My First Solo Exhibition
Updated: Nov 22, 2022
From Friday 11th November to Sunday 13th 2022, I hosted my first solo show consisting of 17 paintings, each with their own hand-made frame, along with 4 papier-mâché urns. For three days, the room was filled with light, colour and life: meeting new people, having friends and family visit, couple of beers here and there…
On Thursday 10th November, I shipped my paintings over all the way to West Harrow in an Uber to hang them up in a big-windowed room on the corner of a residential street in West Harrow (Oneforty Harrow). Getting to see the paintings in this setting for the first time was encouraging. It was a chance to take stock of the months of work I had done over the Spring and Summer and I liked how it made me feel. I was only there for a couple of hours and didn’t quite get a chance to complete the set-up, but there would be time to do it the next day. I left at around 1300hr, feeling pretty hungry and ready for lunch, but since I had fallen behind with the promotion of the show due to getting the flu two weeks prior to the opening, I decided to do some flyering. Getting sick meant that I hadn’t been able to distribute the flyers in local cafés and pubs to promote the show. I individually dropped 100 of them through letterboxes in the surrounding area.
That took around half an hour and I still had work to do when I got back to the studio, so I headed home. It was at this point I found out there was a tube strike. The 45 minute journey was now going to take almost two hours, 30 minutes of which was a walk to Harrow and Wealdstone overground. Sweating, hungry and tired, I pushed myself to squeeze in 50 more flyers on the way.
That evening I tied together a few loose ends - I had to get my hands on a card reader to take payments, pack the paper mâché urns, plus all the bits for adding some last minute wires to the big paintings as well as a bit of promotion on Instagram and messaging people to invite them along.
Having had trouble sleeping in the lead-up to the show, that night I slept quite well. I seem to remember a bottle of wine might have had something to do with it.
On the Friday my Dad came to help me set up the final pieces. It was nice having a slow morning as I was scheduled to open at 1100hr. We took the giant urn and his little companions in an uber and got there on time - I still needed to stick up the labels, (detailing the name of the piece, what media I used, the dimensions, some info and the price) as well as do some last minute hanging (fixing wires to the back of the big paintings). It was very helpful having someone else there to talk to and think through ideas with as there was a fair bit of fiddling around with the curation of the paintings: positioning, straightening up, moving up / down on their wires. It was looking pretty ship-shape by lunchtime.
The first invitee to appear was a schoolfriend’s mother who happens to be an art teacher. She was full of energy and we spoke for over an hour, sharing our experiences exploring the idiosyncrasies of creating and conceptualising the nebulous creative space. Jane was very positive about my work, saying how much she liked it and commented on how impressive she found it all. She has witnessed my artistic development from quite up-close since I was about 17... at that time, I entered an art competition at school with a directed video piece featuring her son and another friend, which we shot at her house. Her son played one of two angels; he had long her at the time and we painted his face white and I played the devil. We mimed a story along to Queen’s ‘I want to Break Free’ - the devil feeling trapped among the pious. I remember keeping her awake on a school night and accidentally getting face-paint on her wall - sorry, Jane! The video was a hit - an elderly female Japanese artist judged the competition and awarded us the prize!
Around 1500hr I went to Lidl to get the booze for the private view I was hosting that evening. By 1600hr the beers were all in a row, the wine was in position and we were ready for action. I cracked open a beer and toasted the show with my Dad. Some time passed and I got a couple of texts from friends saying they couldn’t make it. That was about a third of the invitees bailing out! This was the nightmare that had kept me awake the week leading up to the show - the humiliation of organising a party and nobody turning up. Fortunately, I was able to keep in mind that pulling off a show was already a complex task and to have no hiccups was an unrealistic expectation. Despite having powerful and persistent voices in my head that undermine me, calling me a ‘loser / failure’ for not having a packed private view, I now have a comforting voice that says ‘it’s ok, don’t worry about it’ and amazingly, I didn’t take the dreaded cancellations personally or as a reflection on my work. I felt I had done everything in my power to present my work and some things were out of my control.
A local couple came in around 1800hr, having received a flyer through the letterbox the day previously (guess who!) and we chatted over a glass of delicious Lidl wine. She asked me, ‘if I wanted to buy a painting, how would I do it?’. It took me a moment to clock that she wasn’t talking theoretically, but she actually wanted to buy one! I hadn’t yet managed to get the card reader working by this point, so I asked her to make a payment when she got home and let me know once she had and I would deliver the painting the following week. They left and my Dad congratulated me on my first sale. I told him that until I saw the money in my account, I wouldn’t celebrate. Jaded old skeptic that I am. I would await the message that might not come...
My Dad had planned to go home before the private view started, as this was already a big day out for him, but I think he took the cancellations worse than me and not wanting to leave me alone, he ended up staying. It was just the two of us for a while, having a jolly old time on the wine, and at around 1830hr, my brother and his girlfriend turned up with their three boys, and shortly after, a friend joined us. At one point in the evening, I checked my bank account and saw that the lady's payment had gone through. My first sale was official! We all celebrated and there were many congratulations.
Having my nephews there really made it fun. I got one of the boys, Kieran (6 years old), to pour wine for the guests and I treated all three boys to ice cream from the shop next door. The Instagram-wary part of me wanted a buzzing room with millions of people on it to show how brilliant and fantastic I am but the evening that actually materialised was very intimate and warm. It was really lovely to be able to spend time to speak to everyone properly and have a relaxed and fun evening.
On the Saturday, the weather was beautiful again, with the hottest weather for that time of year for God knows how long. The white room was all lit up, humming with my colourful painting, the bonkers papier-mâché urns standing guard in the window casting atmospheric long shadows, luring people in. I had painted ‘Hot Diggity!’, the title of the show, on the window - the name of the ship I was proudly captaining.
Just past midday, a friend turns up in a stupendously clean and well ironed shirt and we spent some time catching up and talking shop. He was effusive about my work and the achievement of pulling together the show and the quality of my work. He beamed with appreciation and I really relished soaking it up. As mentioned, I struggle with strong and persistent negative voices in my head that undermine and cast doubt on my work, but more and more I am able to acknowledge my achievements and feel a sense of pride in my work. I had some space to believe he wasn’t just saying that to make me feel better. He was so excited about my progress that he gave me a pep-talk about how to iron out the wrinkles for the next show: “Right, so for the next show, we need to work out a pricing structure” etc… I laughed saying he reminded me of Jordan Belfort from the Wolf of Wall Street. I felt lucky to have friends who care for me and give their energy to try and help me with things that maybe I can’t see.
Another very good friend, who I’ve known since I was 10, turned up a bit before 1300hr with his wife and his newborn baby. It was the first time I was meeting the little one, and it was absolutely magical. With the sun filling the room, time slowed down as I walked up to the pram and first set eyes on him. I got such a warm feeling and I felt like I was sharing a space with a really loving family. We cracked open some beers to celebrate, soon after which my Mum turned up as another meaningful day was unfolding. I actually felt a bit overwhelmed by it all - it just seemed so perfect, my poor little brain couldn’t compute! I did actually notice that I was feeling a bit jumpy with all the excitement and thought it best not to talk too much, instead choosing to soak it all up quietly. At one point, I was in the corner on my Instagram account adding some stories to tell the story of the show and I overheard my friend saying that they would like to ask the two of us (me and ironed shirt) to be Godfathers to their little boy. A beautiful and surreal afternoon.
It’s easy to forget that I was there for work - on top of all the madness of having a show,midday beers, new babies and godfathership, the friend with the perfectly ironed shirt bought Man & Beast - one of the flagship pieces for the show - so exciting - the work is selling! It is nice to know that my works are going to places where I will see them again.
The friends went on their merry ways an hour or so later, not before congratulating me on a really professional show.
My Mum stayed and got chatting to an elderly gentleman who pulled up on a mobility scooter. I helped him up the step to the exhibition and held his hand for support as he made his way around the room inspecting each one of my paintings. He sat down, politely turning down a drink but made the most of my Mum's listening skills and they ended up talking for a good hour or so. During their conversation, another schoolfriend's mother turned up. She used to host our weekend piss-ups in her place in Battersea and has been a big supporter of my work since the cycling paintings in 2016. It was great seeing her again - the last time being at his wedding a year or so ago. She departed, and my Mum was still engaged with the old boy! Eventually he got back on his scooter and disappeared into the sunset, inviting me to come over for coffee one day and offering to lend me a book on a chap who sailed around the world.
Shortly after, two more friends arrived. They had kindly made a 1hr45min journey from Greenwich to see the works! It was great seeing them and they ended up buying ‘Portrait of a Young Man’. Sale number three! Amazing.
That evening another friend made an hour plus journey to come to West Harrow and spend a good whack of time to talk to me about the work. She was also very complimentary and I could sense her admiration. We went out for a few drinks afterwards and I really enjoyed being this new person who puts on shows of their works which people seem to really enjoy. She made me feel like a real success. That whole evening I felt really excited and proud. I was stepping into a new version of myself (one that hosts successful art shows) and it felt like putting on a beautiful new coat and wearing it all evening.
On the Sunday, the third and final day, there was a bit of a cold and damp start, but it gradually gave way to yet another sunny day. A friend with whom I have done a lot of work with (in her studio and also shown work alongside her in Anthropologie - see her work here) visited with a friend and we spent a
good part of the afternoon sharing stories about the various ins-and-outs of being an artist and the creative process. She is quite playful and free and at one point mid-conversation, she made a stack of my papier-mâché pots. Where other people felt tentative about touching them, she didn’t have the same hang-up which I thought was very funny. They left after a good hour or so, and there were long spells
when nobody visited. I took the empty time to play a guitar which lives in the café next door and sang to myself a little bit. As the exhibition was drawing to a close, so much had happened it was hard to make sense of it all and playing the guitar seemed to help me understand how I felt about the whole experience where words fall short.
Mid-afternoon, a blogger turned up to interview me. She was nice to talk to and gave me a lot of space to talk, which I appreciated. I enjoyed getting the opportunity to share my thoughts on what I was doing. The interview ended and we hung around together talking for a while. I’m looking forward to adding the article to the ‘press’ section of my site!
It went quiet again, but funnily enough, despite feeling it was winding down, the busiest period came on this Sunday afternoon. There were three separate groups of people all milling around. From this group, I ended up talking to a very friendly, animated lady who ended up buying ‘Night Search’. Talking to her, I got the feeling she had spent a lifetime interested in the arts, so it felt very affirming to have her want one of my works.
As I shut up shop at around 1800hr, the lovely lady who opened up and locked up shop for me bought a painting she had been eyeing up and talking about all weekend: The Big Plunge. She really liked how full of life it is and how much joy she felt looking at it. When the payment went through, I was sitting next to her and she asked “is it mine now?”, I replied that it was and she stamped her feet in excitement. She really loved that painting.
I took everything down and took it outside to get it ready to pack into the taxi home. There were complications trying to convince two consecutive Uber drivers refusing to even try to get it all in the car, which meant that I ended up waiting outside for a Bolt! cab for half an hour. Luckily, the couple who were locking the shutters to the gallery were kind enough to wait around with me and me and the bloke even had a couple of the left-over beers together. Dealing with such friendly staff at the venue added so much to the experience; the owners and every last one of their staff were really easy-going, pleasant people to interact with. If you're ever in West Harrow, think about paying them a visit - they host jazz evenings, open mics and more... and I would thoroughly recommend them as an exhibition space - 5 stars! Thank, you Oneforty Harrow.
The time eventually came to pack the cab, say ‘goodbye’ and head off. Sitting quietly in the front seat of the cab as we whizzed along listening to Rod Stewart, I felt a buzz of satisfaction. The beer was doing its work and the music felt even more vivid than usual as my senses were heightened from the excitement from the show. Staring out of the windscreen at a long black road swimming with the glow of brake-lights, the familiar tall buildings of central London moving slowly by, I felt like I was in a film.
I sat there trying to make sense of everything that had just happened. Before hosting the show, I thought that it was very possible to sell nothing. One or two sales would be a success and anything more than that would be absolutely astonishing. At close of play, I had managed to sell a third of the paintings!
Processing everything is going to take a little while and I don’t think has really happened yet. I can say that for the last eight years of my life, I have been edging closer and closer to my dream of putting on exhibitions and selling paintings done from ‘within’, starting out as a portrait artist, then a cycling reportage artist, back to street portrait artist and then dog portrait artist. It has only been recently that have I been courageous enough to take the steps to painting in the way that I want to paint and to share my work like this. Hot Diggity! will always be my first solo show and it constitutes an incredible milestone in my personal journey. I am really grateful to everyone who came and everyone who helped me throughout. It was such a positive experience to witness the sense of enjoyment people get from my work. So many encouraging and complimentary things were said, and many memories were made: I met my Godson at Hot Diggity!, my family and friends turned up to my first show and I sold a third of the paintings. I couldn’t ask for a richer, more rewarding experience.