17 October - 16 November 2007

Including works by:
Julian Perry

“In the beginning of Time, the great creator Reason made the Earth to be a Common Treasury.”

True Levellers Standard Advanced of 1649

This autumn the London artist Julian Perry (born 1960), who has just been nominated for the prestigious Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award, will be showing extraordinary paintings inspired by a small area of allotments destined to be destroyed to make way for London’s 2012 Olympics. A Common Treasury is an exhibition that presents vivid portraits of the sheds that pepper Manor Gardens allotments.

Painted on single and diptych panels, these highly detailed works reflect social and environmental issues. Reminiscent of Northern European altarpieces, dramatic chiaroscuro models the motifs against a neutral, often dark background. Each subject is rendered with affection and fidelity; surface textures of flaking paint, rotting wood and asphalt appear remarkably tangible. The dilapidated huts evoke the tradition of the picturesque hovel or biblical stable, desperate, almost comically bad housing depicted in loving detail by artists such as Brueghel, Rembrandt and Constable. Perry’s works echo this historic tradition whilst being rooted in contemporary East London.

Perry sees the sheds built from recycled materials as idealistic, representing the city dweller’s retreat into a less complicated life based around the seasons. The structures are seen as utopian sculptures (in decline), manifesting a creativity born out of the most basic desires for shelter and food.

The critic William Feaver wrote in Perry’s 2004 exhibition catalogue Testament (featuring paintings of Epping Forest): “Perry has a feel for in between zones, for places where boundaries waver and enclaves are created. At a time of set-aside he celebrates land use proper … patchworks of townie peasant practice”.

Sometimes witty, occasionally haunting, the shed paintings - whilst alluding to the lives and personalities of their owners - are also monuments to the allotment movement, paying homage to the gentle subversion of cultivating rather than buying food. Perry sees the sheds as signifying an alternative to supermarkets, “food miles” and landfill sites full of waste packaging. He points out how “poignant [it is] that this precious enclave of cultivation and wildlife is being wiped off the face of the earth at exactly the time when the predicted climate change has become reality. A powerful expression of how much we have to change if there is to be any chance of reversing the environmental damage of the industrial era”.

Julian Perry has had shows in Europe and the USA, notably a one person show, Testament, at Guildhall Art Gallery London in 2004. He participated in the 2006 Critics Choice exhibition selected by Andrew Lambirth that attracted considerable attention from the national Press. The artist has works in public and private collections both in Europe and overseas, amongst which the Royal Collection, Museum of London, Guildhall Art Gallery London, Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery and Forbes Collection USA. Julian Perry has received a number of awards, most recently the Capital Equipment Award and Mayor Individual Award from the Arts Council England. In 2005 he taught an Artist Master Class at the New York Academy of Art. Artists’ Residencies have included Wysing Arts Cambridgeshire and Chateau de Balleroy, France.

An illustrated catalogue with a text by Dr. Martin Postle from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art will accompany the show.