An Invasion Of The Palace By Smaller Places: Danny Pockets RIP

In memorium, Danny Pockets, whose Houses of the Holy are on display at the Royal Albert Hall this weekend

Danny Pockets, artist and curator, died of cancer on 12th March.

A painter, socio-political agitator, active in music, Resonance FM, a key player of the Foundry and part of the London and underground scene of visual and sonic artists, Danny Pockets’s death leaves a vast personal and professional void. But we have one almighty send off. Before he died Danny laid plans for a visual arts exhibition in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust which showcases the emotional attachment of a generation to other, more street venues. In a hard but welcome coincidence Houses of the Holy is showing at the Royal Albert Hall for one week immediately following his death, with public viewings on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 March.

This exhibition showcases his mixed-media painting. But this work comes from a much wider career. As well as visual and conceptual art, Danny was immersed in music and sonic arts and the socio-political counterculture of London artists. Pockets was a key member of the Foundry in Shoreditch. When he moved from London to St Leonards-on-Sea he brought friends from the experimental scene with him, setting up and curating the annual festival Thee Sunday Sonics and the one-off Folkestone event Voodoo Hopscotch. With artist Tracey Moberly (co-owner of the Foundry), he was a key performer in the Text Me Up! radio series for Resonance FM.

Hastings-based artist James Weaver remembers meeting him for the first time: “Dressed in black, hair slicked back and supping a Guinness, Danny was clearly a dude yet also friendly and enthusiastic about what we were trying to achieve.”

In July 2014, Danny put together Loud and Western a “Big Deal Marvellous Mix-Up” with artist and curator Vanya Balogh. One of his signature blankets hung from the ceiling shouting the empowering words “YOU DECIDE”, and in the sunlit yard he flanked the space with two abstract palette sculptures in sea-tones of black, blue and grey, riffing on the symbolism of the eternal circle and the venn diagram.

At the Big Deal shows and Chinese Opens, curated by Balogh and others in association with Geoff Leong Foundation, his sculptures and installations helped own the huge space of multi-storey car parks and other urban pop-ups and were always right on theme. Whereas some other works could struggle to display themselves, looking uncomfortable or tense in the space borrowed from vehicles, his settled in, relaxed, and hung out, showing themselves with urban ease, as if they were chatting with you, making a point, having a beer while discussing what’s going on above ground.

As might be expected from an artist with such a broad practice even for his gallery paintings his DIY aesthetic demanded he go beyond traditional media. Danny used mixed media, shellac, spray paint, oil and acrylic, chinagraph pencil. With recycled bags, boxes and boards as well as canvas and wood framing he created poignant, expressive memories, his work influenced by Robert Rauschenberg’s idea that “a painting is more like the real world if it’s made of the real world.’ In his earlier series, Congregation and Phoenix Arcadia, he created images of abandoned amusement arcades, fairground rides and chip shops, with waste packaging featuring as medium, substrate, and finish.

There’s plenty of in-jokes in Danny’s work, not laughing at but with his fellow flaneurs, which particularly comes out in his use of typography and text. “He had a wicked way with irony, in art as in life,” writes Heatherley Art School where he taught. “Seriously no-one could fail to respect the depth of his knowledge and understanding of the processes of art. How it could elevate and celebrate the ordinary places”.

This extended series conveys a feeling of downtime from the after-gig cafés of Camden Town to hanging at the 12 Bar and Madam Jojo’s. The portraits of buildings speak to lovers of vinyl, the outdoors, conversations with friends, night life and disappearing shops. It’s an immortalising of time. Time spent with others when that chilled out communal experience was relatively uninterrupted by mobile phones and screen-addiction. They’re not just about places. Although there’s no faces, these are works about people, a generation of artists and music-freaks.

Strange to see these festoon of cafes, music venues, street scenes and dance halls gleam down the echoing loop of the Amphi corridor. For a brief moment, Hoxton, Chinatown, Earls Court, Grays Inn press in on and surround the grand venue of the Royal Albert Hall. This is an invasion of the palace by smaller places, relics of the unpreserved history of the young, a trail of lower income hang-outs, take-aways, rock and roll, visually shouting out. The Hammersmith Palais, The Lyceum rub along down the curved wall with the Good Luck Chinese Restaurant and Hoxton Chicken and Pizza. Londoners of a certain generation will recognise some classic shopfronts in a poignant walk around the landmarks of a generation.

Danny’s ambition matched his output. His wife Sarah Rollason explained that he saw his work as important as that of anyone. And the scale of this exhibition gives it more power, enhanced by the knowledge that many of these works were created in his last year, battling with cancer. The cumulative effect of the sheer number of these paintings, their consistent quality that impresses as well as the human content.

His Universal Racket press has printed work for the public since the eighties when he was a student at Chelsea College of Art and the City of Guilds London School of Art. He exhibited internationally, including at La Biennale di Venezia (54th, 55th, 56th and 57th) and extensively in the UK, showing at Tate Britain, Tate Modern, the Royal Academy of Arts and other major galleries. He was awarded a Jerwood prize in 2010 for the exhibition Arcadia.

The series title Houses of the Holy is a nod to a Led Zeppelin album and these pictures are about sound as well as colour. Standing in front of these highly crafted paintings, I silently hear the invisible noise of rabble and rousers push themselves inside the church of privilege. Look at our lot. We were beautiful.

Houses of the Holy, Danny Pockets’ portraits of the street cathedrals of rock and roll is on display in the Amphi corridor at the Royal Albert Hall from 19 March. It is open for public viewings on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 March 10am–4pm. Sales will support the Teenage Cancer Trust. More information here. Public viewing Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 March. Jude Cowan Montague is an artist and broadcaster. She produces and presents ‘The News Agents’ for Resonance FM

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