One of the last galleries on our list to visit was Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery in Lambeth. The building was designed by Caruso St John and was opened to the public in October of last year. We’d seen the gallery a number of times from the train window and have been meaning to visit ever since. Yesterday we got our act together and made our way to Lambeth.
Upon entering and having our first glance in all directions we were welcomed by the familiar minimal feel of most contemporary galleries. On a cold and damp day like to today we could have done with a bench, table or even just a shelf to assist with the whole procedure of taking off hats, gloves and coats, and removing the camera and sketchbooks from the bag. Thankfully what the entrance area lacked in useful horizontal planes, it made up for with big lockers for leaving the bag and cold weather clothing.
The first architectural feature to catch our eye was the staircase. There are three similar staircases which are distributed along the gallery’s back wall. Each is like a white brick cocoon in which timber stairs spiral upwards towards the oval roof light. The handrail is made from smooth white concrete which is cast in blocks into the brick wall. The curving form of the staircases provide a few moments of considered, restrained extravagance among the otherwise etherial gallery spaces.
Currently being exhibited in the gallery is the work of Sheffield born abstract painter John Hoyland from 1964 to 1982. Entitled ‘Power Stations’, the works on show are from the peak of the artist’s career. The colours, forms and size of the works on show are bold and uncompromising. A perfect fit for the large, crisp, minimal space in which they currently find themselves. There aren’t even title/information plaques on the walls to distract from Hoyland’s abstractions which float with an arresting intensity among the vast whiteness. The art speaks for itself and the galley.
A development in approach can be seen as the journey through the gallery takes you from red with fuzzy edges, to green with sharp corners, then the colours mellow ever so slightly before you’re whirled upstairs to find works of texture and tactility.
The next part of the sequence is the highlight of the gallery experience. A wall is removed to offer a view down into the second gallery. It’s at this point you fully appreciate the presence of this work as you become fully aware of the vastness of the space it occupies. Such opportunities to feel removed and distant are rare in London, a city where you always feel like you’re involved in something.
The penultimate gallery sees Hoyland loosen up and embrace the physical qualities of his paint. Here he creates landscapes of acrylic which still retain some of the power of his earlier work, but now seem a lot more at ease with the world around them, almost wanting to become part of it. And with that teasing suggestion then the work takes a final unforeseen turn into a world of diamonds and triangles, returning to flatter laying of colour, using oceanic blues and greens.
A final journey down the sensual staircase demands you choose between satisfying your hands with either the silky concrete of the handrail or the rhythmical roughness of the bricks. Either way you’re certain to leave the gallery feeling calmer and quieter than when you arrived. The synthesis of architecture and art are well worth a couple of hours of your time, so pay a visit if you can.