Friday, 8 October 2010

'First Thursdays' in East London

For me, East London is a meeting place. It's where I meet friends who live outside London and need to get home from Liverpool Street station. It's where we go for curries and terrible wine, and Mexican food and excellent margaritas. It's a venue for gigs, and liquid picnics in the middle of Hoxton Square in the summertime. But it is also a major centre for art in the city. And the first Thursday of every month those of us who are as clueless as I about this aspect of the area can go and see for themselves; at an event which is astoundingly unimaginatively titled 'First Thursdays'. (You'd think a bunch of creatives could come up with a name more exciting than that!)

Every First Thursday a large number of the galleries and artists' studios stay open until 9pm, throwing their doors open to all, and supplying them with copious amounts of beer; maybe in an attempt to persuade them to part with the significant cash needed to procure many of their pieces. My first First Thursday I witnessed everything from strobe-light flashing installations inside battered garden sheds, to wall-high graphic designs of Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles doing some things they certainly never did in the original children's cartoons.

Vyner Street is the central hub, and even in the October chill the cobbles and pavements were thronged with beer-clutching arty-types, their brutal angular hairstyles drooping in the drizzle. My Accidental companion and I pottered in and out of studios, up and down stairs, perusing photos and sketches and undefinable daubings. I was very taken with several thousand pounds worth of charcoal crow, silhouetted before a wonky tower. The tiny naked people doing tiny naughty things only visible through wall-mounted magnifying glasses I was less keen on.

We ended our evening high up above Regents Canal, in a vast warehouse divided into artists studios and ateliers. Surrounded by sculptures and indefinable 'objets', we swigged free beer on worn and sagging, yet extremely welcome, sofas, by plate-glass windows rimmed with harsh steel, through which the lights and shadows of East London twinkled and glowered. The real East end art appreciators settled into their chosen galleries and studios, opened another beer and name-dropped the night away. We drank up and headed off in search of something that starving artists never need - supper.

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