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We’ve been aware of DIY singer-songwriter Lupen Crook for a few years now - his most recent albums British Folk Tales, Waiting For The Post Man and The Pros & Cons of Eating Out have been amongst our favourites of the past few years, but the odd album cover or video promo aside, we knew little of his work as an artist. We made our way through the biting pre-snowfall winds to the unusually named Flaxon Ptooch gallery in Kentish Town, a small but welcomingly quirky space, to set that right.


The exhibition is a joint show with Irish artist Joni Belaruski and on entering one of the first things to strike me was the stark contrast between the riotous swirls of colour in Crook’s impressionist London scenes and the intricate purity of Belaruski’s monochrome inkwork.  Displayed primarily in an alternating fashion around the gallery, this juxtaposition serves to allow each piece its own space to breath and swim around the viewer’s mind, rather than clustering them together into an overwhelming mass.


I’m immediately drawn to Crook’s Camden scenes, partially through a sense of familiarity (the pictures of Camden Lock and Mornington Crescent tube station evoke particularly strong memories) and the incorporation of jigsaw puzzle pieces and found objects such as flyers and newspaper lettering adds a pleasingly otherwordly tactile edge to the hyper-real swirls of colour and texture.  Elsewhere, a huge sleeping nude figure surrounded by butterflies and snaking eddies of colour dominates a wall, whilst further around the room a stern church scene, its severe blue-greys and deep reds reminiscent of a horror movie backdrop, is littered with scraps of Bible pages.


Continuing the grisly theme, several of Belaruski’s works appear to centre around the story of Salome, the biblical seductress whose feminine wiles led to the execution of John the Baptist.  Through the use of a limited palette, some noirish femme-fatale styling, and most strikingly the trails of ink that bleed down the canvas, Belaruski manages to capture both the bewitching power of her subject’s sexuality and her disturbingly nonchalant attitude towards the brutality for which she is responsible.


It’s a fantastic show, giving well deserved exposure to two promising artists with contrasting styles, in a thoughtfully curated space.  And if, like me, you came because of the music, you’ll go away with much more than the curiosity with which you entered.


We caught up with Lupen Crook to ask some questions about the show, which runs until 13th February at Flaxon Ptooch Salon and Gallery on Kentish Town Road.   


How would you describe your work?

I don't entirely know, hopefully they don't require any description. They are full of shapes, colours and textures. I hope they are nice to look at. I hope more they might even stir a positive reaction in someone. Most of all, these are things I've enjoyed making. If I'm trying to achieve anything besides this, which I'm not sure I am, then its probably the idea that something can be immediately engaging, but then as time goes by, different layers begin to reveal themselves to whoever is observing it. I like art to be what it is, without an essay necessary to understand 'the point', but then I like things that possess a natural depth and ability to appear as if they are evolving somehow. Good people are like good art, perhaps.


Is there a theme or linking thread to the work that you're exhibiting?

The physical process of painting. Building the scene. This is why I like old buildings. I enjoy the way time has a kind habit of working into and cutting back the things we've forced upon nature. New buildings are always an intrusive creation and quite often they displace all that naturally exists around them, but time and nature tend to chose particular things and welcome them into the fold, or the building proves so stubborn that it refuses to give up its place.  Seeking out that natural balance is interesting to me. That's what I look for in my work, the balance of colour, textures and shapes, but being able to present it in a way that never loses sight of the fact that all things continue to shift, nothing ever settles.


Do you see your artwork as a separate endeavour from your music, or are they part of the same thing for you?

Music is lyrical, it's full of rhymes and silly patterns. I'm don't profess to be a poet, but music for me has always been a means to play with words, tell a story, say things I couldn't or shouldn't say outside of the sanctuary of song. Painting isn't about words for me. It's shapes and strange markings, colours and simple uncomplicated things.


Are fans of your music likely to see parallels in the imagery and subject matter of your art?

It's possible to see parallels. Everything can be linked and interwoven if you wish it to be that way, but I believe this work stands alone, and doesn't require anyone to have known or heard my music before.


What inspires you to paint?  Is the process of conceiving artworks similar to writing a song for you?

I just naturally lean toward making things, always have done. The whole idea of creating things is thrilling to me. As for songwriting versus painting, I suppose what painting is teaching is me is this - that writing, recording and mixing are part and parcel of one performance. The performance happens only once, just me present, and there is never an audience. When I paint I accept I may be the only person to ever appreciate or care for what I've created, and I think being happy with that is actually really healthy.


How did the joint exhibition with Joni come about?

By good fortune really. There's a very sensual and disturbing quality to Joni's work, and I think the differences in our work are complimentary. I exhibited alongside Joni in 2011, a exhibition she had curated with other artists including Ella Guru, Teresa Ferreira and Joe Whitney. Long after this, and entirely unconnected, I sent some of my new work to Flaxon Ptootch after it being recommended by a few friends. Months later Michael Ptootch, the gallery’s curator, got in touch and offered up the January Exhibition. Naturally I accepted, I think I may have even shared a celebratory dance with myself. Michael said he was hoping to get an artist he knew involved which turned out to be Joni Belaruski. Painting and especially trying for exhibitions is a solitary game to play, so it's great Joni and I have crossed paths again. Michael appears to be someone who approaches everything in a spirited and unpretentious way, and I think that's why his salon and gallery work so well.


Review & Photography by Paul Maps


www.lupencrook.com / jonibelaruski.tumblr.com / www.flaxonptootch.com

Art Review
Lupen Crook
+ Joni Belaruski
@ Flaxon Ptooch, London