Former Goldsmiths student Julia Alvarez is now the owner of Deptford’s critically acclaimed art gallery BEARSPACE.
She spoke to Eastlondonlines about finding herself at the centre of the area’s bustling art hub.
Julia studied visual culture at Goldsmiths, graduating in 2001 and it was during her time as a student that she became attracted to the vibrant community nearby.
“When I was at Goldsmiths I used to come to Deptford on a regular basis. I think it attracted me because it was a lively and vibrant place to be. There was a little bit of art happening here at the time, but there was a lot of art happening throughout other parts of East London.
“It was around the time of YBAs (Young British Artists – a movement that emerged out of Goldsmiths). But I always like to go against the grain and try to discover places and artists that no one else has found.
“I used to come here in my down time and just wander around. I’d visit some of the open studios and there were a few independent galleries. I just loved it; I liked the cultural mix and the vibrancy of the area.”
Julia’s main aim with her gallery is to discover talented young artists and give them a space to exhibit their work.
“When I started it was very much about my friends from Goldsmiths and giving them a place to show and that was really fun for the first two or three years” she laughed.
“Then I needed to find some more artists, but I went about it in the same way. Every year I’d scour the degree shows and I’m still doing that for new talent. I look mainly in London but I do get out to other places like Brighton as well.
“We say BEARSPACE creates a launchpad for visual art, discovering and promoting talent based on technique, quality and imagination for individuals to follow, collect and enjoy.
“I’m always looking for work that is technically accomplished. So maybe someone’s a really good painter or has been studying etching, even someone who is a good thinker; but then they might do something really different with their craft once they’ve perfected it.
“I do try to get around to see student work at most of the London universities like the London College, Royal Academy Schools, Slade.
“For this current show, Conducting the Surface, I found both artists while going around South London open studios, however there are more artists living in South East London now. There are loads of studios so it’s quite convenient for me.”
Apart from running and curating BEARSPACE, Julia was also the founder of the hugely popular South London Art Map, which helped smaller galleries promote themselves and created a community among the galleries.
“The idea started from the Deptford Art Map. It was a group of about eight galleries who got together, talked and put our own funding into creating this art map. It did really well and brought people to the area.
“You realise that getting people over the river is hard. Our audiences weren’t necessarily living here they were in East London, so we sort of got together to launch Deptford Art Map and it grew into the South London Art Map with lots of different hubs around South London.
“The idea is that the galleries do get together and talk about what they’re doing; it creates that community. There’s no competition, it’s a cultural community. That’s been a really great tool both for galleries and for businesses.”
With Deptford quickly becoming a creative hotspot, Julia told us how the area has changed over the years; evolving into what it is today. “Ten, or even five, years ago, the area was very different. There weren’t all these bars and cafes, so actually it was quite hard, but now there’s more for people to come and do here. It’s a culture destination so that makes it easier.
“The aesthetic is changing and you’ve got all the different kinds of shops here. Then you’ve got the new area where the station is, they’ve got some really great design elements there. The actual quality of the urban design has got a lot better and the graffiti is looking quite good as well. It’s happening quite organically which is nice; it’s not being forced.”
Julia curates a new exhibition every five or six weeks and is constantly finding new artists to show at BEARSPACE.
“I did a really nice show called Raising Ground. It was about artists who drew things out of the elements; it was really good. It were three artists we worked with and one of them did some mock buoys; it looked like the sea and the buoys were kind of bobbing.
“We’ve got a show soon called Messenger. It’s three artists from outside London which is exciting: Ed Harper, Dominic Bradman and Melissa Burn. We were looking for artists who look at the everyday. For example, Ed Harper creates these paintings where he’ll see rubbish in the corner of his street and turn it into these quite surreal paintings.”
The exhibition, Messengers, will start at BEARSPACE on the April 23 and run till May 27, 2017.