Frameworks Crouch End

Stuart Free - article from TIME Magazine 15th July, 2002, Vol. 160 No. 3

Urban Legends

Young British artists are deserting the conceptual bandwagon for cityscapes with a hint of darkness.
By Lucy Fisher

Not all young British artists mummify sharks, put their unmade beds on display or trot around the celebrity circuit. Some stay quietly in their studios, recording their surroundings in empty cityscapes haunted by their missing inhabitants, lit by streetlamps, early dawn or winter dusk.

Stuart Free, who graduated from London’s Central St. Martins art school in 1994, has painted 360 pictures of north London, which sell steadily through a local gallery. He doesn’t mind being called an “urban realist,” but doesn’t know what he’d call himself : “In a way I’d rather just get on with it and call it something afterwards.” In Westway he depicts a scene under a motorway, the curve of the road cutting off a generic blue sky.

On the nearest strut is a thick accretion of graffiti, and greenery struggles for life. The harsh contrast of light and dark is reminiscent of art of the 1940’s, but Free explains this is the light of the early morning, when he often takes photographs.

Free, 30, has “become obsessed” with documenting London’s constantly changing face. He has drawers full of photographs waiting to be made into art – enough for a lifetime. To any native, his work is like a family album. Isn’t that the old cinema opposite the playground off York Way ? The Italian restaurant in Seven Sisters Road ? “Most of my customers have a link with the piece they buy,” he says. “It seems as if each one of these places has somebody who loves it.” People hardly appear in his pictures, he says, because there is already a central figure – the imaginary person standing in the road through whose eyes we view the scene.

For those wanting to recapture Britain in all it’s crumbling, rain-soaked glory, wandering around the work of these artists is well worth the trip.

( Artists: George Shaw, Stuart Free, Chris Campbell and Duncan Swann)