As art galleries reopen, a guide to the best exhibitions

Nalini Malani: Can you hear me? exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery Pic: Maddie Metcalfe

Art galleries in east and south-east London reopened last Monday and whether an art-lover or not quite, this list will spark some creativity, provide a great day out and make a great addition to Instagram posts.   

To be on the safe side, book a spot at the more popular galleries, even for the free exhibitions as spaces are limited to ensure covid compliance and social distancing.  

Student Sophia McDonell, who has been back visiting galleries, told East London Lines: “It’s so nice to be back out seeing art and it really serves as a reminder that people are still out there creating through all of this. They don’t feel too busy and it’s run really effectively with social distancing so you definitely feel quite safe.”    

Tower Hamlets  

With the well-known hotspot of Brick Lane, Tower Hamlets is also home to innovative artists studios and galleries along with its bold street art.  

Whitechapel Gallery 

Whitechapel Gallery is a safe haven of calm around the corner from Brick Lane. It has a range of free galleries and is currently running a paid exhibition, ‘Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy’ until 29 August. Eileen Agar experimented with Cubism, imagery from classical art, and ideas of the natural world and sexual pleasure throughout her ground-breaking career from the 1920s to 1990s.  

A Glittering City by filmaker Ayo Akingbade at Whitechapel Gallery Pic: Maddie Metcalfe

Espacio Gallery 

This gallery has just run AN? exciting exhibition, reminding us of the past few months of outdoor spaces and al fresco dining due to Covid restrictions. Yard Art at Espacio Gallery was an idea to bring the inside, outside. It displayed weatherproof and durable outdoor wall art, with illustrations, designs and limited editions from the likes of Banksy, Rene Gruau, Spencer Richard and Jane Ruggerio.  

The gallery was founded in 2012, taking a cooperative approach between the collection of artists members that run and fund the venue.     

From 24 May to 5 June there will be an exhibition which focuses on how an environment impacts an artist. ‘From the Western Isles to the East End’ will contrast the water dominated island of North Uist to London.     

The Approach gallery  

Situated above The Approach Tavern in Bethnal Green, gallery goers can enjoy a pint and see some artwork after months of going without. The Approach gallery currently has two exhibitions running, ‘Hanna Militec, Patterns of Thrift’ and ‘Tom Allen, The Promise’. Tom Allen creates paintings of vibrant and exotic flowers and is definitely worth checking out for a serotonin boost.  

The gallery is known for discovering artists and establishing their careers as well as expanding its programmes in additional gallery spaces across London.    

Tom Allen: The Promise Pic: The Approach Gallery Press release


Hackney is already well established as a vibrant hub for up and coming artists with a great selection of galleries to visit.  

Hoxton Gallery 

Hoxton gallery showcases arts and photography as well as transforming into a space to unleash your own creative side through classes such as painting and sculpting.   

It has a reputation for events in the music and fashion industry – all in keeping with its basement style beginnings now in a brutalist styled bunker in Arnold Circus, Shoreditch. 

The gallery have been teasing new display pieces from Edwin Pouncey (Savage Pencil) who creates animalistic graphics on skateboard decks. Wafa Love’s debut exhibition, My Endless stories will launch at the gallery on May 27, inspired by her former home and the Tunisian climate and East London’s vibrant warehouse parties.  

Pure Evil Gallery 

This space describes itself as a “Mecca for independent artists” and is opposed to seeing the arts as a commodity. A visit to Pure Evil gallery 

Will encourage both political and imaginative responses to the art. 

There is a staple pop art and graffiti style to be found around the gallery. Vistors venture into the small exterior then wander down the stairs to plenty more rooms displaying exciting art not only on canvases but on fluorescent lights and Marshall speakers too.   

Downstairs room at Pure Evil Gallery Pic: Maddie Metcalfe

Hundred Years Gallery  

Hundred Years gallery will be hosting screenings and scheduled shows now things are back up and running. They focus on providing a platform for radical ideas and young or underrepresented artists. They do this also through offering annual open calls for internships, short residencies and art projects.  

Visitors can also catch some live music in the great acoustic setting where many musicians record tracks and albums.  

It is located around the corner from The Geffrey Museum and new Hoxton station.  


If the world of creativity has taught us anything- always expect the unexpected and Lewisham’s exhibitions and galleries fit into this saying.  

Horniman Museum  

Horniman Museum has everything from stunning gardens, a butterfly house, natural history exhibits and an aquarium.  

The museum celebrates historical art collectors.  

Until June 13 the free exhibition ‘From Birth til Death: Scrolled Life Stories’ tells a lifes journey solely through symbols on hanging scrolls. Each scroll tells one individuals story and aims to tell untold stories from communities.   

Artful Pelican  

The story of the Artful Pelican gallery is a heart-warming one. The charity’s chief executive David Coombe was introduced to a talented artist, David Hardy who was made homeless. After wanting to dispose and donate all of his art, it was instead stored by Coombe, and entered an art exhibition where Hardy won and subsequently became the winner of the people’s choice award.  

From this, Artful Pelican speaks to and sources homeless, ex-homeless and vulnerable artists to display their work.  

Shine Gonzalvez, is an artist represented at the Artiful Pelican who takes beautiful, raw and gritty images which have been featured in many publications. Ruth Ales, best known for her symbolic self portraiture visually expressing her struggles with depression, has oil paintings you can see here also.   

Beckenham Place Mansion 

The Georgian Beckenham Place Mansion is a hub for arts, culture and community. Try your hand at creating a clay pinch pot run by resident artists. On 2 June they will be offering arts and crafts workshops for grown ups where visitors can create their own masterpieces to take home.  


Croydon is described as the heart of London’s art and culture with its flourishing public art scene of murals, sculptures and installations.   

Elizabeth James Gallery 

Elizabeth James is a mixed media artist who first began in photography. She is drawn to nature. The Elizabeth James gallery is a minutes’ walk away from the Norwood Junction station, Clifford Road exit and even invites contemporary artists to create art in the window of the space. 

Through fine art, abstract photography or mixing textiles, this gallery brings inspiration from across the world to a small corner of South Norwood. is a creative initiative founded by Croydon artist and entrepreneur Leoni Descartes. She has organised the Croydon Creative Month festival which collaborates with venues across Croydon to provide art workshops, business drop ins and skill sessions with local artists and industry experts.  

The gallery on Matthew Yard sees regular life drawing and arts workshops. Most recently hosted was a long pose life drawing class providing a useful insight into capturing proportions, gesture, light and shade. Look out for upcoming events to refine or even kick off drawing or painting skills.   

Rise Gallery  

Rise Art gallery specialises in contemporary, modern urban and post war pop art. It works closely with emerging and established international artists and is situated opposite Croydon Town Hall.  

The latest project part of the gallery is the Cronx Boutique – a collaboration between the Croydon Photographer, East Croydon Cool and Jhonny Howl Club. The three local brands came together to create community inspired artwork and merchandise to enhance local pride. The store is on Caithness Walk just outside the Ruskin Square exit of East Croydon Station. 

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