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Thursday, February 19, 1998 Published at 16:53 GMT


Emerging stars in the East End
image: [ Extract from 'The Hip 100' by Peter Davies ]
Extract from 'The Hip 100' by Peter Davies

London's East End has quite a reputation: drab, crime-ridden, poor - and the most hip place to be if you are a young British artist.

According to the Arts Council, about 10,000 artists live and work in the East End. Many say there is a higher concentration of artists in the East End than in any other place in Europe.

Peter Davies, 27, is one of dozens of young artists currently displaying their work in the East End.

The Approach gallery, where his work is showing until March 15, is in a surprisingly large open space above a popular pub in Bethnal Green.

As you walk up the narrow stairs from the smokey bar, you are greeted with a burst of bright colours.

His work, with its obsessive geometric detail, has been singled out by leading art collectors including Charles Saatchi, and formed part of the Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts.

The three huge canvases on display here would not even fit into some of the smaller private galleries in the West End.

From squalor to art

The reason for the East End's hipness is pure economics. The area has always been a cheap place to live, and therefore was one of the top destinations for immigrants - a place where newcomers could make something out of nothing.

Over the centuries they have come in waves: Jews, Somalis, Bangladeshis.

Now the artists and art galleries are moving in too, attracted by the East End's cheap rent and spacious buildings.

Since the 1960s, when the docks began to shut down, the East End has been attracting young artists. One of the first to move into the area were Gilbert and George - the original naughty boys of British art.

[ image: The East End - better known for crime, such as the murder committed in this pub by the Kray twins]
The East End - better known for crime, such as the murder committed in this pub by the Kray twins
They were followed by others including Damien Hirst, known as "the godfather of Hackney", and Jake and Dinos Chapman.

Dozens of disused warehouses and industrial buildings were converted into studios and galleries.

Rachel Whiteread, winner of the Turner prize in 1993, had her first exhibition in the East End Chisenhale Gallery. Her life-size model of a derelict house was also displayed in the East End.

Maureen Pauley, an American gallerist who came to London 20 years ago, converted her East End home into a gallery. She represents prominent artists such as Gillian Wearing, winner of last year's Turner Prize.

"There's a real feeling of the East End being a happening place. And there's a kind of DIY mentality, where people have the confidence to set up and start working without having to come from a particular background," said Ms Pauley.

As artists began creating their own community, a parallel economy was set in motion, comprising studios, galleries, and shops selling art materials.

Artists get savvy

Over the years, social and political changes have altered the way artists live. Ms Pauley argues that as a result of benefit and funding cuts in the Thatcher years, young artists have become more self-sufficient.

"Artists have had to take initiatives and set up their own exhibitions. They realise they're not just going to be provided for anymore. And a lot of them have travelled abroad and looked internationally for recognition," she said.

Whereas artists used to be able to collect unemployment benefit and live in squats, today's young artists have to be savvy and professional.

[ image: Artist Peter Davies in front of one of his works]
Artist Peter Davies in front of one of his works
Mr Davies sees himself as part of a new generation, succeeding Damien Hirst and the so-called "Freeze" artists.

While many of the Freeze generation gained recognition by shocking the viewer - such as in the Chapman brothers' disfigured mannequins or Damien Hirst's dissected animals - Mr Davies's generation is more conservative. Their work is usually pleasant to look at, and often has a dreamy or romantic quality.

Mr Davies says that "the Freeze generation made a lot of things possible, but I don't really feel affiliated with them. I feel like I'm from a new and different situation."

By the end of the private viewing of his first solo show, all Mr Davies' paintings were reserved.

"I think Peter Davies is emerging as a star. He's becoming more and more established, because of Saatchi, because of Sensation, and because of the sheer scale of his work," said Maureen Pauley.


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