REVIEW: Reasons to be Cheerful at Photofusion and The Hair of The Dog at Block 336

© Liam Bailey from Forever England

By Ruth Waters

Cultural pickings are rich around Brixton this month. London-based photographer, Liam Bailey’s solo show at Photofusion presents a celebration of his career to date. After 25 years of capturing moments of comedy and paradox – as well as the almost-human physiognomy of worn-out footballs – Reasons to be Cheerful, contains both photos which have become iconographic and many which you can’t believe haven’t.

© Liam Bailey Spidermen band on a fag break in the rain

Even if the photos themselves don’t charm you (and it is hard to see how the ‘Spidermen Band on a Fag Break’ couldn’t, complete as it is with all the makings of a comic sketch) the odd juxtapositions of different images are sure to fascinate. In Reasons to be Cheerful legendary icons share wall space with the miniature “inhabitants” of Bekonscot, Britain’s first model village and thus a forlorn, clumsily-painted, four-inch ‘woman’ on the beach stares into the middle distance just 6 feet away from Bailey’s portrait of Al Gore.

Kiera Bennett Heap 2012

The Hair of the Dog at Block 336 is an exhibition of a number of artists work, themed around the ‘morning after the night before’.  Although some pieces offer a light-hearted glimpse at the last few standing on nights of excess, The Hair of the Dog contains some searing and depressing insights into the deflating of pretensions and rising of regrets which plagues modern party-going. In the words of the curator, Reece Jones, the exhibition charts “the moment it [tips] from optimism to cold, dew soaked reality”.

Louise Durose’s watercolours, devoid of people, depict the post-party mess: a mound of conference chairs with a few askew and balloons stuck to the ceiling. If there was fun before the “cold, dew soaked reality” of Durose’s paintings, it was watered-down, corporate and stunk of self-congratulation. Sam Dargan’s five small oil paintings are equally dark in content.

Sam Dargan

With titles that include “They Don’t Miss Here Poor Devils” and “Black Hearted Stooge”, his paintings depict isolated middle-income men in stark surroundings, looking like they would rather be anywhere else but where they are. Other highlights of the exhibition for me included Kiera Bennett’s series of paintings, which narrate a ritual of escapism and the subsequent hang over. “Jostle”, “Smoking (Green)”, ‘Party”, “Heap” and “Poisoned” capture a familiar cycle of hope, excess, joy, regret and despair, expressed eloquently and without melodrama, in colour and shape alone.

Another star of The Hair of the Dog, and one which cannot go without a mention, is the fantastic exhibition space itself. I catch a bus from just outside Block 336 every day, and had failed to notice there was a gallery there.

Its 450m of exhibition space creates a post-industrial chilled out tank, large enough to roam freely and take in the art from all angles.

The Hair of the Dog takes full advantage of the space and the night-time, hidden feel that seems to naturally accompany being in a ‘forgotten’ basement.

Entry to both Reasons to be Cheerful and The Hair of the Dog is free. Photofusion is located at 17A Electric Lane, Brixton and Reasons to be Cheerful is showing until November 8. Gallery 336 can be found at 336 Brixton Road, in the basement of the Lambeth Accord building. Hair of the Dog is open from Thursday to Sunday, 12 until 6 pm or by appointment. Until October 26.

You can follow Ruth Waters on Twitter at @minimalismblog.


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