As I strolled down to Café Adagio on a sunny Sunday afternoon ahead of my meeting with Croydon-based artist Nick Daley, also known as Bareface, I imagined an eccentric character as colourful and striking as the erratic, animated prints and canvases that were displayed on the café’s walls.
The exterior of the local café is nothing out of the ordinary, but once inside, the exhibition asserts the unique quality of the venue. Completely distracted by the artwork that begs to be seen, I missed Daley, sitting humbly by the window awaiting my arrival. He definitely didn’t meet my expectations of the mysterious ‘artist without a face’, as he calls himself.
Bareface has been exhibiting for the past two years in the UK, Australia, and the US. His work has earned him a place in the global graffiti and street art collective The Secret Society of Super Villain Artists (SSOSVA). He is also a member of the local Thornton Heath based creative group Heath Collective. Street Pop is his first solo tour across London, a collection of works from the past few years.
The faces of Maryln Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Psycho’s Janet Leigh are stylishly stripped back in one striking collection that focuses on iconic women. Another is a series, which explores sexual tension through pop-art images of women with words such as: “You used sex as a weapon”.
“I think there is a darker undertone to them and it’s something that isn’t really touched upon when talking about love,” Bareface explains.
When asked about the feminist undertones of his work and the use of strong female figures, Daley tells me: “I think with this collection it was very much through living with my mum, I’d see that every day. She’s been through a lot to get me through and give me the best that she could so I probably unconsciously reflect that into my work.
“Choosing strong women as my subject is most of what I do, really.”
He says the idea behind his work is to rivet people’s attention to his presentation of iconic faces, by reworking them to confront and interpret their own notion of what the final image portrays.
This obsession with first impressions and face value has seeped playfully into how the local artist interacts with his audience. “I presented a show in Shoreditch with nine portraits of myself, without telling the audience that they could draw within the blank outline,” he says. “Then I gave the person with the marker a nod and suddenly people got it and just went for it! It was actually more popular than the work I had up because so many people just liked the interaction,” Daley laughs.
The invitation to spectators to get more physically involved with the work seems fitting for the exhibition’s current venue. Café Adagio’s owner, Alif Choudhury, explains that the café’s purpose was to be a music and arts café for local artists to promote themselves.
“The idea behind it is to give people a chance to do something for the community. From the way I see things – if you look after people, people will come and look after you and that is how I like to do things here.”
The café, located on Lower Addiscombe Road, has grown through organic collaborations with local artists – with Street Pop being the fifth exhibition to be held.
Gesturing proudly at Bareface’s work, Choudhury reveals: “Essentially the idea is for me to put art that I love up on my walls and hopefully my customers will like it as well.”
There certainly seems to be a growing momentum for artists in Croydon, a place not normally associated with London’s more regularly regarded areas for up and coming artists. “For me, I always thought if I’m going to make it I’ve got to go to Shoreditch, I’ve got to do Shoreditch,” Bareface tells me. “That is where I did my first couple of shows but then the reception from the local show here in Croydon was a million times bigger.”
This Croydon influence is something Bareface wants to build upon and the artist is advocating for other local artists to do the same. “We can build our own scene here. It will be like kicking down the door almost and saying: come in, it’s fine, we can build our own little Shoreditch vibe here and that’s what we want.”
Bareface might just be onto something. Since the exhibition opened the prints have been selling tremendously well and as we chat, Choudery interrupts to announce another sale.
Emphasising that he wants his audience to interpret the work how they see fit, Bareface isn’t passive when it comes to asserting his feelings through his body of work: “When something strikes a cord within me that I want to shout about, then I will definitely translate that through my work.” This is apparent with his collection ‘Selfish Series’ which Daley describes as ‘two fingers up to selfie culture’.
To explore this further, the artist sticks his logo of a blank face in various locations in South London. “People end up drawing in them and what’s interesting is the fact that what they draw is probably a truer reflection of how they feel, rather than the selfies that they produce,
“They are often quite dark and a bit troubled, which is strange but it is how people feel. I’ll probably never understand the selfie culture or agree with it but I can challenge it.”
Daley feels that this collaboration with the local community is a way of giving back. The artist wants to support Croydon further by donating the proceeds of his upcoming book, showcasing his work to help local schools and charities buy art supplies.
Always obsessed with the face, Daley tells me: “It’s a nice way of giving back instead of just ‘look at me, look at my work’, which would have almost been like taking a selfie.”
Street Pop will run for a month at Café Adagio, where Bareface’s prints are available for purchase. The café also hosts regular music and arts events, the programme of which can be found on their website: www.cafeadagio.uk