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Home » Art, Non-fiction, Reviews


Submitted by admin on October 23, 2010 – 10:51 amNo Comment

by Vera Blagev

cryptOne of the most atmospheric venues in all of London is a home of the departed. But it’s not a Twilight-inspired vampire forum. Or a goth club. It’s the underground burial ground of one of London’s most striking churches – the St. Pancras Parish Church near Euston. The final resting place of almost six hundred people, the crypt has also played a part during both World Wars, being used as an air raid shelter. And after such a distinguished history, in 2002 it become an innovative art exhibition venue. Initially starting with occasional shows, the crypt now exhibits art all year long mainly from emerging artists. Religion and art have had a long symbiotic relationship. And understandably, some of the more obvious themes of the art works presented often are life, death, and spirituality. Yet due to an open-minded approach by the staff at the Crypt Gallery, these themes are explored in a variety of ways, both engaging and without too heavy of a religious bend.

The exhibition space really starts outside the crypt itself. Leading to its opening, the visitor passes by romanesque columns (caryatids), inspired by the Ionic Temple of the Erectheum on the Acropolis. Passing these statuesque stone ladies and stepping down the stairs, the visitor then enters the crypt. The space itself is fantastic. A labyrinth of burial chambers, brick walls and low ceilings. Atmospheric, and a little claustrophobic. Definitely not for those who are squeamish about life’s inevitable end. But for the rest of us, it’s a fantastically moody space which provides a great context for the art hanging in it. Seeing a show at the Crypt Gallery is a multi-sensory experience – from the slight echo of the brick walls to the musty smell and the damp heavy air. The crypt serves as a wonderful setting for a surprisingly diverse array of art – having a religious background is a not a prerequisite.

Most shows at the Crypt tend to be of high quality and complement the history and particular spirit of this most interesting of London exhibition spaces. This month, the show entitled “Flashier… and Trashier” is particularly well-suited for the crypt’s unique ambiance. The exhibition focuses on some fabulously exuberant outsider art. Once just a niche market, outsider art includes a jumble of categories, including naïve art, folk art, art brut, and visionary art. More recently, London’s interest in this particular flavor of artistic expression has increased, not least of all due to the Museum of Everything’s exhibitions. Outsider art often displays bright colours and loud, almost garish attitudes. Kitsch is embraced as is found object art – the louder, the better. The overall effect is superb and smacks the viewer in the face as soon as they enter the subterranean chamber. The work is not subtle. The group of nine artists exhibiting this month have a few mantras they work by. “Don’t wear beige, it might kill you… Avoid minimalism like the plague… Dare to be vulgar.” My particular favourites includes the intricate paintings of Julia Sisi, the found art objects of Sue Kreitzman and the fantastically macabre work of Kate Bradbury.

In this somber place of the dead, this exhibition presents the joy of life. For some, this may seem disrespectful. But for others with a wider view of the world it makes perfect sense. Mixing life and death is no recent innovation. Celebrating those that have passed through joyous and loud celebrations is part of the culture in some parts of the world. In Mexico for instance, The Day of the Dead celebrations, during which families honour their ancestors with spectacularly loud and bright celebrations have been around for hundreds of years. The festivities mix reverence and respect for those who have departed with bright and colourful altars and other decorations. And it’s this spirit that the current show at the Crypt Gallery invokes. Celebrating life and colour in the background of death and darkness. People are painted on large canvasses, have limbs of fabric, bodies of suitcases and have their bodies reduced to shoes and skulls. Add in an element of the macabre flavour of the Day of the Dead celebrations, and you have the fantastic juxtaposition that is this month’s show. An exhibition that illustrates quite well the ongoing commentary that art is able to make on the big aspects of life – spiritual or not.

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