At dusk on a backstreet south of the Euston Road, Redhanded’s glowing shopfront jumps out from the swathe of council estates. Cromer Street is a perpetually shuttered row of shops, and two artists have set up a temporary studio and gallery in a vacant corner store.
Sally Hampson, a weaver, and Esther Caplin, a mixed media artist, have set up their desks, looms, paints and tools in the former butcher shop. It’s a beguiling scene that has been generating thumbs up and smiles from local passersby, and an endless stream of visitors for the past two months.
“They can see us working, and they respond to that,” said Esther, adding that there is “something cultural” and universal about seeing people working, which piques interest and often brings into the “shop”.
So why here? Caplin has lived in the flats above the shopfronts since 2000, Hampson spends divides her time between London and Stroud. Both are members of Stroud Valley Arts, a well-established artist-run studio and event space in Gloucestershire. SVA has a reputation for injecting life into disused spaces in Stroud, so the artists wanted to “bring the energy to King’s Cross”.
It did took some doing. Caplin approached the shop’s landlord Camden Council “at all different levels” and after two years of persistence, the space was put into the council’s pop-up scheme and the pair could start working in the space. They also hold exhibitions of other artists’ work in the shop next door and the basement.
Large, well-funded arts institutions often have a plan for “outreach” or involvement with the local community. Redhanded seems to being doing this informally and naturally just by being there – with a growing number of people dropping in for a chat.
On the day I visited, the artists had hosted the “Bloomsbury Breakfast Club”, a print technician had popped in, and Hampson had given impromptu weaving tuition to a local Polish woman. Recently a man had come in to the shop, on seeing the looms, to tell them about how his “whole family was involved in weaving” back in his homeland of Somalia.
Perhaps it’s the novelty of a space that is neither shop nor café, containing approachable looking people doing interesting work. Long may it last. As Redhanded enters its third month, Caplin said: “We’re here for as long as they let us stay here.”