Click to enlarge Bob & Roberta Smith’s painting
Running in the gallery at Eleven Spitalfields until 26th October, London Calling is a joint exhibition by two artists who are husband and wife, Jessica Voorsanger and the artist known as Bob & Roberta Smith. Both have lived in the East End for the past twenty-two years, since they were married, but they came very different paths to get here and the contrast between their work in this exhibition reveals their complementary relationships to London.
New Yorker, Jessica Voorsanger, first came to London when she was five and ate banana ice cream every day, but what she remembers most vividly was going to Madame Tussauds and talking to an old lady on a bench who turned out to be a waxwork. This same mixture of affection for London landmarks, coloured with a fascination for celebrity and underscored by surrealism, informs her intricate collages. Taking pages from an old tourist souvenir book entitled ‘This is London,’ Jessica has superimposed the faces of famous people upon familiar scenes, creating a bizarre effect worthy of Max Ernst. In Jessica’s work, the mythic landscapes of Central London become the location of collective dreaming, alluring and mysterious.
Bob & Roberta Smith‘s painting above is also inspired by a personal memory of London, that of coming to the East End for an Anti-Nazi march in the late seventies, and of his father recalling the Battle of Cable St. “The East End is the most vibrant, fought-over piece of London with people always coming and going. I grew up in Wandsworth and there was none of that life in West London. I find it very exciting here.” Bob admitted to me, tipping his cap to express his enthusiasm. For the last seventeen years, Bob has taught at the Cass School of Art in Aldgate, cycling along the Bow Rd from Leytonstone where he and Jessica live. And it is this experience which informs his desire to bring back the trams, a pipe dream turned ultimatum graven in his trademark skew-whiff lettering, lovingly painted with ‘One Shot’ signwriting enamel in exuberant colours upon some scruffy old boards picked up in a skip.
“I want to re-invent Whitechapel by bringing back the trams. The tram is such a great piece of design and it was green, and the Bow Rd is living hell. My dream would be to see it lined predominantly with windmills, lavender for the bees, poplar trees and cycle tracks, and there’s no reason why it can’t happen.” Bob assured me, exchanging a complicit smile with Jessica. And I was persuaded.
Rebuild the Bow Rd tram.
Imagine the Mile End of the future.
The replacement for the Routemaster bus.
The re-opening of the Whitechapel Gallery.
Paintings copyright © Bob & Roberta Smith
Collages copyright © Jessica Voorsanger
LONDON CALLING runs until 26th October, more information from Eleven Spitalfields.
MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN ART, a film about Bob & Roberta Smith is being shown at the Curzon Soho this Saturday 22nd September.
Jessica Voorsanger is contributing the imagery for Chapter 22 in MOBY DICK – THE BIG READ, an online audio version of Moby Dick.
Jessica Voorsanger and Bob & Roberta Smith will be leading a walking tour from Eleven Spitalfields on Sunday 14th October.