
I’ve observed a tri-partite approach, to how artists operate in Peckham. We have what I would term as the new age/anarchist/squat which I will call “squart” the more traditional art school to warehouse to international fame and fortune artist, which I will call “celebart” and “Pubart” public art which involves the artist having close links with the council, community involvement and collaboration such as the “I love Peckham festival” Of course crossovers can and do occur across the groups. Hannah Barry was part of the Lyndhurst way squat before embarking on her own gallery on Copeland road. Celebart seems to be engaging the formal art world, whilst Squart seems to be attempting an alternative lifestyle. All these are of course crude methods of classification, that would probably lead to those being classified insisting they and their work is unclassifiable. It seems Southwark council are more accommodating of celebart and Pubart then they are of Squart. It’s no surprise as celebart is more media friendly can reinvent and rebrand an area, something Southwark has been trying to achieve with Peckham for some time. In a similar vein pubart is seen as a form of “social regeneration” that accompanies the “honey coloured” bricks and “affordable units” Springing up everywhere.
This has been very good for Peckham in terms of positive media coverage, and good for celebart as those involved are seen as being on the vanguard of contemporary British art and embracing an “edgy”, “dodgy” area. Not so good for Squart as exemplified by Spike Surplus arts and community centre which was closed down in February as the council wish to sell the land to developers. Also not so good for pubart in difficult economic climates and impending spending cuts which will no doubt decimate arts budgets. This arrangement, as alluded to earlier is also good for developers who will in turn “develop” more properties in cool PEE-CAM, with only lip service paid to a couple of “affordable” units and “key worker” units and the rest being sold for extortionist prices the moment the market picks up once more. This is an interesting conundrum in terms of “legacy”. That’s right I’m getting all Olympics on your ass. Will the unintended legacy of celebart be gentrification? That is difficult to say at this stage. My particular take on legacy is following on from the recent Alan Milburn report regaurding social mobility or lack of it in Britain. Now I’ve not met ALL the artist plying their trade in Peckham but I’m willing to wager, barely one of them has been brought up in the area. If they have, they will likely to have been residents of the Bellenden regeneration area, as opposed to North Peckham or Friary estates for example. I’m not suggesting only artist from a particular area should be working in that area. I’m merely concerned about how to bring into existence the next generation to make the art world stand up and take notice can also be from North Peckham, friary and Aylesbury estates. The social mobility report concentrates on certain professions such as medicine, law, Journalism and the civil service. I’m willing to wager a similar story in terms of the number of independently schooled persons in the creative industries and in particular fine art. I’m not suggesting every artist living in Peckham should be made to participate in patronising “art” projects with “disadvantaged kids”. I am not suggesting ALL arts projects involvong “disadvantaged kids” are patronsing, or that such kids should not be engaged in art. I’m suggesting quite the opposite. How do you get the next generation of Peckhamites to be the producers as opposed to being the canvas ready to bear the marks of broad brushstrokes wielded by others.
Nobody is denying the hard work and sacrifice some of the artists have had to endure, for example the 78 Lyndhurst Way squat apparently at times lacked basic amenities such as water, electricity and was rat infested. This in a way is the romantic view of the life of an artist, the penniless vagrant with the exception being non of the present day crop expect to die in poverty and obscurity and have their work discovered by a later generation. Being on minimal benefits and living an extended “student lifestyle” has become a certain rites of passage. The current arguments about unpaid internships apply here also, Coming from a less connected less wealthy background, the need for income impends itself earlier. Also a world of difference exists in perception between someone from a working class and or minority background being on benefit to someone from a more affluent background. Ultimately creativity requires time and space; it is a tremendous risk for persons not from a particular background to enter this field. The invention and sacrifices these young artists have shown is admirable, but ultimately depends on incorporation into the mainstream, I have no doubt young people form less affluent and minority background can show the same level of inventiveness and sacrifice, the eventual access to the mainstream is where it all falls down.
I’ll leave you with some interesting quotes from artist and film maker Steve McQueen, the official artist for the British pavilion at this year’s Venice biennale, made before his 1999 turner prize win:
He has said in the past that he has had a better response in the US than he has at home.
”Maybe because black artists are more noticeable over there and gain a broader acceptance,” he said in one interview.
Also on receiving the Carl Foreman bafta for his mainstream film directorial debut Hunger:
I just wanna say to my mum, you were right one has to work twice as hard”