Behind an inconspicuous door and adjoining metal shutter on Herald Street, you’ll find the aptly named Herald Street Gallery. Feeling slightly frazzled from a hectic work week and with absolutely no desire to head into central London, I embraced my local east end culture this weekend… and with Maureen Paley, Laura Bartlett and The Ryder Project gallery spaces all on the same street – there’s no need to venture any further! It was my first visit to Herald Street Gallery but certainly won’t be my last, as the current Cary Kwok exhibition spanning both rooms of the gallery provoked, entertained and excited me (as all good exhibitions should). Kwok is a hugely talented Hong Kong born, London based artist who specialises in fine detail drawing – explicit in the seven ink, pencil and acrylic pieces on display in this solo show. The overarching theme is homosexuality within a sprawling metropolis; one that could be Hong Kong, London, Tokyo or Manhattan and where the architecture makes reference to various historic styles from ancient Greece and Rome, to medieval castles, gothic-revival follies, colonial arches, brutalist high-rises, 1920’s art-deco and hybrids of every era in between. Within these buildings, oversized muscular men in homoerotic scenes ranging from two male figures with erections serving as fountains, a pink palace where the supporting beams are created by naked males in acrobatic poses, and shop signs full of camp innuendo including ‘Have a Cock’ in Coca-Cola’s irrefutable design are all embedded. Alongside these drawings is one sculpture, entitled ‘Arrival (La Belle Epoque), which looks like a beautiful art-deco lamp. On closer inspection you realise that the lamp-stand is in fact a wooden penis and what I thought was the melting wax light is actually spurting semen! So if you fancy some tongue in cheek humour with your art, get down to Bethnal Green before 25th September when the show closes.
As a huge fan of the Tudor-style Regents Street store, its prints, textiles, clothes and collaborations, it would have been difficult for me not to enjoy an exhibition celebrating 140 years of Liberty! Opening with an orientation room presenting a timeline from 1875 when Arthur Lasenby Liberty founded his Oriental Bazar selling imported goods through to the present day, the exhibition immediately puts in context what you are about to see. Beginning with this relationship with the East; ten mannequins dressed in opulent kimonos created from silk, velvet and crepe de chine are set against a backdrop of Jaipur wallpaper by Zoffany. This smoothly rolls into the next gallery focussing on the ‘Arts and Crafts’ and ‘Aesthetic’ movements at the turn of the century which acted against the structured corsets and upholstery of late 1800’s women’s clothing and celebrated a more natural shape and handcrafted embroidery. From the close of the First World War onwards the delicate prints, small-scale densely patterned textiles, and peacock feather decorations that are now ubiquitous with Liberty began to emerge into the mainstream, and by the 1950’s the brand realised they had their own original William Poole archive of ‘Art Nouveau’ designs to draw from. These were revitalised in vivid pinks, blues, purples and greens in the ‘Lotus Collection’, popular across London, Paris, Rome and New York. Similarly the 1960’s saw influential designers and boutique owners such as Mary Quant using Liberty prints in trend setting collections – a theme which has continued into the present day in collaborations with Vivienne Westwood, Kenzo, Barbour and Nike to name a few. Complete garments, lengths of various prints, original packaging and boxes, working sketches and even a gallery devoted their children’s clothing and smocks make this a comprehensive and enjoyable experience – and an avid reminder of how Liberty’s “unique blend of tradition and innovation” continues to be so popular today.