Skip Gallery - making art and life drawing more accessible (and unusual) than ever

The Skip Gallery shows artwork in a skip. They have displayed work by David Shrigley as well as Skip Gallery founders Catherine Borowski and Lee Baker, literally inside the same type of skip that you would see parked in a road outside a building site.

 

Street artist Ben Eine works on the skip’s exterior as the life drawing session inside is prepared

Why a skip?

Catherine Borowski conceived of the idea while struggling to find somewhere in London to exhibit her artwork.

“I started looking for galleries and realised that everything is booked up, and also it’s bloody expensive. And it’s quite a closed society… I thought it would be good to have a gallery … that we can do ourselves. Somehow my head went to skips.”

It is a wild idea, but also makes sense – what could be more accessible than a skip? It also fits in with the rest of her work which includes interesting takes on daily urban life.

“For me, the skip itself is a piece.”

Why life drawing?

For their third event, Catherine and Lee chose to have a series of life drawing sessions happen inside in the skip. During the life drawing session happening inside the skip, street artist Ben Eine was spray painting a design on the exterior throughout the evening. We were invited to go along to one of the most unusual life drawing events you could think of.

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“[A skip is] totally accessible, and in line with that we wanted it to be open to all sorts of art practices. Life drawing is traditionally something that you think of as … traditional, a bit conservative. Or maybe you haven’t done it since you were at school” she explained. “Somehow we managed to make the bonkersness that came out of our mouths happen in actual real life!”

Mayko climbs the stairs to the skip life drawing session

The free event happened as part of Art Night, a free contemporary arts festival that happened around London on July 1st. They situated the skip in the playground of a school, and arranged to have the skip remain in place for the following week so they could run lessons in it to teach the kids about drawing human figures – a wonderful idea in line with making the world of art more part of the everyday world and more accessible to everyone.

“We have a tutor and a model coming down and this is a primary school, so really this will be the first time the children have ever experienced … let alone life drawing but even portraiture, in a very real, contemporary, kind of weird setting.”

The model was an interesting, costumed character they had created with Art Macabre. The evening’s tutor was the wonderful life drawing teacher Jake Spicer. I was able to interview him about how people learn to draw – I’ll add the audio to a podcast coming soon.

Did it work?

If one of the aims of the Skip Gallery event was to make art accessible, did it work? I was a little worried prior to the event that the concept would be a bit esoteric – something that I might not ‘get’. That’s something I’ve felt at some modern art exhibitions before. I needn’t have worried – the Skip Gallery had a very down to earth feel to it.

The presence of the skip itself helped create that atmosphere – there is nothing elitist about a skip, which is so much part of daily life in London that they usually go unnoticed. It’s also great when you can not only touch the art, while it’s being spray painted by the wonderful Ben Eine, but actually climb into it. And not only that, but then do your own drawings inside it. Is there any way to make an art show more interactive?

The people present were what really gave the Skip Gallery that friendly vibe – the founders were great, as was Jake the life drawing teacher. The event’s attendees got stuck into his skip life drawing sessions, so we got to see their portraits and life drawings. The combination of the interactive format, people and, of course, the skip created an atmosphere of fun and expressiveness, rather than pretentiousness.

What were the lessons learned about life drawing?

Any chance you have to move outside of your drawing comfort zone is probably worth taking. Mayko jumped at the chance to draw someone in a skip, simply to mix up her practice which she usually does in traditional life drawing sessions. She said:

“I didn’t think I’d be able to draw in such a small and unusual place. I had to draw smaller than I usually do, and change my approach. It was very different, and I surprised myself that I could adapt and came out with a drawing or two that I thought were decent. It was important to break my preconceptions about drawing. You can draw in most places really. Every time you change things, it expands your horizons a bit.”

 

Skip Gallery attendees drew quick portraits of me – they were all really good! Mayko’s is on the one closest to the camera

For me, I didn’t get the chance to do any drawings because the model was late, and I volunteered to sit for portraits so that the drawing session could go ahead. I don’t have much experience with posing for drawings, but I’m glad I’ve tried it now. It is harder than it looks, even though I was just sitting on a stool, fully clothed for maximum 10 minute poses. The experience definitely gave me more respect for the work of real life drawing models. I found myself entering semi-meditative states without realising, and then having to remind myself to concentrate at least enough to stay still!

I believe that the experience is useful for drawing. We have talked before about the usefulness of developing your sense of kinesthesia to drawing – the feel of where your own limbs are. It allows you to empathise with the pose, which means a better understanding of it, and therefore hopefully a better drawing. So, if you get the chance to either draw someone in an unusual environment or let someone draw you, go for it!

Could we see independent popup skip exhibitions?

And lastly, I asked Catherine – could artists take this skip gallery idea and run with it? Could they rent a skip and set up their own public exhibition and bypass the need to get into an expensive gallery space?

“It should be as easy as renting a skip, getting a parking space and a skip permit and starting a gallery.”

I, for one, hope it spreads – how fun would it be to pass by skips in the street and check to see if an art exhibition was inside? I also hope that more diverse life drawing opportunities like this are made available to people.

If you live in the UK, watch out for the next Skip Gallery event and go along! And always grab any unusual life drawing opportunity you can.

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