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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Black Dog Books Haunt Black Rat’s latest Projects

Unique exhibits inhabit haunted bookshop with personality

Written by Valerie Pezeron

TeethLoaded © Sweet Tooth

The invite for Black Dog Books was intriguing and slightly misleading… a number of nice surprises beckon when I arrive at the venue to meet with the people involved in Black Rat Project. Finding the venue is a puzzle in itself and I find my way through the back of Cargo into this character full venue, an old railways arch dating back from the industrial revolution.

bookshop1Photographs © Black Rat Projects

A tin man sitting in front of a bookshop greets visitors to the show. He doesn’t have a name individually and is one of three robots called “The Drunkards” by artist Giles Walker. Walker must have a great sense of humour; he came up with the idea after being annoyed with city boys with a lot of money being able to buy into the art world. His robots now happen to be on display a stone throw from Liverpool Street and are the ideal anti-establishment statement. The robot I am looking at shouts at you and has a good rant about ‘them city rats’, a good laugh in a time of recession like ours. And then it’s onto the bookshop itself, with quite an extensive array of books by people Black Rat Gallery represents.


Black Rat Projects is the new name for young East End gallery, The Black Rat Press. They specialise in installations and exhibitions by some of the world’s most exciting contemporary artists. In the last two years Black Rat Projects have put on over 20 projects that have gained widespread media attention including features in The Guardian, CNN news, CBS news, BBC London, The Sunday Times and The Telegraph amongst others. The gallery’s focus is on representing artists who undertake ambitious projects that other more traditional galleries might not facilitate. Works by artists represented by BRP – such as Nick Walker, d*face and Blek le Ratcan be found in many public collections including the Brooklyn Museum and the V&A.


The idea of creating the bookshop came when the Black Rat owners slept in the gallery one evening many years ago and were woken by the toilet flushing and books falling from the office bookshelves. Thinking they were being burgled, they turned the lights on only to find the gallery empty. Asking around, a local landlord mentioned that the gallery had been used to store the stock of legendary Victorian book dealer F. J. Williams who disappeared in 1903 and is rumored to haunt various pubs and houses around the East End.

ShepardRevolutionary Woman © Shepard Fairey

The bookshop feels like the creation of an eccentric and well-read individual; all the books in the bookshop are on sale and a few of the selection come from Black Rat owner Mike; second-hand books, fanzines by Swoon, Burning Candy and Brian Adam Douglas. The bookshop is fully functional and complete with customer assistant, working antique till and books available to buy. It has been designed by Will Randall and Giles Walker and can accommodate up to 10 people at a time. And then a plant shakes in the corner and it’s Poltergeist all of a sudden…

SwoonIrena © Swoon

Two original collages by Shepard Fairey (he of the Obama campaign fame) dominate the wall. “Hand Painted Multiples” is a limited edition of 20 prints but each one is slightly different. Swoon is on the wall opposite; from Brooklyn, she is the only one of a generation of street artists to have been embraced by the traditional art world and she is already in the Tate and MOMA.  Swoon uses interesting techniques such as screen-print pasted onto wood and life-size woodcuts, which she makes in the street. Other artists taking part are Cyclops (Lucas Price) who is part of London’s most prolific graffiti collective Burning Candy and über-talented cross-dresser extraordinaire Grayson Perry.

Matt-SmallTimms © Matt Small

A striking triptych of what appears to be a young tormented black face stares intensely at me. Matt Small’s work is breathtaking. Trained at The Royal College of Art and winner of a BP Portrait award, he uses a mixture of oils and water-based paints to create random thick textures. Small works a lot with found objects and builds up his canvases with pieces of metals bolt together to create interesting shapes and symmetry. Painting transcends the 2D flat image to become wood art and sculpture object. The frenzied strokes of paint are pulled from the center of the face and converge outwards in a heady sense of movement. Matt Small is an incredibly brave painter. This is a picture that the viewer could regard as aggressive but I thought I saw sadness in the Somalian model’s eyes. Small tries to give a platform through his painting to anonymous faces that are rarely portrayed in the art world. Young people are constantly undervalued and looked down upon. Everyone has got something valuable to give.


Photographs © Black Rat Projects

This gallery tries to explore all sorts of artistic voices from painting to graphic work and art with substance; but it’s all pulled together in a thrilling and successful way. Consumer culture has no place here. The displays are a throwback to conventional ideas with a human interactive connection. But traditions can be modernised; the old materials, the subject matters, everything is given a modern makeover. A must see!

Exhibition runs from Monday – Saturday 10am – 6pm, through Cargo Garden, Arch 461, Kingsland Viaduct, 83 Rivington Street, London. EC2A 3AY. Nearest tube– Liverpool St / Old St. Entry is free. Information: 020 7613 7200.


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