‘Smile, please’ is an oft-used expression – it can (sometimes) cheer up a grumpy toddler, act as a desperate plea after a badly landed joke, or conjure up a picture of happiness from a posse of distracted wedding guests.
It is also the title of Simon English’s new solo exhibition – featuring no photographs, surprisingly – at Peer Gallery in Hoxton.
The phrase, which according to the gallery, was chosen for being “at once both a banal and heartfelt expression”, is among the dozens of snippets of overheard speech, thoughts and personal conversations that grace English’s paper-based works.
The artist shot to attention in the 1990s for his ‘painted drawings’.
Made with ink, pen, graphite and watercolour on sketch-book sized pieces of paper, these works are assembled in English’s signature format: wall-sized grids of drawings, paintings, musings and doodles.
Dive into these sketches, and you’re soon swimming in the cultural imagery of modern London – ‘Don’t be a victim of a foolish heart’, ‘bad apple’, ‘nipples and socks’ – interwoven with both child-like and cerebral doodles.
Smile Please also offers a glimpse of new directions in English’s work.
In 2014, the artist began making sculptural installations, and this show is the first time he has put them in front of the public.
The sculptures displayed here are concocted from objects English has picked up walking around London, moulded together with blue-tack and foam.
The window case of the exhibition is given over to a selection of these whimsical sculptural constructions evocative of the Arte Povera movement.
Bringing the street into a gallery, English’s show offers a refreshing take on modern urban life.
Simon English’s Smile Please: Works on Paper and Sculptures, 2014-2018 closes on 22 September.
Peer Gallery, 97-99 Hoxton Street, London, N1 6QL