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Copyright of Claire Noble

Peckham has long been associated as an area of high crime rates and crumbling Victorian architecture. But, beneath this shoddy exterior lies a bubbling art community that is rapidly declaring its takeover of East-London’s hedonistic art scene.

A chatty crowd assembles outside the doors of Auto Italia. It seems that punctuality is a necessity for members of this club. They are an hour early. And, as the doors open, the crowd pours in. Ladies wearing tea dresses, the majority sporting tomato-red hair, pick up their paint pots and begin to weave their drawing onto one of the eight shop windows. While men, donned in plaid shirts and battered plimsolls quickly find a pane and get creative.

This is Auto-Italia, a project lead space that aims to explore and support the ideas of a growing peer group of artists. Situated in a disused car show room in South-East London, their values are simple; non-hierarchical powers, that allow all ages, all humans and styles to take part in a communal art space. Today hosts Sumi-ink, an ongoing drawing collective by LA based duo, John Finshbeck and Sarah Anderson.

Project coordinators of Auto Italia, Amanda Dennis, and Kate Cooper explain the concept behind Auto Italia as being: “All about inspiration”. “The building was donated; we have no overheads and can concentrate on putting our money into these projects. It’s a fantastic place for young people to express themselves” said Amanda.

Copyright of Claire Noble

“Auto-Italia has been going for over two-and-a-half years, we’ve had over 30 projects here and some in the Tate, but Sumi-Ink is the first of its kind in London. I haven’t seen it done anywhere else.” said Kate. She gestures with red-nailed hands: “Grab a pot and get stuck in”.

Friendships

Paintings range from witty slogans like “don’t milk over spilt tears” to portraits of social issues, nature, the quirky and bizarre.

In the words of Pablo Picasso: “The world today doesn’t make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?”

This quote could not be more relevant to today’s art session as each painting portrays a hilarious, distorted view of reality as they see it.  Hannah Tindle, a fine art student at St Martin’s College is drawing a rather manic looking Edward Norton inspired stick character, she giggles: “I only live down the road from here, I should come more often.”

But these drawings are far from off-putting. In fact these paintings, all shared by strangers help to establish friendships, as while admiring each other’s work, they begin to chat like friends. The concept of sharing each other’s ideas and encouraging artists to work together is a core factor of what Auto Italia represents. Kate Cooper looks around the room and smiles at the large crowd that has now assembled inside, she plops her paintbrush into her plastic pot and says:

“Our primary focus is not allowing the artist to work alone; we all engage and interact with each other.” It helps to bring the art community together. You would think they were a snobbish crowd that is the main perception. But look around you, there not at all. I went to art school for four years and never picked up a paintbrush, now’s my chance.”

Copyright of Claire Noble

The Sumi-Ink club has seen shows in, Chicago, Malmo, Paris, New York, Tokyo, and Bahal, India.

Peckham Pavillion

Sarah Anderson is floating around the room, busily painting each piece of clear pane she spots. As co-founder of the Sumi ink club, she describes its formation as a way of: “Gathering with friends”. I lived in Providence, Rhode Island and we would always meet in the street. It was our only way to get expressive, and draw our emotions. We could draw whatever we wanted, without constraint, this is what we pride ourselves on today, and it’s non-hierarchal,” said Sarah.

This low-key artist run space has been making the headlines not only in the UK but also in America. The New York Times recently ran a story documenting that the East-End art scene is no longer more and that if you want art, it’s right here, in Peckham.

It heralded the South-East London art scene as a ‘countercultural challenge’ to the ‘established north-of-the-river world of the Frieze art fair and the gentrified East End’.

Auto Italia is just one of the many artist led spaces that are emerging around South-East London. The Hannah Barry Gallery, home to some of London’s most talented artists, and project space Area 51 are beginning to make their mark on the art world. The Peckham Pavilion, an exhibition organized by the Hannah Barry Gallery, propelled her work to fame at the 53rd Venice Biennale, a major contemporary art exhibition held once every two years in Venice.

With this commendable set of values, the South-East London art community can only continue to flourish. And maybe, just maybe, tease East Londoners South of the Thames to see what all the fuss is about.

Copyright of Claire Noble

The following article was written for my Magazine production class, at the University of Westminster. Together with my colleagues, we are in the process of designing and creating our own glossy style magazine called MUSE,  that will be available on April 30.

I’ll upload my own contributions to the magazine, and also share with you my In-Design layouts.

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As the UK  battles its way through the longest cold snap since 1981 shoppers swarmed their local supermarkets in an effort to stock up on food supplies.

Equipped with the knowledge that ‘the worst was yet to come’ manic scenes, some of which I was witness to took place at supermarkets throughout London.

Copyright of Claire Noble

Clutching my to-do list I embarked on my familiar stroll towards my local Sainsburys. Dashing through the aisles shoppers grabbed tinned goods by the dozen, while many, settling for what they could – chose from what was left on the bare shelves.

Forecasters accurately predicted snowfall of up to 40cm. If there was ever a time to bulk buy it was now.

According to Wednesdays Metro:

  • Asda saw a 100 per cent rise in sales of thermal underwear and a 129 per cent leap in the purchase of vacuüm flasks
  • Tescos soup sales  increased by 80 per cent
  • In Essex, Budgens said shop takings were triple the normal
  • Salt, cat litter and soups were among the most popular purchases
  • While Halfords said it had seen sales of snow chains and sleeping bags also rise.

Forecasters predict the  cold snap will continue  for the  next two weeks.

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London Strategic Housing - Student block.

Decked in a delightful navy blue pinafore and armed with the most colourful assortment of washing utensils Aldoha Savickiene, has just finished her cleaning shift at London Strategic Housing’s student block.

Outside a group of trumpet wielding students attempt to play Jingle Bells, and after five minutes of flat notes, we move inside.

You get the feeling that sitting down is a rarity to Aldoha. But, given the opportunity its one she cherishes. Sipping on her coffee she begins to tell me why moving from Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania to Harrow, North West London has, what she calls its “hidden advantages.”

“Oh wait… I almost forgot.” She hands me an envelope of pictures, from her hometown of Vilnius, saying shyly “just to give you an insight of Lithuania.”

Out of the twenty something pictures she shows me, it’s evident that family life, for Aldoha is ultimately her top priority. I’m introduced to each and every member, even the in-laws. Knowing that she has highlighted the most important part of her existence Aldoha relaxes, and begins, what seems to be the unfamiliar task of speaking about herself.

“I saw it coming you know? This fall of economy, I knew it would happen.” Aldoha was a specialist in consumer banking in Nord Bank, Vilnius before a high cost of living coupled with low wages finally took its toll, forcing her and her family to make hard decisions about the prospect of life in the UK.  

“The price of food in Lithuania is the same as here” she says “but wages are very low.”

It was her job to predict market trends, recommend mortgages, chair meetings and devise the best insurance policies to those that came her way. A world apart from the 55 kitchen sinks she greets every morning in Kodac Court. Her decision to leave Lithuania wasn’t easy resulting in the painful separation of a mother from her husband and three children.

“I came to London to improve the lives of five people.” “This responsibility was enough to keep me working” she says. “They need a future. My husband looked after the children and I came to get us a job.”


A new start

Aldoha arrived in London in 2007 with no English. She says “I couldn’t even ask anyone for the time and if it wasn’t for my sister-in-law I don’t know what I would have done.”

She started off by working three jobs on minimal pay in Central London hotels. She begins mapping out her journey to me. It’s incredible.

Every morning at 6am, Aldoha would travel from her sister-in-law’s East London home to begin work in three separate hotels, starting in Southwark, moving onto Westminster and finishing up at 10pm in Farringdon.

Humour never fails Aldoha, as ever the optimist she smiles through these tales of language barriers, relocation and says:

“It’s funny, I’m fluent in Russian and Polish but I never thought I’d need English.”

After six months of hard work and sending money back home, her family arrived in London. Her husband works six nights a week as a handy-man and Aldoha now works a more relaxed schedule at London Strategic Housing.

When asked does she ever feel saddened that she had to work so hard, having enjoyed a life as a top end banker she says:

“cleaning is the wrong job for my brain, but I’m not scared of change, everyone needs it I’m grateful to get what I’m given – even if it’s not what I’m used to.”

Her choices of career sacrifice over family security are as inspiring as they are humbling. I ask her does the prospect of ever returning to Lithuania enter her mind?

She takes a second, glances downwards at the neat pile of photographs on the table and replies:

“I love my Country. But life as a family doesn’t work. I need to think about my family. A month’s wages in Lithuanian is equal to a week’s pay in London. My children get proper education and healthcare here, so financially, my answer would be no.”

Its Aldoha’s birthday next week, I ask her will she be celebrating. “Nah…work, Christmas all these things, if anything it will be a quiet affair.”

Christmas day will be spent in London with her family, a well deserved break for a mother in every essence of the word.

I tell her she’s more than welcome to view the interview before it’s published, to which she hastily replies:

“Thank you, but do you think I have time to be reading, (before bursting into laughter,) and what would I be doing reading something about myself?

At that, she takes out a battered notebook, scrawls down the Monday to-do list and cursing the very existence of the Great British weather, she walks away, with a smile that could conquer the world.

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Randa El Tahawy cites French as her nationality and always will.  But, for now – home is Egypt.

However, this also has its disadvantages. Randa describes her attendance of French school in Egypt lead to the questioning of whether she was a “true Egyptian.”“Life has taught me a lot you know.” These life lessons are clear as we speak of her past and what the future holds. So far Randa has written but not expressed.

Sitting upright Randa begins, detailing with passion and poise why she wishes to write about the unwritten. Society pressures, dictation of living standards they all affect her one way or  another.

I was never able to go further than the commercial publications, its shallow and not me.” She tells of life in Egypt as that of great “prosperity” but buried beneath is a great societal  pressure, especially on young Women like herself to get married as soon as possible.

Randa tells me “it’s a marking of social status” and that “you are officially  member of Society” once the exchange of vows has taken place.

Although she says that people may believe  reporting on Women’s issues to be a  “cliché” subject, it’s an issue that she holds dear to herself and as long as it still exists she’ll no doubt report on it.

Representing her Country

I refuse to live my “life as a blank page, I dont want some bland reference every time someone mentions me, I want to be remembered.”

During her period as a professional Journalist and prior to her move to London Randa has written for three publications, all of which have omitted the chance to speak of  “real issues.”

These issues are more important now than ever as Randa believes by living in London she is “representing her country.”

Aspiring to fix the views of the Social elite and break restrictive reporting are two overwhelming aspirations, that will no doubt be touched on and possibly overtaken throughout her career path.

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Copyright of Claire Noble

Sundays in London are a dream itself. Especially when you live in a household, like mine where a regular Sunday consists of having more than the recommended dose of washing up to tackle. It’s a family bonding exercise – the dishwasher stays off  – while the remainder of the household lovingly squabbles over absolute nothings. Bliss personified as you can imagine.

After making the giant move to a city that does not know my name, I decided to take a look at what it has to offer and trust me; London has a gift for all. I don’t know why, but walking blissfully unaware against the cool hint of autumn feels just that little bit better of a Sunday.  Aware of all Hampstead has to offer and with the knowledge that if C.S Lewis can compose something as beautiful as \”The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in the clutch of a Sunday on the Heath, who knows what sort of literary genius I might come up with. Alas, no Pulitzer Prize yet but the sight alone was enough for me. As I exited the tube station and reverted back to the casual stroll I had neglected – as a sheer means of survival –  among the rat race, I noticed one thing in particular – happiness beamed from every passerby. It was if the walk down Hampstead high Street was enough to merit a smile.

I also encountered a “good morning” issued to me as if it was a commodity, not a rarity. Double my luck as I stumbled into every vintage lover’s dream, an antique and collectors fair had just gotten underway and with the mere thirty pence admittance fee I’d be mad not to pass it by.

What lay inside was an homage to a century gone by, vintage brooches, earrings and watches twinkled up at me as if  signalling  me to purchase – don’t worry I did. On the opposite side of the room lay thousands of black and white portraits, postcards and paintings of London in its youth.

Noticing a rather sweet and innocent depiction of a 1950s holiday – which consisted of two sisters strolling down a country lane in the idyllic Kent countryside, I was then joined by the owner of the collector’s fair who, noticing my shine to the portrait decided to give me a much-obliged talk on the history of this Great country. Such was his enthusiasm for his motherland and not of purchase he accompanied me for the remainder of my stroll announcing the life of the memorabilia  before it was viewed as a just another part of history”.

Armed with all sorts of delightful trinkets, I decided to make my way towards Hampstead Heath, known locally as “the heath.” A soothing comparison to the hectic life of a Londoner.  Personally, it’s hard to believe that something so quaint and peaceful exists so close to the city that never stops. The essence of family life is clearly depicted on the Heath, as husbands and wives lost in each other’s thoughts, assemble on “Kite Hill” and proudly watch on as children display their latest attempts at kite wizardry. Grown men too I might add, only to be swiftly put in their place by boisterous five-year olds who clearly know a thing or two about the mechanics of kite flying.“Sit down DADDY, my turn. Lesson learned.

‘Breathtaking

A few steps away one of the highest points in London, Parliament Hill provides a picturesque view of London’s skyline.  Utterly breathtaking, and being a people person through and through my only wish was that I could have shared the beauty of the Heath with some of my friends and family – it would have saved the countless “hey… guess what I just saw” phone calls I made back home that’s for sure.

Kite Hill.

Kite Hill.

Throughout my visit to Hampstead, one thought played prominence in my mind. It was one of those great echoing “One day”… thoughts we all have. I told myself one day I’ll live here, I’ll have a kite, the beaming smile and the belief that any problem big or small  can be resolved on the Heath. But with house prices reaching a cool three million, I might just put that thought on hold – forever,  and the Heath and I shall  attempt a long distant relationship.

So to all who’ve never been or have entertained the thought, wrap up warm, pack your picnic and marvel at one of the countless sights this great city has to offer.

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