Art set in Stone

Leytonstone art gallery continues to thrive, writes Graham Millington

Artist Paolo Boccacci

Artist Paolo Boccacci showcasing his sculpture, drawing and photography at The Stone Space

Sometimes even councillors can come up with brilliant ideas.

A ‘brainchild’ by Waltham Forest Council’s deputy leader Clyde Loakes in 2011 led to the creation of The Stone Space, an art gallery run by a collaboration of artists and volunteers at Leytonstone Library.

With the further encouragement of local councillors Jenny Gray and Marie Pye – and the quality and professionalism of its committee – the gallery has gained an excellent reputation.

Christine Davies is one of the founders and admits the role of volunteers is crucial to its success: “They get involved in all aspects of supporting the artists and welcoming visitors.”

She is also appreciative of the library service which manages the rooms and security. An average of 85 people attend shows each week with upwards of 170 viewing during opening weeks.

The gallery produces twelve shows each year and all artists are free to apply. The selection of artists takes into account the need to offer a diverse range of contemporary visual art to Leytonstone and the gallery is generally oversubscribed, requiring some tough decisions by the selection committee.

The Italian artist Paolo Boccacci was selected for October 2017 and offered an intriguing installation called Adrift Back to Basics which featured sculpture, drawing and photography of very high quality all laced together with an intriguing story.

A ‘soundscape’ by Emanuela Martignetti also featured. The show narrated how, after exceptional floods in Tuscany during 2015, large quantities of driftwood was washed up on the shoreline. Local people spontaneously set about building three dimensional ‘hut-like’ structures on the beach seemingly guided by some primeval instinct. They did not use tools or nails deciding to go back to basics and in effect mimic what their ancestors would have done a millennia before. However, it was done for survival not art.

Paolo is a trained architect and photographer living locally whose prior successes include being shortlisted for an architectural photographic competition and having examples of his work selected for the Royal Academy’s summer exhibitions in 2015 and 2016. He had also self-financed his own art show in Camden during 2014 to limited effect so when he discovered the Leytonstone gallery he was very keen to apply.

Paolo particularly liked the gallery itself and how the presentations can be seen through a large window directly from the street. He said: “The light is always on, inviting people to view and making the art accessible.”

So what could Paolo expect from this exposure? One artist who did well after showing in Leytonstone during October 2015 was Benign Samuel, who explained: “The Stone Space got me on the map as an artist. It could be any gallery in central London and [is] better than many.”

Both also Paolo and Benign praised the volunteers who they thought were exceptional in both enthusiasm and skill.

Meanwhile Councillor Loakes has other ambitions: “As Waltham Forest finalises its bid to be the first London Borough of Culture, I’m in no doubt that it will be gems like The Stone Space that mean Waltham Forest will be head and shoulders above the competition.”

For for more information on The Stone Space: