‘Underneath the neon sign’: well, actually, round the corner from it.

The famous blue neon sign at Konk (the recording studios set up by rock band The Kinks back in another era) was unlit as we rolled up in hats and scarves and parkas, having braved the stormy weather forecast, walking the stone’s throw up from Hornsey Station on Tottenham Lane.

The occasion was the preview for the very first art show to be held in the building. I’d already heard that we were expected to enter the hallowed ground through the back and a curly-headed employee standing in front of the sign tacked to the front door confirmed this fact by duly waving us in that direction.

Round the corner onto the next street, it all looks residential and, with no one guarding the actual door, which helpfully also has ‘KONK’ emblazoned above it, in black capitals, it still feels like you’re sneaking in the backdoor of someone’s house without permission. Like a kid needing to retrieve a ball from a neighbour’s garden and thinking you might be able to get in and out with it again before anyone sees you to object.

I think this back entrance area must have been cleared up considerably since Mick Avory mentioned to us that it was a bit of a tip. It seems perfectly presentable on this occasion.[1] Maybe it was the work of the featured artists tonight, Guisi Tomasello and Gina Bold, in which case, good job, girls.

artshow

‘Art school babe’: a detail from Guisi Tomasello’s Kinks painting.

We stumble through a sort of a hallway, beige carpet maybe, to where ‘Alma’, aka Karen Eyo, Ray Davies’s current squeeze, ticked our names off on the guest list and welcomed us to the exhibition. She took a photo of us (to prove that we really existed) stood awkwardly against a wall, wishing we’d tidied ourselves up a little before arriving.

‘Kalmaren’,[2] dressed in something black and lacy, is rather beautiful with a sweet and sincere smile, something elfin about her. Great bone structure like another of Ray’s women, Chrissie Hynde. She seems friendly and more relaxed than when I had last caught a glimpse of her at a Come Dancing performance in Stratford. Here she seems comfortable and on more solid home ground.

Luckily, I tend not to travel anywhere without snacks and had eaten a Wispa on one of the train journeys up as there are no free drinks or nibbles. A couple of bowls of crisps wouldn’t have hurt.[3] No hot drinks either – they could have made some money flogging hot chocolates, teas and coffees on a night like this but the machine at the bar was out of order.

Not that many people there in the early stages so we feel a bit conspicuous. But it means we have time to examine the art at our leisure, after divesting ourselves of outer layers. The majority of attendees are female. Are women more open to culture, to the new and the stimulating or are they just hoping that Ray Davies, who has personally selected the items on display, will meander in at some point? My ulterior motivation was certainly to get into Konk Studios, as I’d twice been denied entry previously. But access was unfortunately strictly limited to the exhibition space and a small (and I mean small) unisex WC.[4] Through here, someone reports that there was also a shower room but I failed to investigate. Another door is clearly marked ‘NO ENTRY’ in red on white paper.

artlovers

‘And he likes his fags the best’: the cigarette machine at Konk.

The exhibition is in an L-shaped room where Kinks tour packing cases are enlisted as tables and stood up against walls with the band’s name etched on them. Some prints from Guisi’s paintings (http://www.giusitomasello.com/) are for sale, laid out on a pool table, I think, well at least something with green baize, under an antique cigarette machine bolted to the wall. I’m guessing her best sales are of the Kinks picture tonight.

Mainly of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Michael Caine, David Lynch, Milla Jovovich as Joan of Arc (on first glance I thought it might be Leonardo di Caprio), The Kinks, many of the paintings feature multiple images of one figure, though in different interpretations and poses, rather than the screen-printed duplicates of Andy Warhol, another artist associated with striking images of celebrities. In a kind of hyperrealist mode, acrylic paint and diamond dust are among the materials enlisted to create these vibrant and dynamic portraits, full of colour and agitation, like an acid trip into a strange world of collage.

These colourful, avant-garde artworks are juxtaposed with traditional ornate frames, the composite effect resonant of the nature of fame, at once liberating and at the same time restrictive, also perhaps signifying the many faces that stars present to the public. Rich, sumptuous and arresting, they offer an insightful take on existence in the celebrity milieu.

Gina Bold’s works (http://www.ginabold.com/) were indeed a contrast. Where Guisi’s took us out of our mundane everyday world for a fairy-dust brush with the more exotic stratosphere inhabited by the famous, Gina’s portraits pulled us back down to earth with a jolt. Her subjects were diametrically opposed to the privileged few of the other section of the exhibition, workingmen living at the Arlington House in Camden, where she had been artist in residence for some months in 2007. They occupy the smaller area of the L. And are striking for a different reason. On first sight monochromatic (well, more like duotones)[5] and downbeat, a closer look reveals the indomitable spirit of the men portrayed as well as the trust they had in the artist among them.

Gina also collects various people into group portraits – songwriters, artists, people who wouldn’t naturally or normally have appeared together in real life. Even Ray and Dave Davies. Her works thus aspire to a synergy not unlike the result of a fantasy-dinner-guest scenario.

In a way Guisi’s work could have been shown to a soundtrack of ‘Celluloid Heroes’, reminding us of the fragile and ephemeral nature of fame, with someone enjoying their fifteen minutes of adulation before being relegated back into obscurity. And Gina’s would synch better with the working-class sensibility of ‘Dead End Street’, more concerned with concrete matters like being too cold in a second-floor flat and not being able to make that week’s rent.

It seems to me a great idea to showcase live music at an art preview, especially when it’s taking place at a recording studio so I’m delighted when a couple of people sit down with guitars. They certainly look the part but I’m glad I don’t abandon my comfy place on one of the sofas as it’s not my kind of thing. Maybe they were just itinerant buskers who’d wandered in off the street and decided to perform rather than being officially selected to commemorate the occasion.

'WCVR KONK, WSOS, are we still on that playlist?': happier days at Konk.

‘Mix it up with some imagination’: happier days at Konk.

Oh, by this time Ray Davies, the man himself, had turned up, from upstairs somewhere, looking jovial and, dare I say it, a bit smart casual. In a blue shirt and black jeans, with greying sideburns[6] and otherwise gingery hair that looks the texture of candy floss, he seems to have recovered from his bout of flu or whatever was ailing him. I don’t think he stayed long, just long enough to pose for a few photos and no doubt fulfil a promise to put in an appearance.

Other folk in attendance included the usual suspects of diehard and spanking new fans as well as arty types and fashion victims who couldn’t stand up in their extreme shoes. After a pleasant time spent gossiping and guffawing, swapping war stories so to speak, we catapulted ourselves back out into Church Lane.

The platforms at Hornsey are deserted and windblown. Something about the surplus of bridges over the tracks, a certain urban wasteland aspect makes me begin to feel like I’m in a cut-price Brit horror flick funded by Channel 4, about to be gorily eviscerated by some unknown quantity that comes rushing up at me out of the dark with a scary sound effect.

The show runs till the end of January, should you wish to attend. But remember that Konk is still a working studio and you’re unlikely to be allowed in the front door so head round the back.

When we get home we find that the new heated light fitting we’ve had installed in the bathroom has been blasting out 750 watt heat for the five and a half hours we’ve been away.

Lyrics from kindakinks.net.


[1] Nothing like ours at the moment, which closely resembles a scrapyard while we’re having the bathroom done. And inside it’s even worse.

[2] Or ‘Almarayk’, another moniker, implying she’s been totally subsumed into Ray’s identity.

[3] I had had free beer at my last art show preview at the Signal Gallery but I’m not sure if that was because one companion was a regular who knew the owners well. But actually, there was no food there either. Perhaps it’s so people aren’t motivated to throw it at the art.

[4] Incidentally with the same type of taps we’d chosen for our bathroom, described as ‘blobby’ by my housemate but translated as ‘bobbly taps’ by our builder. Also with a door that has to be strong-armed shut while our own bathroom door came off in my hands last night just after the builder’d left for the day. The electrician hadn’t exactly covered himself in glory either by giving himself an electric shock within about thirty seconds of arrival.

[5] When working on book jacket design at a thrifty publishing house, we would have to be creative with two colours (four colour being too expensive) and I think achieved some of the most imaginative results under this restriction.

[6]  For someone who can really rock greying sideburns and greying hair generally, look no further than the beautiful Timothy Olyphant, left.

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