Wild Camden.


Natalia Zagórska-Thomas wearing Julia Schrader. Photo © Jens Schaumann.


DS:  Well, we managed to negotiate our way out of 2016 only to find 2017 looming before us like a rogue ice shelf. Yet although the festive season was full of foreboding there were occasional moments of optimism amidst the gloom; one of the most enjoyable events in my pre-Christmas calendar was the private view of Call of the Wild at Studio Ex Purgamento in Camden.



Antlers © Julia Schrader.

Visitors to the gallery are often wrong-footed by the address; it is located in a second-floor extension in a private home, a flat that belongs to artist and conservator Natalia Zagórska-Thomas and her husband Simon. If there was ever an enterprise that demonstrated devotion to an ideal of what art can and should be, Studio Ex Purgamento is it.

Natalia: We built the gallery in 2012, and our first show was that year. The idea is to provide a space which is a bridge between commercial galleries with all their financial restraints and museums which are major state institutions. In both cases there are strings and considerations beyond the art itself. I can do what I like.  It’s a not for profit space where I can choose work solely on the basis of what I want to show and the artists do not need to be famous names nor be sellable. Though they can be both. It’s about the theme, the concept of the show of which I am the only and a subjective arbiter.



Going into the Thing Seriously; or These Influences Have Been Exerted for Good. © Natalia Zagórska-Thomas (alternative titles provided for the artist by Diane Williams).


Profit, apart from a tiny percentage above a certain price to try to recover some costs, goes to artists directly. Some years we sell a lot; others, not at all. I want to show established names alongside lesser known artists whose work interests me, and to mix visual art forms with text, design, performance, architecture, design, music and science. I show many Polish artists to promote their profile and contribution to the culture of the city. 

As to the current show, Natalia describes it thus: This is not a tidy show. This is not a tidy subject. What I wanted is what I think I always want: a contemporary version of the cabinet of curiosities, a camera obscura, an idiosyncratic collection of specimens picked up along the way. It feels like life: messy, chaotic, undisciplined, joyous, violent and confusing.




Pale Blue Hexapod © Danuta Sołowiej.


Somehow, Natalia has managed to fit work by 25 artists into her small gallery; these include sculptures by Almuth Tebbenhof, Danuta Sołowiej, and Andrzej Maria Borkowski, wearable art by Julia Schrader, photographs by Jens Schaumann, Marzena Pogorzały (whose images of massive Antarctic ice sheets are elegant visual tokens of the strangled metaphor I opened with) and your own correspondent. The show also features an extraordinary ‘biological’ installation by Heather Barnett, and poems by such luminaries (and friends of The London Column) as Roisin Tierney, Christopher Reid and Katy Evans Bush.


Ice 3

Ice 3. © Marzena Pogorzaly.



© Andrzej Maria Borkowski.


You hardly need me to tell you that the London art scene is full of bullshit, any more than you need me to tell you that 2017 could be a rough year. We will need all the optimism we can get our hands on; and any blows against philistinism or the dead weight of cultural conformity are as welcome as they are necessary.  As Katy Evans-Bush writes in Call of the Wild‘s exhibition catalogue: ‘At the time of going to print no one knows what’s going to happen next. Old ways of being uncivilised are being exhumed and new ones invented. The one thing we do know is that we will need to call on all our most civilised impulses – as well as our deepest, wildest aardvark’. Or, to put it another way, if you think the world is going to end tomorrow, plant a tree today. (Who said that? Answers on a postcard to …)


Pig mask worn in snowdrift, Ruan Minor, Cornwall, December 1978.

Ruan Minor, Cornwall, 1978. © David Secombe.

Gallery photos by Natalia.

Call of the Wild runs at Studio Ex Purgamento until 15 January; open weekends from 11 am — 6 pm. To visit during the week, call  for an appointment. (132D Camden Street, London NW1 0HY; 07799 495549; info@studioexpurgamento.com. http://www.studioexpurgamento.com.)