The Underdog London: Exploring One of London’s Pivotal Galleries

The Underdog London has been a gallery that I’ve wanted to visit for some time, exhibiting many contemporary artists who bring both energy and wonder to the walls of this significant gallery tucked under the arches near London Bridge. Representing a beautifully eclectic mix of traditional artists and sculptors, their most recent show, The Underdog Masters, once again exampled their ability to curate a group exhibition and aligns different styles in harmony within one open space. As I walked around the room I was first greeted by the unmissable piece by Sylwia Makris, the first unveiled piece from her upcoming Tarot series, Death. Looming within a bold, beautifully crafted frame, Death and her scythe stood tall above the groups of viewers sitting among the luscious black leather chairs, lit gently by sculptured guns-come-candleholders in the centre of the table. Here, functionality meets décor, and even the lighting is art.

Sylwia Makris – Death

The Underdog Masters: opening night (photo: Jesper Christophersen)

Owned by Sammy Forway and supported by Assistant Director Ayesha Mahomed, The Underdog London has a rather regular turnaround on exhibitions, each as enticing as the last. A music venue and bar as well as gallery space, The Underdog London creates the perfect fusion between the enjoyment of edgier contemporary art and a good night out with your friends. The dualistic outcome of this set up creates a never-ending appreciation for the current show whilst it still exhibits, and an energetic ‘buzz’ at the knowledge things will change again before you ever really settle. “It’s usually pretty hectic.” Ayesha explains, “The Masters show was no different; We always hang the shows ourselves because we care for the art and artists we work with. We are very proud of the show, the art and the artists are a great reflection of the gallery.”

I was intrigued as to how Sammy and Ayesha have developed the space into a unique brand of gallery, which somehow manages to cover such a mix of talented contemporary artists in perfect harmony. Perhaps it’s the Underdog’s amalgamation of divergent events which opens doors to new opportunities, as exampled by Ayesha’s anecdote about one of their latest new signings, Sylwia Makris: “Actually, our introduction was a happy accident; we recently hosted an album launch with Nuclear Blast records for Behemoth, with Slywia and Tomasz Gornicki leading a related art exhibition. We immediately fell in love with both and knew we had to sign them up. Sylwia’s pieces work beautifully with Tomasz’s sculpture work and we are stoked to open 2019 with a bang by exhibiting these two great artists together.”

Tomasz Gornicki – Hint of decay she (bronze with silver patina + steel base)

The Underdog Masters: opening night (photo: Jesper Christophersen)

Once again, I’m reminded of the beautiful way the entire show had been hung; every step led to you new surprises. Chris Guests’ vibrant painting Green Catsuit hung playfully among darkly surreal metallic-cast sculptures of heads by Tomasz Gornick and the intricate still life oil paintings by Kieran Ingram, while Will Teather turned Renaissance-style painting on its head with his clever interpretations of traditional figurative art, twisted and reborn as perfectly formed fractal creations. Saint Saturday’s works were a perfect fit the Underdog London, displaying grace and attitude through his large female portraits which stared unapologetically across the room, catching your eye and drawing you in like modern day sirens.

Saint Saturday – Your Are All Of My Reasons (Acrylic, pastel, watercolour, charcoal and latex on canvas)

Kieran Ingram – Glimmers (oil on panel)

Chris Guest – Green Catsuit

Alan Rankle’s current series, Mothland Rankle, also caught my eye with his mesmerising landscape paintings, which fuse elements of Classical and Romantic painting with the Abstract, on which I ended up having an in-depth conversation with fellow exhibiting artist Anne Juul Christophersen, who had traveled for the opening from Denmark that morning. Anne’s bright enthusiasm was infectious, and as one of the artists officially represented by the Underdog London, I ended up interviewing her to find out more.

Interview with Anne Juul Christophersen

Anne and Alfred the dog (photo: Jesper Christophersen)

Her stories describing her love of art (even as a child, smelling new felt pens with relish before jumping into making up stories and creatures) made it clear Anne is an artist who shares parts of her soul within every painting she creates, to produce which I repeatedly heard people describe as paintings which ‘connect with something inside of them’, even if they didn’t know what.

“That’s exactly what I also often hear from people who look at my paintings.” muses Anne. “My paintings touch and trigger something within them: memories, sensations, feelings. As I wander around in nature, where I live, I observe and listen to the wonders of nature surrounding me and that makes me able to search within myself. I believe it’s a kind of connection between my inner [self] and the nature outside, and by far most of the ideas for my paintings take form right there in that connection. When I return to my studio, I make a quick and loose sketch to make sure that the images don´t fade away. I think that when my paintings touch the viewer, it’s because the viewer is reminded of that same connection. The connection was probably a lot stronger when they were kids, so when my paintings remind them of it, they probably feel a glimpse of that connection again.”

On top of the World (acrylic on canvas with gold leaf)

Living out of the city, Anne lives in what she playfully calls the “wild west” of Denmark.

“It’s quite a tough place: somewhat desolate and often stormy, but I love it. The art scene can be quite hectic and full of drama, while out here, where I live, under the world´s largest sky; it’s peaceful. Taking just one step from my studio door, I’m in the middle of deer, geese, hares, foxes, the salty air from the sea, the wind that often becomes a merciless storm, the uniquely bright light that I have never seen anywhere else in the world, the changing of seasons; plants decaying, making way for new plants to grow. It’s beautiful, it’s tough and it is exactly where I find my inner peace while eternally connecting myself to everything.”

Anne’s works often portray the wildling girl and her bear, constantly exploring the raw and open wilderness.

“The girl has been my “main character” for a long time. Many years ago, she came wandering towards me in one of my paintings, and she has been with me ever since. Along the way she has gotten many different companions and friends – and she especially likes the large bear. They enjoy each other´s company.”

I was curious to find out more about how the UK art scene compared to that of home country of Denmark.

“I’m still quite new to the English art scene, so I don’t feel qualified to answer that question just yet!” she remarks, “But I enjoy working with The Underdog Gallery very much. They manage to present art in a very positive way with room for enthusiasm and happiness, which I find quite liberating. Galerie Wolfsen [representing Anne in Denmark] is also doing exactly that and I think it’s brilliant. As artists, we are sensitive and passionate people, bubbling over with stories and feelings that we have an urge to tell and show in paintings or sculptures. I feel that the passion and sensitivity that created the art is too often disturbed or even killed entirely when exhibited in clinical showrooms, where silence takes over and strikes most visitors with an anxiety that can too easily create an unnecessary distance – and even stand in the way of experiencing the exhibited art on the walls. It’s a delicate balance, which I am very happy that my galleries master so well.”

Not all those who wander are Lost (acrylic on canvas)

In the workshop (photo: Jesper Christophersen)

As with most artists, Anne Juul Christophersen’s journey as an artist took time and hard work; for the past ten years she has been a full-time artist, and still remembers the ‘turning point’ in her career:

“Back in 2015 I had a solo exhibition in a gallery located in the middle of Stockholm. Up until then, my paintings were sold at a reasonable rate and I was able to make ends-meet as an artist, but at that exhibition, all my paintings sold like hot cakes! It was amazing and at the same time it felt unreal. I don´t know exactly what happened or what caused it, but after that exhibition, all my paintings now get sold immediately – even after just showing a picture on my Facebook page. Maybe the explanation is that in spite of all the “good advice” I’ve gotten through the years about what I should or could paint, I have stubbornly stuck with painting exactly what I felt was right for me. This has given me the freedom to work consistently with my very own artistic universe, making me able to focus on developing and mastering my own techniques.”

(Left to right) Assistant Director Ayesha Mahomed, Anne Juul Christophersen and Underdog London Owner Sammy Forway

Dream fisher (acrylic and gold leaf on paper)

As I spoke with Assistant Director Ayesha on the opening night, she excitedly told me about Anne’s upcoming solo show next October at the Underdog London. With Anne’s consistent drive to create, it seems she has already started work on her first painting with no suggestion of slowing down.

“For a long time, I have wanted to do a series of paintings built thematically around my experiences in nature.” Explains Anne, “I have found out that this particular feeling of connection is very similar to the way indigenous people perceive their surroundings. Boiled down to a single word, the theme will be “paganism”, which is a theme that I have been giving lot of thought for the past few years, and which I will now study much further for this exhibition.

When Sammy and Ayesha from The Underdog London asked me if I would be interested in showing a solo exhibition in their gallery, I immediately felt that this would be the perfect opportunity for me to dive into this theme. I felt an urge to know more, so I Googled for books on the subject and I stumbled upon “The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic”. That made me curious and I read everything on their website, which convinced me that I had to go and visit that museum. The only problem was, that the museum is located in Boscastle, Cornwall – about 1.500 km from my studio in Denmark!

I emailed back and forth with the museum director, Simon Costin, who was very kind and ensured me that they would answer all of my questions and give me a guided tour, if I would make my way there. And if something feels right, there´s no way around it – so we (my husband, Jesper and I) packed our car and drove all the way from Denmark to Boscastle in West England.  The museum was by far worth driving all of the 3.000 km in all. It was amazing. I got a guided tour of more than two hours by Joyce Froome who knows practically everything and they let me look and read in all the books in their very comprehensive library where I spent hours. Even the town of Boscastle was wonderful and the entire area was dripping with magic. That was really a wild experience and a brilliant kick-start for my work for the solo exhibition at The Underdog.

When I came back home, all of my ideas and thoughts came together for me. I have made my first two sketches and I am almost done with the first painting for the exhibition, which will be titled, ‘Connected – a tale from Mother Earth’.”

WIP: Connected – a tale from Mother Earth

The Underdog London’s current show ends this Thursday 25th October 2018, with plenty more artists and works to see.

Can’t make it? There is plenty more in the pipeline to keep you inspired and entertained over the coming year. Head over to the Underdog London website to keep up to date with all of their events from gallery openings to music, including the developments on Anne Juul Christophersen’s 2019 solo show.

About Author

Based in the UK, Natalia Joruk lives amongst a mass of art, nature, curious trinkets and green tea. As Deputy Editor, she works closely with the Editor-in-Chief, supporting with the design, curation and overall growth of Beautiful Bizarre and the annual Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize. She also oversees distribution of the magazine, so drop her a line if you know someone who would like to stock! One of her favourite perks is getting to know artists, gallery owners and their teams personally, so feel free to email her if there is anything she can help you with – or just to connect!


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