To enter The Crypt Gallery you leave the bustle of London behind, taking a turn away from the endless rush and frustration of Euston Road and down a quieter path, walk around the church and then a doorway, some steps and … back to the bustle. London Souls is an exhibition of London street paintings and it wears its desire to show the mania of the city proudly. Every canvas is crammed with life as people jostle, connect, walk on by or just plain ignore what’s going on. And whilst there’s probably nothing here to make your jaw drop a visit is certainly rewarding.
A little over a year ago I wrote a little piece about Clive Head’s one room exhibition at the National Gallery – there the recognisable London scenes were presented in vast panoramas with a scale and detail almost impossible to take in on a single viewing. Here, the locations are equally familiar but we’re tighter in and the focus is very much on the people who clutter those spaces and their personalities and lives. The styling of jerky body movements transfers between works with some being rendered in vivid colour and others in monochrome. One that works particularly well in the latter style is one of a fight in the Bethnal Green boxing club. It’s positively Hogarthian as the swirls of the crowd watch on and in the ring one man appears to be about to dominate the other.
I also particularly liked Bar Italia (Golden Day) Soho with its street crowd, delivery boys, cafe drinkers and startled boris biker. It’s available for sale here as either the original canvas (POA) or, in common with the rest of the works, limited edition print. It’s a fine example of what Gray does particularly well in filling the scene and not being limited by the edges of the canvas (another work for example features a single woman’s foot about to walk on at its extremity) and also retaining the right to artistic licence rather than pure realism – this isn’t a photographic record rather an evocation of the scene.
There are numerous works on display making it excellent value for a free exhibition and you will be plied with a catalogue, postcards, lists of prints etc when you walk in which even if they don’t encourage you to buy a work will be a useful reminder of what you’ve seen. And, as you head out from The Crypt Gallery, leaving the representations of bustle behind you can take comfort that that group who’ve just barged past you aren’t simply an annoying gaggle of youngsters but a key part of the colourful fabric of the city that painters like Ed Gray can immortalise.