Sian (left) and Pandora outside their art space last summer. Photo: Grrrr!

In the midst of early summer last year, during the quite terrible 2016, fellow artist Pandora Vaughan (above, right) and I had a pop-up art shop at 6 Malden Road. It was called Grrrr!

“Art for all!” we shouted loudly, as we showed our own work alongside that of some extremely talented types. People came in. They had a chat. They bought stuff.

I had anticipated that sitting in the shop would be quite dull, and wondered before we opened whether we could bunk off when we felt like it, or just close the door and pretend not to be in. I was entirely wrong. Simply being in the shop was bloody brilliant. I’d only ever shown my illustrations before, not the art stuff (unlike Pandora who is a bit of a pro).

Celebrating Gospel Oak. Photo: Sian Pattenden

Here they were, in the world, opposite the Fiddler’s Elbow and next to the chip shop. The roadies who arrived with bands playing the Fiddler’s that evening used to pop in sometimes, lightly greased with the odour of bad cigarettes and dark encounters, and have a look around. They’d tell us how amazing everything was, one man wanted “the whole shop’s worth” – but they’d never buy anything.

Conversely, other people came into the shop, almost without wanting to be seen. They would slide across the floor, take a quick glance at the walls, then beetle away.

We were inclined to think that they were something to do with international money laundering or Charles Saatchi (actually one woman did come in and told us she worked for Saatchi). But most people would stay awhile, talk, have a closer inspection at the stuff on show. And many would keep coming back. People would Instagram the shop sign. It was a bit like being Postman Pat – except in an arty, less delivering-post sort of way – in that we started to become a “local fixture”. A lot of people thought we should sell posh coffee, and they might have had a point.

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A Word From Pandora

Grrrr girls Pandora (left) and Sian. Photo: SP

“Almost everything I do with art revolves around architecture or public space in some way. With Grrrr! the chance to inhabit these temporary spaces and to be accessible to the public just extends that into a new way of working and thinking. The Malden Road shop was very social, very shop-like, with goods and such. At Ashdown Crescent I am expecting us to use the space in a more experimental way, producing new work while remaining open to collaborating with others and talking to people more through events. I make a lot of things using un-precious materials – I’d like this to be an un-precious space.”
What did we sell then? Art, books, objets and more. We held workshops and people came in and did exciting things with lino and sharp cutting tools. One Saturday the whole shop was filled with folk painting biscuits. You couldn’t move for bourbons, acrylic paint and elbows. Kids as young as three – and grown ups who were a bit older – delighted in writing slogans on small, sweet snacks.

Two months in and our lease was up. Time to slope off, hit the French Riviera (as if), to plot and plan. And then in October we got the news that there was a new space, and Grrrr! II would have a three-month residence in Queen’s Crescent, as part of Camden Council’s pop-up shop scheme.

One of the many many good things with Grrrr! that we can be flexible. We create new artworks as we go along, so the show is always changing.

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Truth Pencils and the Truth Machine

Municipal: the new art space. Photo: Grrrr

The new exhibition is called Truth Machine. Every single artwork will be a trusty hinge on the anglepoise of truth. But what is truth? What is non-truth? We are now in an era of “fake news” and “alternative facts”, where obfuscation and corruption are the only reliable anchor points, which is exactly why we should be examining such matters. Does art always tell the truth? (No.)

Fact one: You will have to tell the truth when you are in the shop. Especially in the special Truth Room.

Fact two: We will have at least one Hair Salon event where you can get a free trim while you tell all to our silent hairdresser, like a confessional but with stylist products.

Fact three: Truth Brick. Tell everything to the brick, it won’t (OK, will) publish any of your stories on social media.

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Finally, a note on Anti-Brexit custard creams

Colourful biccies. Photo: SP

During the stint in the first shop, the Brexit referendum happened and I started painting custard creams with protest slogans on, a lot of them quite sweary, to register my dissatisfaction. Titles of such biscuits include “Broken Biscuit, Broken Britain”, “Fuck You May, Gove, Johnson, Farage”, “NHS”, “EU”, “This is a Fuckin’ Shambles”, “Protest”, “Bastard Dream” and many more. Some of these were sold online but there are plenty – now encased in resin – which will be on show at the Grrrr! II as well as anti-Trump Oreos. And the Gospel Truth ones of course.

Grrrr! launch party takes place on 24th March 5-8pm, 44 Ashdown Crescent NW5. It’s then open Weds-Sat 11-6pm until end of May. Info: grrrr.co.uk Twitter & Instagram: @grrrr_art

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