Blackheath’s newest gallery, the Artful Pelican, supports the homeless and vulnerable through art and enterprise
The Artful Pelican, the newest addition to the parade of shops on Lee Road, is much more than a pretty face. This spacious gallery, full of beautiful pieces by a mix of homeless, emerging and established artists, is a grassroots project created to support the homeless and vulnerable.
Sir Ian McKellen himself was on hand to formally open the gallery in July, as a huge crowd of local residents, artists, volunteers and enthusiasts packed the gallery wall to wall. He uncovered the gallery’s launch piece, Silvi Micalizio’s colourfully painted fibreglass model of The Statue of Liberty, before delivering an impassioned speech: ‘I support totally the charity that this gallery is designed to help,’ he said. ‘This kind of work has to be done not by the government, but by the imagination and generosity of people like the Coombe family.’
Gallery Director David Coombe, who founded Street Souls to help the homeless in 2007 (his father Don Coombe, founded the Coombe Trust to provide holidays for underprivileged families in 1957), had been harbouring the idea of opening a gallery for a while: ‘The catalyst was [artist] David Hardy. David wanted to give me all the work he’d done [when he was made homeless] – “sell it, burn it, I’m not doing art anymore”, he said. But fortunately I recognised that he was in a dark place so I stored his work for him and over the next few years we kind of nurtured him, got him painting again.
‘We entered him into the annual Lloyd’s art exhibition and he won Best Newcomer. I thought, there are many more of these talented artists out there and I wanted somewhere we could showcase them. My aim is to enable some of these people.’
The gallery is run by volunteers, meaning that any money made can be ploughed back into Street Souls. (The gallery hopes to cover its running costs through sponsorship and all exhibiting artists donate at least 25% of any sale. The aim is to raise about £40,000 a year.) David also hopes to create a studio at the back of the gallery where homeless artists will be provided with paints, canvases and hopefully tutors too.
‘There’s a talent out there,’ says Gallery Curator Jason Constant, ‘but you don’t find a homeless artist who has their work with them, or has the ability to carry stuff to paint, so we want this to be a go-to place for people to feel safe in, to create in, and almost be a catalyst for them to start earning again so that they can become self-supporting.’
‘Things are very much on the up for David Hardy and I hope that this will prove to be the case for some others too,’ says David. ‘Our aim, in the next six or seven months, is to host an exhibition with nothing but work by homeless artists.’
The gallery’s next exhibition, Isn’t it Iconic (don’t you think), opens in late September with iconic images of people, places and objects. Fifty per cent of the profits from sales will go to Street Souls, so go along, discover a new artist and be inspired by this fabulous, friendly cause.
143 Lee Road, Blackheath SE3 9DJ; 020 8852 0467; artfulpelican.com