Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Gill Roth and Andrew Clarke - Make Believe (and 30 years of making things happen in London)

Opening this week at Lewisham Arthouse, Gill Roth and Andrew Clarke present their joint exhibition 'Make Believe'  Gill and Andrew 'make work that blurs the edge between abstraction and representation, where the observable world meets the environment of the imagination. While drawing forms the core of Gill’s practice, Andrew’s figures emerge through a process of collaging and assemblage. Both work on paper in a way that embraces intuition, accident and play with recurring motifs hinting at inner bodily functions or states of mind' (see website for further details).

I had a chat with Gill and Andrew last week. Apart from the intrinsic interest of the exhibition itself, I want to highlight their role as long term 'cultural activists' in London (for want of a better word), helping to make interesting things happen for more than 30 years.

Gill and Andrew met at Maidstone College of Art in the 1980s, where their contemporaries included Tracey Emin, moving up to South London - where Gill had grown up in West Dulwich - shortly afterwards. Andrew did a printmaking course at Morley College, where Gill worked for a spell too.

Gill and Andrew at Maidstone College of Art

Andrew (left) at Maidstone graduation - Melvin Bragg warns art students of the 'hostile world' of market forces
This was a time when cultural work was enabled by a (fast disappearing) economy of benefits, free/low cost adult education, cheap housing (they lived for a while in the Gypsy Hill Housing Co-op) and cash in hand jobs. Like many other art students before and since, Andrew subsidised his own work by life modelling including for the artist Maggi Hambling.

Andrew got involved with legendary Brixton club the Mambo Inn, which ran at the Loughborough Hotel from the late 1980s to 1996. The club was best known for its African and Latin American music but also had a jazz thread running through it which Andrew helped contribute as DJ ‘Danny Polo’. He also designed some of the banners which defined the club’s strong visual image (I had some great nights out there myself in my Brixton clubbing days). Andrew was also able to combine his musical and artistic interests in this period by doing illustrations for Paul Bradshaw’s influential Straight No Chaser magazine. His involvement in music has continued ever since, including singing in 1990s bands Matilda and Charm.
Andrew at Mambo Inn at Loughborough Hotel
Answering an advert in Time Out which asked ‘Why Work’in 1985 led to Gill and Andrew joining ‘Build Hollywood and Film It’, a film/theatre collective operating out of an empty school in Chelsea. Build Hollywood worked for a couple of years making a movie that was never released, but they did make short films including a promotional video for Brixton Cycle Co-op. They also put on events including a comedy night at the Hackney Empire featuring Jonathan Ross and his Last Resort sidekick Dr Scrote. Later the pair were involved with putting on the Umbrella Club at the Diorama Arts Centre near Euston (where Andrew DJ'd along with Charlie Gillett and others), and organising a fundraiser variety night featuring Vic Reeves and Jack Dee performing early in their careers.
Umbrella Club banners and 1991 flyer - 'funk/soul/house/African/jazz/reggae/Latin/raggamuffin/rare groove'
Andrew's own acting involvement led him to perform at that most prestigious of South London venues - the old Den, home of Millwall before its demolition in 1993.  As part of the Bargain Bucket theatre company, Andrew provided pre-match children's theatre. They also put on a children's circus on Ladywell Fields. Alongside his creative work, Andrew trained to teach English as a Foreign Language and has been working with refugees in this field for many years.

Having worked for spells at Morley College, Camberwell Arts College and as an Edinburgh Festival volunteer, Gill meanwhile pursued a career in freelance journalism and arts PR, working initially with Julia Hobsbawm (thanks to an introduction while showing Quentin Tarantino around town on his first visit to London - it's a long story). Over the years she worked for many clients in the arts and museum world including Artangel, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Imperial War Museum

In 2005 they launched Cinetopia, a film night with a quiz, initially at the Crown and Greyhound pub in Dulwich. Later they moved it to the Hill Station Cafe on Kitto Road. This led on to them starting the popular New Cross and Deptford Free Film Festival, bringing their expertise in film, promotion and events.

Gill and Andrew had continued to practice their drawing and printing at various times through the 1990s, including exhibiting in an open show at the famous Cool Tan squat on Effra Road in Brixton (I went to some great parties there too but that's another story). Their relocaton to Telegraph Hill in the early 2000s with its thriving Open Studios scene inspired them to make more work and show it publicly.

Andrew Clarke mural at the Hill Station SE14  - Procession of the Manimals (2014)
Gill Roth paints scenery for Telegraph Hill Pantomime 'Babes in the Wood' (2012)

Andrew and Gill appreciate Lewisham Arthouse as one of the vanishing places offering cheap studio and exhibition space with a minimum of bureaucracy. While they don't have studios there, Gill has attended life drawing classes there for some time as well as more recently attending events organised by the London Drawing Group (who among other things run Drink and Draw sessions at Buster Mantis in Deptford). Gill says I have 'drawn people since I was a kid' but highlights the work of artists such as the London Drawing Group and Nicola Tyson who are doing interesting contemporary work in this medium and showing that 'you can draw in 2018 and still make sense)

Gill Roth, 'Anatomical Venus'

Make Believe runs from Saturday 1st September to Sunday 9th September 2018 (Opening Times: Weds – Sun, 12 – 6pm), with the Private view on  Friday 31st August. 6 – 9pm. Lewisham Arthouse is on Lewisham Way, SE14 6PD. Full details here:

instagram: @rothgill

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