Review of Upside Gallery – The concrete jungle of Bournemouth

ARTicle written by Eleanor Ball, ARTiculation Ambassador (University of Lincoln)

The traditional ‘white cube’ indoor gallery has long been the basic mould for contemporary art exhibitions. However, it is also true that galleries and art establishments are trying, more than ever, to expand upon the curatorial rules to produce an exciting show accessible to all. The Upside Gallery produced by creative agency Paintshop Studio does exactly that, exhibiting works by 11 commissioned artists in an outdoor public underpass situated in Bournemouth gardens. The artworks are displayed using the space itself, with the 10m high cement pillars that hold up the Wessex Way bridge acting as the ‘canvases’ of the diversely themed works. With a variety of different styles these large-scale outdoor paintings turn a disused public space into a positive creative area.

Each artist used the site to inspire their unique spray-painted pieces, breaking down what it means to be a ‘graffiti artist’. Previously graffiti art has had a stigma of anti-social behaviour around it but in this case, it has been used to form a positive environment for the public to enjoy. In fact, the underbridge pathway had, before its transformation into an art space, a long history of vandalism, but the exhibition has virtually stopped this, going far to prove the positive outcomes of this project. On the stigma of graffiti art, one of the exhibition’s artists, Remi Rough, said ‘some gent … said something about graffiti and I just said look it’s just painting. And they’re all just paintings and I think that’s how people have to treat the art there … There’s just 11 really nice paintings there that I think people can enjoy and appreciate’.

I first discovered the Upside Gallery when searching for current exhibitions in and around the Bournemouth area. With professional online pages, I got an impression of what the exhibition would be like. However, like much great art, the online version does not convey the sensory experience of being amongst artworks which ultimately cannot be replaced by a computer screen. Upon entering the space, I took my time to be with the paintings, sheltered by the concrete bridge overhead, I felt protected and excited to experience art in a new way. What struck me about this project was how much the outdoor space lent itself to the fluidity of a ‘normal’ gallery. With large scale works you often need lots of space around them so that the pieces can be appreciated up close and from a distance. The Upside Gallery’s chosen location allowed for this movement with various walls to sit on and appreciate the art, much like a gallery bench. Exhibiting artist Odisy commented that ‘it seems like this place was made for painting’.

As I continued to move around and explore the artworks further, I began to realise that the final curator of the exhibition was indeed the viewer. There are so many different angles and heights from which to view the exhibition that the viewer often gets a glimpse of another on the pillar behind or adjacent. The works began to overlap in my eye line forming a snapshot of graffiti collage that I was able to control. The artworks are different from every viewpoint and thus your relationship and proxemics to them develop as you explore the creative landscape. I felt the space was performing to me constantly as if life itself was seeping into the gallery and reflecting off the artworks. The exhibition became a marriage of all things: art and life, artists and non-artists, nature and manmade. Everyone can feel included, and this otherwise isolating space seemed transformed.

All of the artworks offer something new to the environment and to the public perception on graffiti art. One artwork that I was struck by in this collection was that of artist duo Best Ever and their piece entitled No Name. What I responded to most within this work was not only the high definition of the portraiture work, but also the deliberate decision to leave parts of the piece unfinished. I appreciated the celebration of this unique canvas through the revealing of the surface and layers of story. Like other artists exhibited in this project, the structure was used not to entirely change but to reveal the possibilities of beauty. The exhibition allowed for more exploration via QR Code plaques placed with the artworks, giving the public the opportunity to be part of the artists creative thoughts. It is recommended to take your phone and earphones with you to get the full experience of what the gallery has to offer.

The project was first launched in late autumn 2019 and is now approaching their first annual anniversary. The artworks have received positive feedback by the public, with visitors on my visit pausing their walks to take in these extraordinarily original paintings. When asked about future plans for the space, Rick Walker, one of the key organisers behind project, stated that:

The Upside was created to be a permanent feature, as a place to showcase some of the most interesting and innovative artists from the graffiti and street art movements. With these movements, the art is often seen as disposable and temporary, so this is part of the reason why this project is special, it’s a location where these artists can create work that has longevity and is featured alongside other artists from a similar background. But it is important to keep the space fresh and exciting, so we plan to create new works every two or three years.

Now a clear and ‘cemented’ feature of Bournemouth, I look forward to seeing the town and artworks grow around each other, evolving and interacting as they do. It is in this symbiotic relationship of sharing that art can reflect life and life reflect art.

For more information on the space, artists and how to find the exhibition see: https://upsidegallery.co.uk/ for more details.

ARTicle by Eleanor Ball, ARTiculation Ambassador

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