In: Dalston

A few weeks ago, I moved to a new place and as always, I took a walk around the block to see who my new neighbors would be. My interest was already piqued, so each new cafe and shop that I passed became a beacon of excitement as I rambled through. And without realizing it, I landed in front of a tiny gallery whose facade was completely made of glass. Before I noticed its name, I saw inside something that made my heart beat a little faster… gelatin silver photography.

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For a photographer whose focus has been mainly black and white, large format film for over seven years, this is a treat to see. Not many people use the process anymore because of the digital revolution. But it is my understanding that many photographers still hold it dear to their practice, because it was through that process that they learned the art (and craft) to begin with. At my college in the United States, gelatin silver process is still taught as the foundation of photography, before the digital curriculum even begins. So it is very important to me and as you can imagine, I was thrilled at the discovery of this place.

I found out that it is called Rough Print Gallery, located at 14 Bradbury Street in Dalston, London. They mainly show darkroom work there, and have a new opening every Thursday evening. As it happened, it was Thursday, so I slipped inside to see the show.

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All of the prints on the walls were tiny, maybe 5×7 inches each. Everyone was taking turns and crowding each other to get an intimate one-on-one appointment with each image. This was a lovely experience because even though I had to wait and allow others to take their time, once I arrived at the photograph, I entered into another world. The photographer is Mick Williamson, who I gather is the Head of Photography at The Cass (London Metropolitan University), and who has been photographing for over 30 years. His project, entitled Photo-Diaries is soft and beautiful. Each image is a black and white, brief meditation in the home and in nature; moments that could easily be passed by. They floated me into a state of reverie. When I read the small leaflet included in the show, it was noted that “Photographers often pride themselves on their ability to capture the decisive moment. The work of Mick Williamson however purposefully shuns the key moment, preferring instead to focus on what might be constructed as the missed opportunity.

Indeed, I felt as though these moments had previously escaped me, and I was being reintroduced to them through Williamson’s work. They felt like real ruminations, not on anything particularly complex, but on something like the mystery of time passing or light shifting. Many photographs resembled each other and clearly flowed as a series. Each had a certain off-kilter moment of capture, feeling less like a completed thought or sentence, and more like a fragment. This forced me to think twice – look again – and look deeper, and in doing so connect in a greater way with each instance. Plus, they had those luscious grey tones only achieved through gelatin silver printing, which automatically won me over.

All in all, it was a great introduction to Williamson’s photography, and to Rough Print Gallery. I recommend paying a visit some Thursday evening to this tiny house of worship in Dalston. And though his website is currently under construction, there is a limited selection of Williamson’s work available for viewing here and here

Power, passion, and raw, unadulterated emotion veritably oozes from the work of the relatively obscure artist, Oli Fowler.

Oli, (otherwise known by his tag name: ‘Flabby G’) has done work for Jeremy Deller, Emily Evans, Fraser Muggaridge, and LOM Architecture and Design. His work can be found in the unobtrusive exhibitions hosted at The Crown pub in Angel and Shaw’s Bookseller in Blackfriars.

Oli specialises in screenprinting and design, having mastered the mediums of illustration, photo-montage, photography, and printing. His work is nostalgic, colourful, abstract, and dynamic. It aspires to evoke sex, sassiness, and seediness. His creative process is fuelled by experimentation as he strives to ‘fuck things up a little bit, to create a bit of fun.’

Oli’s vivacious, vibrant, and furiously futuristic compositions instantly captivated me. To my delight he agreed to an interview, inviting me to the studio and gallery Print Club London. As I ambled down the dusky alleyway towards Print Club London, I was greeted by haphazardly hung fairy lights, fluttering flags, and walls scattered with street art. I found myself invading a hidden haven of creativity.

The following interview with Oli was inspirational and invigorating. Our discussion orbited not only around Oli’s career, method, and meaning, but extended to words of wisdom and guidance. Oli revealed how he shook the shackles of the service industry at tremendous risk so that he could follow his passion for creating art.

  1. Could you explain your compositions and creative process to me?

Those shapes that you see in my art that are jagged and triangular, they come from me experimenting with sellotape. I like to mess it up a little, most of the time I’m completely unsure if it will turn out well, but if it doesn’t work I always save those prints and go back over them. It’s about saving money and being frugal, you don’t have to spend vast amounts of money to create art.

  1. What drives your art? Are you attempting to broadcast a particular message or meaning?

I’m not political so it’s got absolutely nothing to do with that. I like to do things that evoke memories. I’m currently working on a series depicting disco girls, influenced by the ’70s. I love the look of airbrushed album covers and the concept of really cool music. I’m trying to capture that coolness in my art. I’m trying to create work which I don’t want to say is nostalgic, but which recreates the sexiness of the ’70s. I want it to look cool and sassy.

  1. Why do you think you’re so fascinated with recapturing the ’70s?

Music inspires me. I’ve been listening to Jazz-fusion and Jazz funk disco since I was an eleven-year-old picking through my mums record collection. The more I listened the deeper I delved into it. That underground scene appealed to me. When you think of disco most people think of ABBA but it’s not like that, it’s the far out stuff that was underneath. I just think it’s got a good feeling of fun; there was so much innocence. People weren’t so serious back then, I love that.

  1. Bar the recreation of fun and innocence are there any other emotions you want your work to evoke?

I’m currently working on a series called Sister Power. My figures are all looking to the camera and are really hot. I want a girl who sees that work to be struck by it, to feel powerful, to be made to feel good by looking at it. I’ve also got another disco piece coming, it features people jumping and playing. I want people not to take life so seriously, to just have a good time and enjoy the moment. My metal piece of the sailor and his girlfriend is about passion. It’s about love joining two people. His feeling for her is eating her, consuming her. I want my prints to show things like that.

  1. What does the future hold for your forthcoming projects?

I want to play around with more typography and do massive past[e] ups. My next screen prints are based on nail bar signs. If I get hold of a wall I’m going to build a picture and people will be able recognise it. I’m always walking around being influenced by the things I see. It’s going to take time and money, a lot of money, but I’ll get there.

  1. What would you like to communicate through this article?

I want to say for a long time I wasn’t doing any artwork. I was doodling in my twenties and the art was there but it was just doodles on receipt paper; I couldn’t see how it could happen. Now I’m thirty-five and I’m doing great artwork. It’s never too late, it doesn’t take too long, and you just need great dedication and passion for it. You’ve just got to keep on going for it.

  1. Do you ever find yourself disillusioned by your choice to become an artist?

You could call me ignorant because some people are very good at marketing themselves and are very proactive in making money, but I’m currently at a point where I don’t care about making money. It’s about the art. I would prefer to go out onto the streets and hand it out for free or put it up on the walls somewhere. I’d be happy to give my stuff away or just have it hanging somewhere so people can see it.

I was working in retail for ten years and I knew I had to get out of it, then I heard about Print Club London and moved to Dalston, joined up and used my screen prints to get into university. Eventually you earn money, it’s not a lot, you don’t earn corporate money but it’s about being happy. I have to do art, I’ve got to do it, even without money I just couldn’t stop. I’d always find a way.

If you find yourself interested in Oli’s work take a look at Print Club London or trace his forthcoming projects on Twitter 

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