John Gulliver: Top Cat and tales

Abotz has a political message running through all his wor

Tuesday, 19th April

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Abotz at the Camden Open Air Gallery

TO the Camden Open Air Gallery in Jamestown Road – which happens to be an indoor space, despite its name.

In this unit, which once housed the famous Camden Brasserie restaurant – those readers of a certain age will recall what a landmark that was – you can catch art shows like none other.

The Open Air Gallery specialises in street art, urban art, graffiti – and its founder, Finn Brewster, is overseeing what can only be described as a roaring success.

Finn couldn’t be more rooted in the area: he spent his childhood upstairs, as his mum ran the brasserie, and his gallery features a host of Camden names whose work you may have seen in public spaces over the past four decades.

On Saturday evening, I popped in and found them celebrating the closing night of a hugely successful show by the artist Abotz, and his exhibition Abotz Artwrld.

His works feature motifs from the cartoon series Top Cat. The nostalgia swirled as we looked at TC’s adorable sidekick, Benny writ large in bold colours.

Abotz doesn’t stop there: he also has a white rodent for a calling card, looking very much like another childhood favourite, Danger Mouse.

You may have seen his work out and about: posters featuring these pieces have appeared mysteriously in all sorts of places, bringing the gallery out in to the open air. Camden’s street cleaning teams may have been a little perturbed; you could once get an Asbo in this borough for fly-posting.

But Abotz has a political message running through all his work. He asks us to consider our relationship with material things – golden £50 notes provide a backdrop to one stunning piece – and consider what makes us happy.

With his works fetching prices of £2,000 upwards – and they are masterly done – his talent, honed on the walls and bridges of our urban fabric, is paradoxically eminently own-able.

Finn’s place, meanwhile, has a bustle about it, and something of the old Camden bohemia. Maybe you’d say it has “soul”.

One for those concerned that NW1 is at risk of becoming a tourist tat destination, while forgetting its artsy past. That is something Finn says he recognises, and wants to do something about.

The art gallery owner returned from studying in Manchester and was concerned by how his home town had changed and began thinking what it lacked compared to the days of his youth.

“Camden was increasingly becoming a tourist trap, and I knew that there was so much more on offer, from venues and bars to quality restaurants and vibrant street art,” he said.

“With this in mind, COAG’s aim is to re-imagine Camden Town by creating an open-air art gallery that comprises original art from a collection of young and innovative artists based in London. COAG is the vision and voice of a new generation.

We are here to unite the Camden experience by bringing businesses together with art, allowing the artists, local businesses and visitors to all benefit from this collaboration.”

A bold statement, but one he seems to be fulfilling.

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