The Drawing Show at the Workers’ Café, Dalston
By James Brewer
Twenty-six artists are taking part in “a show about drawings and their relationship to beginnings.” It is an event with a difference in a venue with a difference.
The Drawing Show runs until March 5 2017 at the three-month-old Workers’ Café in Dalston, a district that has been described as “one of the coolest places in Britain.”
The Kingsland Road meeting spot fits nicely into the lively multicultural entertainment and happenings hub a short but packed bus ride from the City and from much other onward transport.
Curated by Carolina Ambida, the new exhibition demonstrates the prowess of the participants who evoke a mood, a person, an animal, a personality in a few lines, sometimes with the application of a few painted colours or collage. More than that, it is a hymn to the ethos of drawing by hand in the age of computers and customisation.
The hang in this cool café is simple, with the works pinned to the smart wood-slatted walls.
“It is a kind of organic event,” said Carolina. “It is not prescriptive.” Indeed, with the artists allowed freedom of subject, the activity underlines that, as Tom Mason, one of the artists puts it, “Drawing is a happening between next to nothing and becoming something.”
The Workers’ Café is described as a members’ café for the “non-office laptop worker” that does away with the cares and annoyances of remote working. It is a sign of the self-employed times in which many individuals either choose to or are obliged to do without expensive office space.
A huge variety of approaches has been taken by the artists but all clearly have mastery of technique and delight in putting brushes, pens and pencils to paper.
Among the exhibitors, Eleanor Pole comes up with a pair of quizzical canines; Cathy Lomax (a director of Transition Gallery, which is a mile east of the Workers’ Café) has red nail-polished fingers “studying” a page of smudgy figures; her co-director at Transition, Alex Michon, a uses a more traditional style to delineate a hospital nurse-like woman; and Yukako Shibata presents an abstract of strikingly arranged colours.
Annie Kevans has drawn a seemingly effortless but characterful nude study. Among Annie’s many successes have been a collaboration with fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier on a series of 32 paintings depicting his muses, including Kate Moss, Madonna, David Bowie and Amy Winehouse; portraits of US presidential mistresses; and others based on the illegitimate slave children of US presidents including Thomas Jefferson and John Tyler. Annie, “who has an affinity for the marginalised,” has exhibited widely and been praised in substantial press coverage.
Those Worrisome Revolutionaries is executed in “biro and pencil on paper, paper shavings” by Edinburgh-born Charlie Coffey.
Carolina’s contribution is a sensitive crayon drawing which started out as a sketch of the young Sophia Loren. A figurative painter who specialises in the realm of the female, Carolina is “interested in articulating a feminine reality within the limits of female representation and the media at large.”
Born in Manila, she secured a BA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College, University of London, since when she has taken part in a series of group exhibitions in various London galleries. She says that her paintings are based on found images which might begin as a photograph in newspapers, magazines or image banks on the web. Her paintings adhere to their photographic purpose but become more emblematic.
Alex Michon, a writer, artist and a director of Transition Gallery, in an insightful foreword to the exhibition catalogue, celebrates the joys of drawing with quotations from some of its greatest exponents.
She applies the mantra of “the sea of possibilities” of a song by Patti Smith – who appreciates the intimacy of drawing – to “the desiring space of drawing.” Alex writes of “the irresistibility of drawing” and refers to the “diaristic doodles” of Mexico’s Frida Kahlo indicating her engagement with the surrealist premise of psychic automation.
Referring to the plethora of contemporary manifestations of drawing, Alex writes: “Having dipped our pen into the inky sea, looking back we realise we are actually on the edge of an infinite tsunami of possibility.”
In another essay for the catalogue, Tom Mason asks ambiguously, “Where do we draw the line?” What of the concept of the work on paper in the age of computerised reproduction, of the hand-made drawing in the time of copy and paste, Photoshop and video editing? One could be irritated by commentators promoting the notion that using pen, pencil and paper, and notebooks is a 20th century throwback pastime, but it is far from anachronistic. A sheet of paper comes without screen grip, software window, browser interface or app layout. “It hovers, floats, wriggles and shimmies. It might just do the trick.”
This is the first art exhibition to be mounted at the Worker’s Café, which is run by four partners: Andrian Iftodi (who trained as a technical engineer), video film maker Ryan Seville, song-writer Mike Sylvester and musician Dave Sylvester.
The inspiration behind the new café was Andrian’s experience of running a coffee shop in Hampstead, where he met Ryan who as a freelance regularly brought in his laptop to work.
After the Hampstead shop closed, in June 2016 the two men tested their idea to create a coffee-bar work-space specifically for non-office workers, by means of a pop-up shop in Hackney, and in November of that year with crowdfunding support opened their premises in Dalston. It is designed to be “a productive, relaxed working environment away from home.” It has been described as on similar principles to paying for a gym membership, except with “all-you-can-drink filter coffee and tea, for your own seat with power and wi-fi and for 20% discount on food.”
Workers’ Café members pay a monthly, tax deductible subscription which “works out much cheaper than the obligation of having to keep buying coffee in a café because the coffee is free.” Andrian and Ryan, the co-founders, chose the name for their enterprise after famed slogans about “workers united…”
There are three classes of membership, dubbed Proletariat, Bourgeoisie and Landlord. The first option is the cheapest, a monthly subscription for the “creative or freelancer who regularly works from a coffee shop.”
The Drawing Show runs at the Workers’ Café, 404 Kingsland Road, Dalston, London E8, until March 5 2017. Monday – Friday 8am – 6pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am – 6pm. www.workersunite.co.