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Matt Small, "Youngstarrs" at Black Rat 26/03/2009

From:     Chris Guillochon
Category: Art
Date:     01 April 2009
Time:     07:03 AM


The artwork on display is fantastic and the atmosphere is electric; I am at Black Rat Press, just off 
Great Eastern Street for Youngstarrs, the latest exhibition of portrait painter, Matt Small. 

This is my first visit to Black Rat Press. The interior of the gallery is a huge vault with an arc-shaped 
ceiling and exposed brickwork. Multiple angle poise-style lights hang from the ceiling and point at the 
artwork on the walls, giving a nice contemporary feel to the gallery; the size of the exhibition space is 
impressive for a gallery in this part of town. 

The gallery is packed to the rafters and people spill out onto the patio outside. The music is pumping 
out loudly and in the corner of the gallery a small bar serves large quantities of Asahi bottled beer. I 
always associate Asahi with upmarket pubs like Corney and Barrow in Broadgate Circle; the banking 
world is cutting back, but here, just half a mile down the road, the art world, certainly for tonight 
anyway, is going strong.

It is more like a party than an art exhibition and the crowd intrigues me. It does not seem to be your 
typical mix of art lovers and collectors and certainly not an art crowd that I am used to. I see very few 
people over the age of forty and I am curious. I normally know at least a handful of people, but here I 
feel anonymous. 

I first saw a small selection of Matt Smallís portraits at the London Art Fair back in January where it 
was explained to me that the artist wants to show a vulnerable side to inner city youth, as opposed to 
the public perception of the menace that lurks beneath the hoodie. Here, at the exhibition, I find the full 
repertoire of Mattís work on display and it is superb. I love portraiture; his work, and its underlying 
theme of urban youth has an abstract feel to it. The portraits are multicoloured, yet if anything, the 
overall effect is dull rather than vibrant. Some of the work is painted directly onto metal, which I find 
further adds a sense of the inner city especially when I learn that they are found pieces of metal.

I really enjoy the exhibition but I am still intrigued by the crowd in attendance. When I get home I 
decide to have a look at Black Ratís website to see if it sheds some light. Here, I find that Black Rat 
also sells work by D*Face, Sweet Toof and Blek Le Rat; itís all starting to become a little clearer to 
me now. 

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