Discover London's underground galleries at Art Licks Festival

Discover rising talent and underground galleries in east London at the Art Licks Festival.
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Art Licks, October 4-5, daily, 11am to 6pm (artlicksweekend.com)

Artists often colonise an area long before the estate agents move in. This weekend spot the rising talent in east and south-east London at the Art Licks Festival at more than 70 venues including galleries, private homes, on canal boats and rooftops.

“People happily go along to the Tate, Whitechapel or Serpentine on their weekends, but they have no idea where to find the younger underground galleries,” said festival founder Holly Willats, 26.

Funded by the Arts Council and Jerwood Charitable Foundation, the festival focuses on areas along the East London line, from Bethnal Green and Hackney Wick to Bermondsey, Peckham and Forest Hill.

Gallery spaces include people’s homes (Peckham’s 38b gallery is in a flat) and a former GPs’ surgery at Elephant and Castle’s Heygate estate — the very cool Hotel Elephant.

Three years ago, Willats set up the Art Licks website, a listing of events and exhibitions, from her Peckham bedroom, to promote emerging artists and not-for-profit projects. Today, patrons of Art Licks include the Victoria Miro Gallery and Eva Rothschild.

New venue The White Building, in Hackney Wick, where “speculative sculptor” Lawrence Lek has a studio, is by the canal, just opposite the Olympic Stadium, with a lovely bar and pizzeria. Artists colonise fringe areas of London, making them very desirable. Estate agents take note. “When artists regenerate an area like Hackney or Peckham, galleries pop up,” Willats said.

Art licks: Lawrence Lek
© Graham Hussey
Architect and sculpture Larence Lek and Art Licks founder Holly Willats at new festival venue The White Building run by SPACE, in Hackney Wick
Lek, who originally trained as an architect, added: “You get these tribes springing up all over London of artists who graduated from Leeds or Camberwell art colleges and they start working together in a natural DIY sense, then that snowballs.”

Best-known for creating dramatic sculptural art installations in urban spaces, including the Barbican foyer and Bedford Square, Lek has invited all the participating Art Licks spaces to send him their floor plans and he is building a virtual tower online, so you can take an alternative digital tour of the festival. “When you get all these galleries together, it spreads out so much across London, it’s collectively larger than the Tate,” he said.

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