‘Drawing a Blank’ is Your Guide to the Artist Portfolio of Tomorrow, as Curated by Ben Broome
It all started with a temporary exhibition in a gutted Victorian two-story terraced house round the back of Peckham’s Copeland Park in 2016. Coinciding with Frieze week, in the dilapidated building curator Ben Broome put on a group show featuring the work of 11 of his emerging artist friends and organised an opening with live performances by James Massiah, Hector Aponysus, MC Pinty and Babeheaven. Now, three and a half years later, Drawing a Blank is still very much an independent platform supporting emerging artists and in its fourth incarnation, opening in a disused bookshop space in Soho for four days.
Following the Peckham exhibition, Drawing a Blank popped up in 3000 square foot underground car park off the Old Kent Road in south Bermondsey in May 2017. Then last year, it headed across the Atlantic, featuring both the work of Broome’s friends as well as New York-based artists transforming an ex-police parking garage in Harlem’s Sugar Hill, New York. All locations have been a far cry from the white walls of a Mayfair art gallery. “I’m open to established and traditional art spaces but I think they’re inaccessible to people who don’t come from a formalised artistic background. There isn’t really space for young curators or up and coming artists in traditional institutions,” explains Broome over the phone taking a break from the install. “As an artist you have to jump through all these hoops, like pleasing your collectors and get repped by a gallery before anyone will let you into those. It also sort of boils down to what I can personally muster myself or what I can afford, and that always tends to be temporary locations.”
Photograph by Alessandro Tranchini
Broome grew up in Newcastle where, after finishing school, he worked at a commercial art gallery, before relocating to work in a gallery in London five years ago. Aside from the financial element, not being tied down to a single space also allows Broome the freedom to show anywhere internationally, and he’s already fostering ideas for future exhibitions in far flung places. “I like that it’s only temporary, when in a digital age everything exists online forever, having something that you have to see in the flesh and you’re motivated to do so and you can appreciate in full, that it only lasts for a few days is kind of fun,” he says on the temporality of the shows. “You either see it or you don’t and if you’re not quick you might miss it. It’s out of necessity but I also like that, that feel that it gives an exhibition.”
Choosing the more central London location of a shop space on Charing Cross Road in Soho for this edition was a conscious decision. “I wanted no one to be able to make that excuse [that it’s too far], but also to see how it felt showing in a really central London location,” laughs Broome. “There’s a huge footfall and I don’t know how the general public will react to it, but I’m interested to see,” he continues. “I don’t know if it’ll do any differently because it’s in central but maybe it will sort of change the feeling of the exhibition, but we’ll see. I think it’s always useful as a curator to try new things?”
Over the course of the three exhibitions Broome has included the work of some of the most exciting emerging artists and creatives, bringing them together and giving them the opportunity and freedom to experiment and show personal work, which perhaps they wouldn’t usually have the chance to show in more conventional commercial settings or convey over social media. In the three editions Drawing a Blank has exhibited the work of image-makers including Frank and Tyrone Lebon, Rosie Marks, Hanna Moon and Tyler Mitchell. As well as showcasing works by a roll call of artists to watch, working across multiple disciplines including Alba Hodsoll, Jacob Read, J.G. Marshall, Lily Gavin, Lotte Andersen, Tegen Williams to Ondine Vinao.
Photograph by Alessandro Tranchini
This time around Broome has brought together 14 artists, the majority of whom are based stateside and will be showing their work in the UK for the first time, connections he made whilst visiting, exhibiting and working on projects with in New York. “I really wanted to refresh the group of artists I worked with. I was working with a lot of the same people who were my close friends from London but they’d sort of been involved with all of the past ones, so I wanted to bring over the work of a new crowd,” he says. “It’s nice to work with a group of international artists and the majority of them have never shown in the UK before.”
Among the artists exhibiting are Bafic, Kesewa Aboah, Gala Prudent, Jack Greer and Joshua Woods. As well as Bolade Banjo and Stef Mitchell both Ten Men contributors and Zora Sicher who modelled for Vanina Sorrenti in Ten Magazine Issue 58. “Instead of putting a theme on it I’ve invited a group of people who I like and who are connected to each other, a lot of them know each other,” he explains. “I’m not trying to curate an exhibition about Brexit or something, it’s a group of artists and the overarching theme is that it’s a bit of a free-for-all, the artists can show exactly what they want and I’ll try and do my best to facilitate it,” says Broome. “It’s that lack of direction that has been the theme for all of the Drawing a Blank exhibitions. It seems to work well as all of the artists, although they might not make similar work, they share a similar mind set or sensibilities and an attitude to art making. It’s never felt disjointed and I think what has allowed for that are the personalities of the artists.”
Photograph by Alessandro Tranchini
Alongside the works, Broome has arranged a series of memorable opening nights more akin to house parties than art shows, which truly blow any first Thursdays opening out of the water. Continuing in the tradition of the first opening, in Bermondsey where there were intimate live performances by Massiah, Aponymous, MC Pinty, Maxwell Owin and Nipah. In Harlem Onyx Collective, Princess Nokia and local jazz singers performed. Broome hopes the Soho edition will go similarly, inviting Onyx Collective to return, alongside Sporting Life, Slauson Malone, Gully Type and a DJ set by Fatima – and all of the artists bar one are in town for the exhibition. “It should be a fun party, there’s good music and hopefully we can go as late as we can, have a good dance – that’s important,” he adds. “The nicest thing about group shows is that they’re always pretty busy because you’ve got say 15 artists and if each of those artists invite 10 people, that’s 150 people before you’ve even started.”
What next for Drawing a Blank? “I’ll probably continue doing one a year for the next decade,” says Broome. He also mentions an international project in the pipeline for later this year. Watch this (temporary) space.
‘Drawing a Blank’ is open from Thursday 9th to Sunday 12th May (12:00-18:00 daily) at 64-68 Charing Cross Road, London. Admission free.