This weekend: Portrait of a south London era

A group of ten Brixton art lovers are curating a free public exhibition of forgotten pieces at Brixton East. Arts Co-Editor Ruth Waters met local portrait artist and one of the organisers, Vanessa Brier, to find out how Catherine Stenger’s portfolio came to be gathering dust in an attic on Arlingford Road.

Artwork by Catherine Stenger, former local artist
Artwork by Catherine Stenger, former local artist

Part of the Brixton Artists’ Collective during the 1980s, Catherine Stenger’s work was exhibited 30 years ago as part of Brixton 50 in three interlinked railway arches on Atlantic Road. Although Catherine didn’t achieve vast fame or fortune during her lifetime, her paintings and the era of Brixton 50 are currently being given another opportunity to inspire the community.

“We came across the pieces when we were living in a pretty rundown house on Arlingford Road in Brixton. The house itself was about to be converted into flats, and the owner let it out very cheaply to a big group of us. As the house was being cleared for construction work to begin, we came across Catherine Stenger’s pieces on their way to the skip,” Vanessa tells me. Over 50 works were discovered, including posters of her previous exhibitions, pastel drawings, prints and collages.

The group has been inspired: “So much time and effort has gone into the work, Catherine was very passionate about what she did, and to see it go into a skip seemed like such a waste, it should be celebrated.”

“We really wanted other people to see and enjoy the paintings”, so having rescued them from landfill, Vanessa and her fellow residents set about sorting out a community exhibition. “It was quite hard to find a space to exhibit in Brixton, but we felt pretty strongly that they shouldn’t be kept to ourselves or taken out of the area.”

The exhibition is not looking to generate money and the cost has only been possible for the group to cover because there are so many of them. A real team effort, between ten of them they have been able to create an exhibition which is free to attend.

Very little is known about Catherine Stenger, and Vanessa hopes that the exhibition will help to uncover more about this enigmatic artist, her work and her life in Brixton. “We think she was a bit of a feminist” Vanessa says, but it’s all quite a lot of guesswork at the moment.

The exhibition is from Jan 31 to Feb 2 at Brixton East,100 Barrington Road, SW9.