Never was a London thoroughfare more aptly named than Cork Street. Walk into this enclave of art galleries on any mid-week evening and there are bottles of wine being unstoppered everywhere you turn. Anyone not invited to the party could put on a patterned bow-tie, blag their way past the ladies with clipboards and have themselves an evening of visual excitement — not to mention few glasses of Pinot Grigio – on most nights of the week.
The fun and chatter was in full spate as I arrived at the opening of the Night and Day exhibition of paintings by artist PJ Crook. Unlike many contemporary art events, this one felt like a gathering of family and friends. Here were people who loved the works and knew the artist. I overheard a negotiation between a purchaser and the gallery owner. Not about the price but how soon she could take it away. “We really would prefer to keep it hanging until the show closes on December 7.” “No, that’s too far away”. And so it continued, Istanbul bazaar style.
PJ Crook works in a Gloucestershire town, surrounded by beautiful countryside. I was particularly taken by her works focusing on wildlife, although she covers a huge range of subjects, from a rather frightening work likening the tsunami in Japan to the Pamplona bull run to crowds of sinister people reading newspapers with catchy headlines.
I asked PJ why she’d chosen to do two paintings of owls. “I work mainly at night,” she told me. “So the nocturnal aspect of owls appealed to me. I also liked the idea of a countryside creature entering an urban environment. Normally you only glimpse an owl flitting by. There’s something ghostly, even angelic about it.”
It was huge fun exploring the other works on show, all of which have an instant appeal but, as you look closer, often reveal more unsettling aspects. The painting of an owl in a city centre, where it would not normally venture, perfectly captures this unease.
As the evening drew to a close I set off back along Cork Street, past a group of revellers outside a gallery a few doors further along. Suddenly I stumbled and there was the sound of breaking glass. I had tripped over a champagne flute just left sitting on the pavement. Cork St through and through.
Show continues at the Alpha Gallery, Cork St, until December 7.