Queer as Folklore | Gallery 46

As the trendy Carhartt-clad east London dad put it to his iPhone-toting child: “This is all old folky art, sort of British traditionalist.” We were all walking round the new show at Gallery 46, a deliberately ramshackle space, carved out of a couple of Georgian terraced houses, under the shadow of the big blue modern Royal London hospital in Whitechapel.

The exhibition enveloped us in a deliberately fey world of mummers and satyrs, woodlands and flowers. And, given that the all LGBT+ lineup is heavy on gay men, an awful lot of straining erect cocks, portrayed in paint, fabric and sculpture. I wonder if the trendy dad knew what he was in for? (Probably.)

paul bommer ‘green man’ Green Man (2021)

There are also a few cocks on Delft tiles, thanks to Paul Bommer, whose Green Man (above) draws inspiration from that homoerotic mainstay of first-year Eng Lit university courses, Sir Gawain and the Green Night. Elsewhere, I loved Paul Kindersley’s big and bold acrylic portraits on found fabric, one cleverly stretched across one of the gallery’s sash windows, the weak clay-coloured light making it transparent.

It all seemed so deeply English, both in the familiar folkloric scenes, and in the wistful feeling for a past world that never really existed. One of the few nods to the here and now came from painter Ben Edge, whose The Autumn Equinox featured a line of white-hooded druids trooping over Parliament Hill (on their way to the ponds?), with today’s pagan skyline, Cheesegraters and Shards, looming in the distance.

jim pilston ‘herne’ Herne (2021)

My favourite of all was Jim Pilston, who made fun mixed media sculptures of bards and mummers, the actor and Shakespeare contemporary Will Kempe (with an adorable pair of dangling balls flanking an OBSERVE SOCIAL DISTANCING sign over a doorway), and the work above.

Herne the Hunter was a mythical antler-sporting spirit that Will Kempe would have undoubtedly heard of, given that he’s mentioned in a Shakespeare play. His home is in an oak tree in Windsor Great Park - and, for the month of May, on a wall in Whitechapel.

Odd to say in a world of Brexit and our nation’s terrible COVID death toll, but it all made me feel weirdly, ridiculously, Englishly proud.

Queer as Folklore is at Gallery 46 (London). 01-31 May 2021