Built from London, Made from Deptford

Deptford Foundry
11 months ago

There is nowhere we love more than London, and we take great joy in working with people who want to celebrate the capital and all it has to offer, just as much as we do. Deptford born and bred artist Steve Burden is a prime example of one of these people, and he is soon to open his show at the no format gallery (nestled within the heart of our Deptford Foundry development).

Steve’s show, ‘Made from Deptford’, is a showcase of what it means to live and grow up in Deptford. Inspired by his childhood growing up on the Pepys Estate, Steve investigates dystopian themes and ideas associated with British housing estates – and we were lucky enough to catch up with the mind behind the vision, ahead of his exhibition opening.

Hi Steve – would you be able to tell us a bit more about you and your career to date?

I grew up in Deptford – on the Pepys Estate – and my childhood experiences growing up there inspire all of my work. After a successful career as an International Creative Director (I have lived and worked in New York, Sydney, Dubai, Doha and Lisbon), I decided to change tack in 2015 and pursue my love of painting. To shift mindset and ‘deprofessionalise’ I undertook the Fine Art MA course at Bath Spa University. That was the real turning point in my life and the starting point of my art career – though my previous work and experiences had been creative, the decision to go back to art was an epiphany of sorts; and one I have never looked back on or indeed regretted.

Today, I am passionate about creating work that explores London, what it means to be a Londoner and the capitals rich history. In my youth, travelling to and from Deptford for school and college (I studied at Goldsmiths College for my BA), I passed by some of London’s very best – and worst – architecture, and I’m hugely interested in exploring some of these themes, memories and sights in my work today.

Your upcoming show at the no format gallery is inspired by your childhood in Deptford – can you tell us a bit more about the influences behind the artwork?

My childhood on the Pepys Estate has formed the bedrock for my practice – its the core subject. I grew up in a 24-storey tower on the estate – which when built was one of the tallest residential buildings in the UK – and the people who lived there, as well as the building itself, inspire every aspect of my work. I’m from a working-class family who lived in a council flat and when I started at Goldsmiths and then my career in design I found that I was from a very different background to that of my peers. These are all themes I explore in my work, intertwined with the surrounding landmarks which define South London, such as the old Naval Dockyard where the ‘Pepys’ coins its name (Samuel Pepys was the naval administrator there in the 17th century) and The Thames – the memories of these places, and the area I grew up in, define my work.

What is it about the no format gallery that lends itself so well to your work?

The big thing about exhibiting at the no format gallery is that it is a homecoming for my work. The entirety of the ‘Made from Deptford’ exhibition is, as you would expect, inspired by the area, and having the opportunity to exhibit here rounds off the story perfectly.

As for the no format gallery itself, the approachable and hospitable nature of the team made the process hugely enjoyable. Matthew and Nichole are extremely accommodating and supportive, and this, combined with the location of the gallery, made the decision to exhibit here a ‘no brainer’! 

There is a theme of housing intertwined into your Made from Deptford exhibition – can you tell us a bit more about that?

The linear and rectilinear architecture (béton brut brutalism at its best) that I grew up surrounded by is communicated in my work – it is autobiographical, in that sense. However, I also like to think of my work as explorative – it poses questions around modern architecture, such as what the designs of specific buildings stand for, and why specific developments came to be what they are, because of where they are, and the utopian vision in the construct of these environments.

There is no denying that architectural design – in Deptford and beyond – has come on in leaps and bounds from the kinds of building I was growing up in. The previous questionable decisions taken when it came to architecture have fortunately informed the decisions that developers take today, and it is great to see conscientious developers such as Anthology combining these examples with the heritage of the area to produce some truly stunning architecture.

How is Deptford today different to the Deptford you grew up in?

It goes without saying that Deptford today is an entirely different world to the Deptford I grew up in – and I’d say it has all changed for the better! The neighbourhood has a very different feel and vibe now to what it used to – these days it is a truly welcoming community, it feels a lot safer and is generally just a better atmosphere. I’d put this transformation down to the different people who are coming from all walks of life to live, learn and work in Deptford, and enhancing the community in the process.

What was the best thing about growing up in Deptford?

Millwall match days! I used to love travelling to and from football games and being part of that vibrant community. I was also lucky enough to land my first job working in Greenwich Cinema, and it was great for me as a young man to be able to travel to and from the Greenwich area – which was as lovely then as it is today!

Growing up in London in general is an experience unlike any other – there is nowhere quite like the capital where you can have somewhere like Greenwich juxtaposed with somewhere like Brick Lane; all within easy reach of you and where you live!

What would your advice be to any aspiring artists in the capital?

My main advice would be to remember that it is a long and slow burn. I’d still very much describe myself as an emerging artist, and one thing I have had to learn is to be patient, roll with the punches and trust in your practice. When embarking on a career as an artist, there is so much to get your head around, and it is so important to strike a balance between work and family – a failure to strike this balance can have a real detrimental impact on not only your work, but also your life.

I like to think of the process in a similar way to an egg – the yolk is your work: if it’s good, it’s good, and it will continue to flourish if you put in the hours and don’t give up. The trick is to think about how to approach all of the other things that orbit it, such as studio space and costs, getting your work out there, exhibiting, your peers, a primary income (only a privileged few exist purely as artists without a ‘day job’) and life in general  – these things are the egg white – and these things are more difficult to crack.

Grayson Perry sums it up perfectly ‘do not focus on success, concentrate on life as an artist’ and I feel that if you can keep it as simple as that you cant go far wrong.

Anthology is proud to support Second Floor Studios and Arts and the no format gallery as part of our commitment to giving something back to the communities within which we are working. If you’re looking for a new home in the artistic hub of Deptford, have a look at our Deptford Foundry homes or call 020 7526 9229 to find out more.

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