Artist Run: Stepping Out With Footfall Art

A roving project by artist Hannah Luxton, Footfall Art installs the work of emerging artists in the street-facing windows of commercial buildings.

The Hampstead Road is not usually part of London’s art world. Far from both the established dealerships of Mayfair and the hip young gunslingers of Peckham or Bethnal Green, this unloved stretch between Warren Street and Mornington Crescent, populated mostly by speeding emergency vehicles, derelict municipal buildings or soon-to-be-demolished social housing, a single incongruous rock’n’roll-themed cocktail bar, this is a street on nobody’s radar. Which is why, when walking home one evening last week, my eyebrows raised upon spotting a huddle of some dozen or so people clustered around the corner with Drummond Street, clutching tote bags and bottled lager. "And this –" stepping closer I heard someone declare, gesturing expansively towards the window display of the Camden People’s Theatre, "–is the art!"

Footfall Art is a project curated by artist Hannah Luxton since 2013, using the empty vitrines of commercial building as a showcase for emerging talent. The window has long held a peculiar fascination for artists. From the Renaissance to the end of the nineteenth century, a painting was conceived as a window on the world, offering an unimpeded vista to landscapes near and far. For the formalists of the twentieth century, however, it was the window itself, no longer conceived as transparently neutral, that acted as master metaphor. As Seth Kim-Cohen puts it in his In The Blink Of An Ear art moved from looking through the window to looking at the window.

Nor is Luxton’s project the very first to take advantage of the possibilities for exploiting street-facing displays. She cites Bermondsey’s Vitrine Gallery as a key influence, and – even more – the "inconspicuous window gallery at 108 Rosebery Avenue in a Victorian shop from in North London. It has been presented by Maggie Ellenby since 1993," Luxton tells me, via email. "This project is inspiring as I have heard fond accounts of friends who regularly pass the window, never knowing what they are going to see, it is a highlight of their journey." But Footfall Art’s spontaneity and lack of fixed address, makes it a particularly apt enterprise for our precarious times. It can also boast of some very fine work.

So why windows? I ask.

"In 2013 I had just graduated from the Slade, and was working in a cocktail bar. I was chatty with some of the regulars, one of whom had recently moved into a new office on Jamaica Road in Bermondsey. His name is Robert McDermott, a quirky and kind man, he is an art lover and director of Macai, a large construction and interiors company. I remember him being very proud a Picasso edition he had recently acquired. He knew I was an artist, and invited me to organise an exhibition in his new office windows. I instantly started to imagine the potential for an opportunity like this, and went away to draw up a plan.

"With the help of my housemate we came up with the name, and over lunch with my designer Dad and Brother we created the logo. I had a long list of some of my painter friends who I thought would be open minded to work with the challenges of the space. I’d even found a web domain. I presented my project to Robert, and anxiously advised him that he should purchase a professional hanging system to display the work. He was happy to give me free reign, and very kindly funded a state of the art hanging system and installed lighting so that the work would be lit all day and all night.

"On the 23rd October 2013 I launched the project with our first private view showcasing the work of Nicholas John Jones, inviting local galleries and artists to visit, and the Macai team joined in, too. It was a great success. I organised private views for many of the exhibitions at Macai. Robert allowed us to use the office space which was very welcome in the winter months. It was a lovely relaxed atmosphere – they even had a football table which got a bit of use, and I seem to remember Macai hard hats being worn at one point!

"During the residency at Macai, I exhibited seventeen painters. Initially beginning with Slade School of Art graduate friends, whose work I admire. Some of them recommended other artists to me, after understanding my aesthetic, who I sought out and went on to exhibit as well. Excitingly, many of Footfall’s artists have gone on to have some real successes – Linda Hemmersbach and Lee Marshall have been in this years John Moores Painting Prize, Fiona Grady is currently artist in residency at the Art House in Wakefileld, Nicholas John Jones has set up Praksis, an artist residency in Olso, Norway, Alison Boult was selected for the RA Summer show 2015 and Anna Garrett has been accepted into Goldsmiths MA programme.

"I really enjoy the organic process of discovering artists through connections and engagement, and this is how I intend to continue the exhibition program."

And what about the name, Footfall Art?

"The name Footfall Art was born out of the simple concept of the project: Using the exposure that windows offer by facing artwork out onto the streets for the passing world to see. It grants the artists invalubale access to large audiences, while also offering a new moment to passing individuals, interrupting their daily routine, giving them something fresh and different to see, and maybe (hopefully) think about.

"I didn’t anticipate how rewarding this project would be. It dissolves the barriers created by the grandiose white wall gallery, bringing fine art down to earth and accessible to all. I am a big fan of public art in communities, and I believe Footfall Art belongs in this realm."

How did your present collaboration with the Camden People’s Theatre on Hampstead Road come about?

"The collaboration with the CPT came about from my connection as a post graduate with the Slade School of Art, who also occasionally work with the CPT to create exhbiitions of students work. In particular, a painter named Aglae Bassens who I studied alongside, works with Slade painting tutor Lisa Milroy on these student shows. After bumping into her at a private view last summer, she offered to put me in touch with Brian Logan, the director of the CPT, who was very welcoming and happy for me to bring Footfall Art to their windows."

Tell me about your own work. What kind of ideas are animating you particularly as an artist at the moment?

"I make drawings, panel and canvas paintings, and interventions on walls, windows, floors. I’m inspired by the Romantic notion that the sublime is portrayed through raw nature. In response to the city, I combine those ephemeral qualities of the natural world with the authority of geometry and symmetry. I am building a visual language made up of motifs, which are minimal, reductive marks taken from the world around me.

"I’m particularly interested in mountains, arches, at the moment, which you can see in my piece for the CPT, I use my motifs as visual tools to activate imagination and create a sense of depth to the works, while the textures of my painted surfaces bring immediacy to the work and reposition the paintings as objects. I have used the windows in precisely this way, using the layers of the wall, window and reflections to create a spatial piece which is actually very flat. The reflections of the city in the window become part of the work and one sits on the tipping point of the real and imaginary."

What do you remember of your earliest encounters with art works?

"My encounters with art as a child were from within my family. I remember the first time I stopped and looked at the oil paintings in my grandmothers house, and my mother told me that my grandmother painted them. It was exciting to think of her as a painter. Both my parents were graphic designers. My father is very skilled at drawing, and I always marvelled at his sketches.

"It’s magical childhood experiences that have stayed with me and compelled me to explore them in my adult life through art. I remember visiting my grandparents on the Torbay coast, and seeing the ocean, multicoloured beach huts and a changing coloured fountain. And being driven around the heights of the Greek mountains on family holidays. It wasn’t until my teens at school that I was introduced to the likes of Picasso and Modigliani. I then discovered the Pre Raphaelites and Romanticists, German Expressionism, Surrealism and later, Minimalism, all of which influence and inspire me hugely.

"I started playing with painting when I was 16 during my A Levels. On my Foundation course at Middlesex University, I majored in Illustration, but was frustrated that I has to conform to a brief and wasn’t allowed to realise my ideas. So I moved into the Fine Art deptartment, where everyone seemed more free. I remember vividly one tutor telling me I couldn’t use colour effectively, and I think that damaged my confidence in painting for several years. I mostly worked with drawing, printmaking, and lots of photography on my degree at Kingston University. The tutors there were wonderful and by my third year, at 21 I was painting again. During my post grad at the Slade I painted all the time.

"The combination of my relentless attraction to colour, the materiality of paint and it’s malleable texture, and the childhood memories of wonder will forever spur me on to create new moments of wonder through my work."

Footfall Art’s Summer Pop-up, featuring the work of Hannah Luxton, Olivia Bax, Brigitte Parusel and Kasper Pincis will be in the window of the Camden People’s Theatre until 14 August

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