@ The 20th Century Theatre, Westbourne Grove, London, W11 

JULY 14th 2007

Before Encore – Part 2 is an exhibition of 36 painted portraits of “emerging artists; collecting under its wing performance artists, musicians, writers, actors, visual artists and club kids. All of whom collectively fuel the current art scene. Before Encore sets out to display each of these artists as icons. It acts as a living archive and performance platform with the very performances that inspired the paintings occurring in the exhibition space. The before encore project archives this new period of time  in the art scene where more and more performance artists and musicians are emerging, from small internet communities, nightclubs and cabaret bars.  These new acts are ever increasing in popularity in their own communities with their influence gradually shaping the mainstream”

So we find ourselves in a plush mainstream art gallery/theatre in fashionable West London. Even window shopping seems exstravigent around these parts - underground art is crossing over, there’s something in the air right now – a new breed of (dare we say pop) art creators, makers and do’ers – performers, sculptors, painters, dancers, live art, cross pollination and where once engaging with art seemed elitist and out of reach it all suddenly in seems so inviting and welcoming again. Act Art last week, Revisions of Excess the week before, Bristol live art last weekend, people like Franko B, Empress Stah, Hector De Gregorio, Lee Adams, Dominic Johnson... Art is alive with exciting possibility once more. 

John Lee Bird is right there as part of the new excitement, capturing some of the creative people and capturing them with impressive clarity and style. His striking portraits are executed in a bold, vivid style. A style that really does instantly make them visually exciting and accessible to all. And yes, his paintings do make you want to investigate the subjects further, who are they? What do they do? Why did he select them? If the painted faces captured and hanging on the wall that I already recoginise are anything to go by then John Lee has captured the spirit and energy of his subjects remarkably well and in an impressively economic and strikingly stylish way – this is exciting, there’s an energy to these paintings, there’s an energy to the subjects and an energy to the private view/opening party tonight. 

Look, talking about paintings, is even more like dancing about architecture than music ever is, John Lee Bird’s paintings really do speak for themselves – each one is five and a half foot by three and a half foot – an acrylic, emulsion mix on regimented canvas – bold blocks of iconic colour, yes Warhol-esque and yes like Warhol, making you curious – just who is Stuart Saint or Dusty O? (and where can I get the money to buy that painting of Kelli Jean?). Wonderful, inspiring and I suspect John Lee Bird posters may well be on bedroom walls and key rings and tea-cups in years to come

So tonight we’re in the spacious gallery, we’re greeted warmly at the door, there’s a stage at one end and all 36 of the paintings are around the big room, plenty of space for them all to breath. Some of the subjects are performing - acoustic guitars, singing mermaids, Stuart Saint turns out to be some kind of electro/disco/glam-pop singer (kind of Gene Serene only a boy)  Tracy Godding is impressive with her blues-edged songs, mote investigating to do there – wasn’t she in Bandit Queen? Kelli Jean and La Gateau Chocolat share compare duties and hold the sometimes slightly chaotic (reassuringly human and real) evening together in style, both are stars, Kelli is a goddess and just where did La Gateau Chocolat come from? What a atar! Great big beaming chocolate coloured eatable man in high heels and a ballet tutu, lots of make up, tidy beard and (I’m probably insulting him here, I don’t mean to, I mean it as a compliment) if you were looking away and just heard the voice you’d swear in was (a funnier) Graham Norton – and what a voice!!! Boy does he have a voice – opera diva, Sound Of Music, he’s a star in waiting! John Lee exposing future icons! There’s dancers, a Geisha girl stripper (who’s name I missed, sorry - may have been Ms Twinkle Knickers?, hang on, the power of My Space! Princess Knickers – I’m sure there was some sparkle in there), oh look, there’s a painting of one time Beatmoll Spaceman Sam (see, even former ORG Records superstars are on the gallery wall, we’re always ahead of our time). Jamie Lawson is particularly captivating with his dark edged, quiet emotional acoustic songs, dance company Sparkle Motion perform several impressive routines. And the finale – Empress Stah! Now if you saw her perform at Revisions Of Excess then you know she’s good and she’s going to play with your mind, tonight she was a whole other level of amazing with her deco-ish neo-burlesque cabaret and rose eating, wax pouring, striping, high-heeled, trapeze act (and that thing she did with her blood, the syringe and the wine glass), how did she stay up there on that swing?. 

A triumph night and an exciting energetic exhibition, art never seemed so relaxed and inviting, talking, smiling, interacting – live art, gallery art, performance art is suddenly bursting with challenging drive and fresh inviting energy and John Lee Bird is capturing the faces, the players and characters with a perfect bold fresh modern revived pop art style – 

The exhibition goes on for a further two days, go explore the website if you can’t make the gallery
(what did we do before My Space?)

(Sean O)