If you want to know about a city, you ask its inhabitants and those who work in it. We’ve gone one step further however. We’ve asked the talented Southwark-based artists who are exhibiting at our current exhibition – London Bridge Hotel OPEN 3: Urban Nature, to explain how London and in particular, the Borough of Southwark, continually inspires them and their artistic endeavours and how visitors might tap into this important city of culture. This is Anna Walsh’s Southwark.
How does living or working in Southwark inspire your artworks?
Southwark is such a varied borough there is always something to inspire a creative mind. I live in Peckham, and have done since 2000, and it has had a huge influence on my work, and that of the collective I am part of, Garudio Studiage. It is a bit of a cliché but the clashing cultures create such visual impacts. The Garudio Studiage brand was pretty much built on being in Peckham! When you spend most of your time in one area, you notice things other people don’t, small changes or little oddities. One of my most popular pieces is Dogs of London, which is a tongue in cheek guide to the types of dogs you might see in different parts of London. This originally came about because I noticed how many bull terrier type dogs I would see in Peckham, and began to wonder what dogs you might see in other parts of London. This was over a decade ago, so these days it’s more Sausage dogs and French Bulldogs!
What attraction or aspect of Southwark would you recommend to a visiting tourist? Just take a walk right through the middle from bottom to top for a real cross section of London. From the affluent and village-like Dulwich, through crazy Camberwell, Peckham and Elephant and Castle, then Borough and London Bridge and ending up at Tate Modern and a walk along the river. It might take a while but there’s not much you won’t see along the way! You could do it in gallery stages – Dulwich Picture Gallery – Bold Tendencies (if it’s summer)- The South London Gallery- The Drawing Rooms – White Cube Bermondsey – Tate Modern. I also really appreciate the parks, having got a dog in the last couple of years, London really is such a green city. Burgess Park in the springtime I particularly love since it has been transformed – such a change to how it used to be.
Does the long history of the Borough have any legacy bearing on your work, given South of the River was always the haunt of the artistic community?
Although I grew up in Kilburn, we moved when I was 10 to a small town in the West Midlands, and I didn’t come back to London to live until I was in my 20s. Diversity in every sense pulsates through Peckham and the surrounding area, which I think will always appeal to artists, and you particularly notice coming from smaller towns or the country. I ended up there as I studied at Camberwell College, and then there is Goldsmiths nearby, and there were many other art students from other colleges as it was a cheap area to live. It always felt a bit out of the way as there was no tube there, you had to make a real effort to get there, and know the bus routes very well, which probably helped build the artistic community. The first time I visited I stayed with my mum’s cousin who lived in East Dulwich in about 1998, and I remember getting the bus from Elephant down the Walworth road and Peckham Rye – it was a world away from the small town I had come from, but was incredibly exciting and eye opening. The history of the area is something that appeals to me, there is always something surprising to discover. When making my London Animals Stars piece, I discovered giraffes (and a zoo) used to be in Walworth. Who would have guessed that?!
How important, as an artist, is it to be in the capital?
For me, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else at the moment. I enjoy visiting other parts of the UK, but have never felt at home anywhere else. Although in some ways it’s a distraction as there is so much going on, I probably visit two or three exhibitions a week! I think maybe if I lived in the middle of nowhere I might spend more focused time on my art, but then most of my art is inspired by living in London! But it’s not just about the opportunities and availability of pretty much anything you need, it’s also about the other people you meet, from all over the world, who inspire and open your mind. In my practice I’m particularly interested in the relationships between humans and animals in the city, either domestic pets or wildlife encounters, as that is probably the thing I miss most about being in London as I grew up surrounded by a lot of animals. I’m fortunate to have family outside of London so if I need a break I can escape quite easily.
Do exhibitions such as London Bridge Hotel OPEN 3: Urban Nature help to publicize your work/help your artistic CV?
Definitely. There are so many great artists producing fantastic things it’s a shame if no one ever gets to see the work. As with a lot of artists, I hate the marketing/publicity side of things, if anyone wants to help us along it is gratefully received. Often these things lead to other opportunities too.
What do you love most about what artworks you produce?
I love drawing from observation, and I love researching, which is why a lot of my works have a lot of detail and need to be looked at closely. I work in libraries to support my practice, and you can probably tell! I do end up with masses of information, and it can be difficult when nothing comes together and it all seems wrong, it can be very disheartening, and you begin to question what on earth you are doing. But on the other hand it is a very satisfying feeling when it all comes together, the idea and the visual side.
Anna is exhibiting at London Bridge Hotel OPEN3: Urban Nature, running until end of May 2020. Her work is displayed behind the concierge desk, in the hotel’s lobby.
London Animal Stars
16 archival digital prints on Bockingford 190 gsm paper
186 cm x 138 cm
£600 (unframed, one framed edition, on display, available for £1,000)
Open edition. Individual prints available for £40 (unframed)
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