Packing in art in Peckham: A tour of South London galleries with Art Licks

By Mark Sheerin | 16 June 2011
A tour party files through the red-painted door of a pub
This gallery sure looks like a pub: crossing the threshold of The Bun House
© Mariona Otero, marionaotero.com
Well-connected guide Holly Willats has been running tours to Peckham for more than six months, but the South London district still feels like new territory. And if, like me, your knowledge of the area does not extend far beyond the opening credits of a long-running BBC sitcom, the Art Licks gallery tour may come as a pleasant shock.

The South London Art Map puts the number of local venues at 30, but advance press could not prepare anyone for walking into a dodgy High Street boozer and finding contemporary art cheek by jowl with a well-used dartboard and racing on the TV.

This was The Bun House, a pub where safety in numbers appears to be a good idea. But artist/regulars Craig Dow and Francis Thorburn were at ease as they clutched pints of Guinness and held the floor while introducing their confrontational show.

Gut Club 2011 was comprised of a poster campaign warning against junk food and a video installation of the inside of a stomach. In a dark backroom, this sculptural piece looked just the kind of thing you might fall into after a long day spent here.

A young woman watches a monitor on a gallery floor
Checking out the exhibition Movies at The New Gallery
© Mariona Otero, marionaotero.com
Just as unexpected was a bright green polyhedron on Peckham Square. This, too, was a gallery - the purpose-built Peckham Space. The striking design is as eco-friendly as the colour scheme as Director Emily Druiff told us.

Their current show, filmed with hexacopters, recreates the aerial journeys once made possible round the nearby estate by a network of Utopian walkways. Like most of the gallery’s shows, David Cotterrell’s project is focused on the lives of local residents.

By the early 1990s the walkways were all demolished, so our small group continued on ground level to an unpromising run-down industrial park even further south. It came as yet another surprise to find that Son Gallery was a pristine modern space.

Son’s mission is as clear cut as its white-washed walls. Young curator and artist team Guy Robertson and Tom Saunderson told us how they use the gallery for applied lens based media. A current show merges photography and sculpture.

A woman looks at paintings on a gallery wall
Place to work and to show work: Sunday Painter
© Mariona Otero, marionaotero.com
It soon emerged that no two galleries on the packed and pacy tour were liable to be the same. The New Gallery is a laid back café, where film installations drowned any chatter from the nearby sofas; while Sunday Painter seemed an all-business artist-run studio with a slick exhibition space on the first floor.

Our last appointment was at the no-less dynamic but perhaps more anarchic studio-and-gallery, Arcadia Missa. Resident artist Rosza Farkas, who also grew up nearby, told us they rent the arch from Network Rail and alerted us to the low ceiling as we reached the mezzanine.

Here we met artist Jammie Nicholas, who offered samples of a perfume made from bodily waste and shared photos of a signet ring which featured an engraving of his anus. “It’s quite pretty, really,” claimed another art tourist. It was certainly different for a Friday night.

The event was scheduled to last two hours, but pretty soon four had flown by and our latest location was a heaving pub, deep in a hitherto unexplored part of the inner city. It’s a good thing there are late trains out of Peckham, but it’s well worth the trip all the same.

  • Art Licks run tours of Peckham/Camberwell, Hackney and Hackney Wick once every two weeks. See www.artlicks.com for booking details.
  • The tour I enjoyed was organised in conjunction with spoonfed.co.uk; check out their arts page for more coverage of art in London.
Visit Mark Sheerin’s contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.

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