Online | Art & Collecting

At Home with Art

London, UK

One of Shoreditch's most atmospheric buildings is playing host to a weekend-long contemporary art show that celebrates what it means to be an artist in the capital

Louise Chignac describes Canopy Collections as “an alternative to a ‘white cube’ art gallery,” and its latest show is being staged in a space that could be described as the exact opposite to a white cube. With its peeling paint, scuffed Georgian panelling and elegant sash windows, 4 Princelet Street in Shoreditch has enough charm and personality to hold its own while completely empty. For one long weekend, though (21 – 24 March 2024), it will play host to Pourquoi London, an art show by Canopy and art platform Gertrude.

Canopy co-founder Cécile Ganansia, Gertrude CEO Will Jarvis and Canopy co-founder Louise Chignac outside 4 Princelet Street

While Gertrude’s platform is artist-led (they pay to be hosted on its website), Canopy Collections has a more traditional model with its own stable of artists: however, both are dedicated to emerging art, and with some names common to both, a collaboration between Canopy’s co-founder Chignac and Gertrude’s CEO Will Jarvis seemed natural. “We met at New Contemporaries at the Camden Arts Centre; I’d known of him for a decade, we’d just never met,” says Chignac. “The next day we agreed to do something together. I already had 4 Princelet Street in mind as a venue. Everything came together quite naturally.”

Pourquoi London will show more than 30 London-based artists, with an overarching narrative about what it means to live and work in the capital. “London has the highest concentration of artists in the world. The creative industries bring in billions of pounds,” says Chignac.

We are really passionate about opening up the industry to people who are willing to enter it but have not always been very welcomed to do so

The suite of 15 rooms at 4 Princelet Street (whose first owner in 1724 was Sir Benjamin Truman, whose brewery was just around the corner, before being occupied by Huguenot silk weavers) are not easy to hang a show of contemporary art in. “It’s definitely forced us to select artworks that will fit into the existing rooms. Every one seems to have a different patina – blue, green…” says Chignac. “We’ve selected works according to the palette of the room.”

While sometimes it’s a colour affiliation that provides an inspiration for the hang – two paintings from Lara Davies’ Saundersfoot series, in yellow deckchair stripes with a small inset square of water lapping the beach, sit in an ochre-coloured room – there are other visual connections being made. Harriett Gillett’s Just an animal/looking for a home and Thomas Cameron’s Commute both depict windows, outside looking in (a terraced house and a train carriage respectively), and they have been placed either side of one of 4 Princelet Street’s Georgian sash windows, inside looking out.

A lot of the art is on a small scale, a reflection of the realities of how artists in London may be forced to work, says Chignac: “It’s very expensive here, there is a shortage of studios, and many artists work from home. They may work on paper, or with found materials, as a solution to the restrictions that they face.” There are some works of sculpture on show, too, including Francesca Anfossi’s illuminated ceramics.

With the glare of gallery-standard lighting replaced by bare bulbs and raking light from tall windows; and clean, white, straight-lined walls replaced by the beautiful imperfection of 300-year-old panelling, it is somehow much easier to imagine the works in your own space, which gets to the heart of what the show is trying to do, democratising both the showing and the buying process of art.

Canopy was founded in 2020, when there was no possibility of physical exhibitions, but since it has been able to show works in person, it has retained a nomadic nature, popping up in venues that are not always expected: Pourquoi London is its largest show to date. “We’ve done a lot of projects in domestic spaces, such as collector’s homes,” says Chignac. “The idea of living with art has always been at the heart of we do.

“That’s something I have in common with Will at Gertrude. We are really passionate about opening up the industry to people who are willing to enter it but have not always been very welcomed to do so [in the past]. By presenting the art well, we are facilitating interaction between emerging artists, and an emerging audience.”