Hip to be Square: Celebrating 30 years of Cubitt

Victoria Miro is marking three decades of the central London art cooperative with a special fundraising exhibition.

Helen Cammock, Song from They Call It Idlewild (detail), 2020

For 30 years, Cubitt has carved a niche as an artist-run cooperative right in the heart of London, offering ample studio space, as well as a community-based education and exhibition programme, and a pioneering curatorial fellowship. Since it was founded in 1991, a host of influential contemporary artists have passed through its doors, including Chris Ofili, Tacita Dean, Peter Doig and Billy Childish. Now, to celebrate the organisation’s anniversary and raise much needed finances, a fundraising exhibition is being held at Victoria Miro, featuring works from 80 Cubitt artists past and present.

As the opportunities for artists to make a living or even make work in the capital continue to diminish, Cubitt’s mission is as important as ever. It is not just concerned with giving artists enough space to realise their ideas: its raison d’être has always been about fostering a collaborative environment fed by critical thinking, peer-led activity and an understanding of the value of art and artists in society.

For current studio resident Ben Edge, the opportunities offered have proved invaluable. “I was working in a tiny unventilated attic in Seven Sisters when the chance came for me to sublet at Cubitt. It was a dream come true,” he says. “Five years on, it is clear that the new studio gave me a chance to expand my practice, not only in terms of size, but in building a network. Before that, I felt quite isolated from the art world.”

Ellie MacGarry, Pink Cross, 2022

Young painter Ellie MacGarry graduated from the Slade in 2018, and is known for creating tongue-in-cheek, closely cropped images that question ideas of eroticism and sensuality. In this piece, an anonymous figure crosses their hands within their shirt, yet no hint is given to gender or explicit connotations. While the warm, pink colour palette could hold allusions to a vulva, the pose also hints at the positions favoured in prayer or even death, when a body is prepared for burial.

Billy Childish, The Dreaming, 2021

Poet, author, painter and musician Billy Childish presents a painting canvas that is full of the strange desolation our dreams often inhabit. Childish often creates autobiographical works that place him within wildernesses and pastoral landscapes, usually sporting a dandy suit and his famed moustache. In this version, however, he is entirely nude save for a hat, and appears to be exiting the scene. Whatever exists beyond the picture plane is left to our imagination.

Tomma Abts, Untitled (Small Circles), 2015

Turner-Prize winning German abstractionist Tomma Abts creates visually confounding works that question logic through optical illusion. This piece uses shadows and distinct, crisp lines to make it appear as if the surface has been folded and overlaid with mysterious dots. Abts has always maintained that her work is about recalibrating the eye and spending time in front of a painting, which has become increasingly difficult in a world of ultimate image saturation.

Chris Ofili, Flower Eater, 2021

This beautiful watercolour is characteristic of Chris Ofili’s approach to exploring constructed ideas of Blackness, whether it be blaxploitation films, classical mythology or Catholic icons. This work is part of a pair, both of which incorporate charcoal and gold leaf. The title references Alfred Tennyson’s The Lotos-Eaters, specifically the lines: “Music that gentlier on the spirit lies, Than tir’d eyelids upon tir’d eyes; Music that brings sweet sleep down from the blissful skies.’

Flo Brooks, To Be or Not to Be, 2020

Taking collage to the next level, Flo Brooks’ assemblages fall between two and three dimensions. In this work, a strange ode to modern living is seen in a scramble of signifiers including an urban fox, a public toilet for men, hoodies, graffiti and more. This exploration of contemporary community follows a similar thread to his 2017 exhibition at Cubitt’s gallery.

Nicole Wermers, Seasons #29, 2019

Another contemporary assemblage that addresses the trials of urban life, formed from sand, steel and pigment. Nicole Wermers straddles the line between abstraction and figuration, using chopped up photographs to create entirely new visual motifs, and layering imagery via sheets of metal. She is interested in engaging with the lessons of art history while reimagining them in materials usually associated with industrial processes and consumer products.

Tacita Dean, Buddha’s Tooth, 2021

Tacita Dean’s expansive practice incorporates film, photography, performance and more, and is underpinned by a need to understand the very nature of history. This mysterious photograph depicts a Sri Lankan relic believed to be a tooth belonging to the Buddha. It is housed in the city of Kandy, and is considered an important implement of governing power. Dean’s image is a cropped version of an archival image that shows the sacred object along with its golden casket.

Dexter Dalwood, 2059 (Book), 2021

Dexter Dalwood’s latest works imagine life in 2059, as demonstrated by the title of this piece. He defines his future-thinking practice as “contemporary history painting”, looking back in order to move forward. In this painting, a paperback book (which is increasingly becoming an historical object in a time of digital media) sits on a ledge, against the backdrop of a huge, unknown red planet. Perhaps he has imagined that a colonisation of Mars is tantalisingly within reach.

Holly Black is Elephant’s managing editor

Cubitt 30 is at Victoria Miro, Wharf Road, London, from 16 to 17 September


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