Tucked away in what was previously a hairdressers shop on Well Street, preparations to introduce a new studio space into Hackney’s vibrant art scene are in their final stages. Karin Janssen, a Dutch visual artist, is running and programming the independent non-commercial exhibition space. Sandwiched between a pound shop and a family butcher, this building’s incarnation as a ‘project space’ will house Janssen’s work and provide a platform for emerging artists in the local community.
Having moved from Amsterdam to London in 2009, Janssen has only lived in Hackney for a short while, but she is already making her mark. For the first exhibition on her calendar, Janssen joins forces with Stoke Newington Art Group (SNAG) to hold an exhibition from 8-10 April, called Local.
In this, their first collaborative exhibition, SNAG explores the theme of ‘local’ and has invited other artists from a variety of disciplines to join them through their investigation into ‘localness’.
Each artist has individually responded to the theme by making new works that pose the question ‘What is local?’, engaging with the subject through a variety of media including sound, photography, drawing, painting and installation.
From a walk to the local shop, new constructions changing familiar places, objects we find beneath the surface of our gardens, textures under our bare feet or recognisable faces we see in the street, to a cup of tea we share with neighbours; the aim of this exhibition is to bring together artists, not all of them ‘local’, to present works that reflect locality and invite the viewer to think about what local means to them.
Janssen’s own work is nothing if not impactful. Her small studio space currently houses three large drawings that are as powerful, potent, and strong as the rest of her portfolio. Wary of putting her own art into words, Janssen describes the practicalities of her work, “I am my own model, and everything I do is self-portraiture in a way. When I draw other people now, I find it hard not to make them look like me!”
Viewing these huge drawings of grimacing, screaming and pouting faces in electric blue, garish orange, and blood-red, it is difficult to imagine the artistic transformation that Janssen has undergone.
“Four or five years ago, I never drew faces or used colour – it was my big statement. It was only when I didn’t have the space to draw full-scale bodies that I started working with portraits, and when I felt I needed a challenge that I incorporated colour. Now they’re a huge part of my work.”
Although Janssen’s plans for the Well Street Project Space involve artistic collaborations and are open to public participation, she is wary of branding her initiatives with the label ‘community art’: “I’ve done a lot of community art, but I want to stay away from this term,” explains Janssen. “Of course, I want my work to be a part of Hackney, and I want the people who live here to get involved. But often ‘community art’ has amateurish connotations, and can try to take over from the role of a social worker, which is not what I want to do.”
As a newcomer to Hackney, Janssen says her work is slowly engaging with the borough: “The fact that Hackney, and the East End in general is such a hub of artistic talent is the reason that I’m here. Compared to the art scene in Amsterdam, which is quite small and settled, there is a lot going on in Hackney, and it’s very exciting.”
Friday 8 – Sunday 10 April
Open daily 12-6pm.