Beyonce and Jay Z hanging out with Anish Kapoor in Camberwell? Well that makes it official, south east London is the capital’s hottest art ticket

Words by Megan Conery

From SE1 to SE28 a rich ecosystem of art, creativity and culture is thriving. The successful art scene down south has been nurtured since the Dulwich Picture Gallery opened its doors in 1817.

South east London has been in the news recently. Beyoncé and Jay Z’s visit to Anish Kapoor’s Camberwell studio and the Evening Standard’s think piece on the ascendant reputation of Deptford have gotten people talking. Terms like the Creative Class, gentrification, regeneration, ‘cool’ and authenticity are being thrown around as the south east slides into the spotlight.

But for those of us who live here, we simply smile and say ‘what took you so long?’

The industrial roots of south east have created a unique fabric for creativity. From the ship builders of Deptford to the tanners of Bermondsey, industry continues to permeate much of the area, and, south east London still maintains the most green spaces in London.

Local art has long been influenced by the wealth of universities peppered across the postcodes. Influential schools like Camberwell College of the Arts, Goldsmith’s University, London College of Communication and Ravensbourne College all call SE their home – and continue to draw the best and brightest young creatives. The extended Overground, improved bus services and train links are metamorphosing these neighbourhoods into a 21st century bastion of connectivity and coolness.

Goldsmiths University boasts Damien Hirst

Goldsmiths University boasts Damien Hirst among its esteemed alumni

Historically isolated from the trendy East and commercial West, the area’s autonomous nature has allowed the art scene to coast under the radar for decades. For people not familiar with the area, deciphering where to go, and what to see can be daunting.

So, what’s all the fuss about? Bermondsey, a pleasant walk from London Bridge, is home to the White Cube. The gallery is an inspiring space that has featured some of the most exciting names in contemporary art, Andreas Gursky, Chuck Close, Julie Mehretu, Zhang Huan, Tracey Emin and Theaster Gates have all graced the walls with their work. Also located on bustling Bermondsey Street is Vitrine Gallery and Art Bermondsey, and several boutique café’s and craft breweries are dotted along the thoroughfare.

See Women Fashion Power at the Design Museum

See Women Fashion Power at the Design Museum

Down by the river, the Design Museum sits comfortably (but not for long, in 2016 it moves to Kensington), flanked by the enigmatic sculpture Head of Invention by Eduardo Paolozzi – whose artwork is a staple of London’s metabolism (other works can be found outside the British Library and he was also responsible for the tiles at the Tottenham Court Road tube station).

The Creekside Artists collective recently relocated from Deptford to Bermondsey. Working temporarily in the Biscuit Factory while their Deptford home is being redeveloped, this not-for-profit artists co-op provides affordable studio space for up to 24 artists. Artist and curator Melissa Budasz is a resident here, her work negotiates identity, myth and memory – keep an eye out for the occasional open studio and exhibitions.

Melissa Budasz is part of the Creekside Artists collective

Melissa Budasz is part of the Creekside Artists collective

If history floats your boat, head to Greenwich for a dose of architecture, maritime and markets. The train from London Bridge to Greenwich Station is one of the oldest railway lines in the world – travelling through Deptford, glimpses of Deptford Creek and moments of faded industry are visible.

Once in Greenwich, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the architecture of Inigo Jones, Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor. Regular historic exhibitions are on display at the Queen’s House and the National Maritime Museum, and you simply must check out The Painted Hall, painted by Sir James Thornhill in the 16th century, at the Old Royal Naval College. While the University of Greenwich’s Stephen Lawrence Gallery offers an engaging programme of contemporary visual art – featuring six exhibitions per year, plus conferences and workshops – they aim to promote diversity through visual culture.

The west wall of The Painted Hall, Greenwich

The west wall of The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

The Dulwich Picture Gallery owns an extensive collection of Old Masters, including French, Italian and Spanish Baroque, while also holding several British Portraits from the Tudor period up to the 19th century. No stranger to controversy, the gallery houses the world’s most stolen painting – Rembrandt’s Jacob III de Gheyn was first taken in 1981, only to be returned and pilfered no less than three more times. Aside from the permanent collection, DPG hosts an exciting programme of events, exhibitions and lectures.

South London Gallery (SLG) in Camberwell has been standing since 1891. It houses, among other things, 500 20th century prints and contemporary works associated with south London. SLG has strong ties with schools, giving students hands-on experience with historic and contemporary artwork. With five exhibitions a year, SLG profiles the work of established international figures. Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, Damien Hirst, Mat Collishaw and Gilbert and George have all had work exhibited here.

Beyoncé and Jay Z may have put Camberwell on the map recently, but Camberwell Arts, which promotes the area’s diverse collection of creatives, celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2014. Working with everyone from the emerging to the internationally acclaimed, its annual open studios event is one of the longest running local arts festivals in the UK.

Do check out the shop at SLG in Camberwell

Do check out the shop at SLG in Camberwell

Bearspace in Deptford has played an integral role in getting south east London on the map – literally. They produce the South East London Art Map (SLAM) – and organise Last Fridays (SLAM Fridays). Several south London galleries staying open late on the last Friday of every month; events, workshops and a general good time can be found at many of the galleries – and it’s a fantastic opportunity for the public to get a true taste of the excitement that’s happening down here. And if all that isn’t enough, Damien Hirst will display his personal collection of 2,000 artworks in a new street-length gallery on Newport Street in Lambeth, due to open in May.


Design Museum, South Bank
Women Fashion Power (pictured bottom) offers an unprecedented look at how princesses, models, CEOs, Dames and designers have used fashion to define and enhance their position in the world. Running until 26 April 2015.

Queens House, Greenwich
The Art & Science of Exploration, 1768-80 is an exhibition of exceptional paintings, prints and drawings by specially commissioned artists on Captain Cook’s 18th-century voyages of discovery. Running until July 2015.

South London Women Artists
Finders Keepers Losers Weepers, part of South London Women Artists’ residency at Conway Hall, is curated by and features the work of Creekside Artsist Melissa Budasz. Running 4 November-28 February 2015.

Dulwich Picture Gallery
From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia. One of the most talked about exhibitions since Hockney came to DPG, Emily Carr is a renowned Canadian painter. Exhibition running until 8 March 2015.