Interview with
Sally Musgrove
Thursday 12th February 1998

at Bonner Road Studios

Where were you born and when?
In North London in 1951 and we lived in Chalcott Square, just off Primrose Hill near Regents Park. My earliest memories were daily visits to the zoo, and being taught by extremely strict nuns at a local infant school. My first word was wallaby (which was my favourite animal) At the age of six years we moved out to the country. I moved back to London when I was seventeen and started college and have lived here ever since.
Which art school did you attend if any?
I went to Central school of Art between 1970 and 1973 and then went to the Slade from 1973 to 76.
When did you first move to the east end of london?
Well I moved into the East End really through the Acme Housing association when the opportunity of a house and studio combined became available while I was at the Slade in 1976.
Why did you move there?
Because of Acme.
Were you helped by an organisation?
Yes as I said I was helped by the housing association, and at the time when I was a student I had been in a road accident, I was on crutches and I was temporarily disabled and I was given a property quite quickly.So, I was doing up the studio and a house hobbling around. The house was the one still here in Approach Road.So I have been at the same property all that time since 1976.

Approach Road 1976

How did you fit in?
I felt that I fitted in quite well, I had lived in just about every part of London, South, West, North and I felt that the East End had a strong creative feel. We were a small group of artists initially and we used to meet regularly and discuss art and life in the East End. It was very very different to any other part that I had lived in, some other artists in the street were Noel Forster , Robin Sewell, Dave King, these were some of the original artists, then the group grew. I think one of the things is that lots of people leave college and they stick with their college friends because that is their link, I didn't really stick with mine though. Suddenly we were all meeting so many people it was such an exciting time.
Did you feel part of an artistic community?
Very much so and there was Acme Gallery which was then in Covent Garden which provided very strong links for artists.Also the Whitechapel Gallery and Matt's run by Robin Klassnik.
Can you remember events that led up to you living there?
Well I found out about Acme from mutual friends who were artists William Raban and Martyn Hallam and I knew other artists living in the East End and I liked it very much and felt very drawn to it. It was convenient to get into the West End , there was the park,and I got very interested in the boxing community based around York Hall, Bethnal Green.So, I was delighted to be offered a place here.
Did you exhibit work in the east end and if so where?
I have had a one person show at The Showroom Gallery in Bethnal Green, I've been in The Whitechapel Open at The Whitechapel Gallery and of course the open studios here at Robinson Road.More recently I have exhibited at Flowers East in Hackney.
Did you have the studio and the house at the same time?
No, I worked in the top floor of the house in Approach Road for the first five years and then I had a studio at Martello Street for a couple of years. At Martello Street I met Ian McKeever, Robin Klassnik and Mike Panton. I got a studio in Bonner Road in the early 80's which opened up links with other artists like Tony Whishaw, Eric Bainbridge, and Kay Maclaurin. Being so near to Approach Road was perfect.

Flowers East 1998

Why do you think so many artists collected in the area between these years?
I think it was availability of short life property and cheap rents partly. Also a lot of artists felt that people in the East End were real people and there was something very unpretentious and unspoilt about the area. I think artists were drawn to it.
Has your work changed in during this period?
Yes, it has although certain things have remained and remained consistent. There are certain threads that have run right through since I was at college.Also I have been practising Tai Chi now for ten years. I used to get blocks and couldn't work from time to time. Now there is just a continuous flow of work that comes out of me.When I am working I think of drawing energy up from the ground. I don't worry about whether anyone will like it but it has to have some honesty. You have to confront your fear. I want the work to have an alertness but be non aggressive and yielding. An architect who purchased one of my small paintings once said that every time he goes into his office now and looks at the painting on the wall he feels more centered, focused and his attention is brought into the present in some way. In that sense it was a successful painting. I have not been so directly influenced by being here it has been more the interaction with other artists and groups.
Why did you stay/move?
Because every time that I go somewhere else it doesn't seem to have quite the same pull for me.I still feel that living around here is an enriching experience.It is conversations that you have with people in the street over 20 years, the local people here are very special. Actually that interaction is more important to me now than the interaction with other artists. When I first moved here the artist contact was very important, now its those little chats with local people that are more important.
Was the local council helpful?
Yes I did get a Tower Hamlets Award once, that was very useful for purchasing materials.
What do you think happened during these years?
Well. I think it really was Acme Housing Association that was instrumental in making it happen, because of the short life property. It wasn't just them, there were other organisations like SPACE who had warehouse properties such as Butlers Wharf.I think artists are drawn to areas which are perhaps going to be demolished in a few years but have cheap rents. We were attracted to being involved in building something up from nothing. artists have always been good at finding spaces that might be in isolated areas but have real potential for cheap studios. Property developers somehow seem to follow artists around and take over.Then property starts getting expensive and the artists move on.Butlers Wharf is now a really trendy area and very expensive. I still think around here in Bethnal Green it is pretty much unchanged apart from The Approach Gallery now which is attracting huge groups of people. In the New York Times recently they listed The Whitechapel, White Cube and The Approach Gallery as the three best galleries to visit when you are in London.Sometimes there are hundreds of people outside when they have an opening.
It used to be Harrys bar didn't it?
Yes he retired but still goes in there and helps out.
Do you have a memory or anecdote ?
I do immediately have a memory about moving into that house and stripping all the walls down to the plaster. There has always been a beautiful light in that space and in some ways I almost preferred it like that with thebeautiful dappling of light on the rough plastered walls. It made me think that you actually need nothing, just to be in that space. The experience of living in Approach Road was very colourful and varied. I remember one morning waking at 7am to hear Irish Guardsmen playing bagpipes in the middle of the street and then, when I looked out, there was an elephant in the front garden pulling up the geraniums with his trunk.The Indian family down the street had hired a young elephant from Billy Smarts circus as part of the ceremony for their sons wedding. The elephant was very naughty and kept pulling away and getting into peoples gardens. Another time there was panic in the street when a maniac started shooting at peoples legs as they posted their letters in the post box.It turned out to be someone with a sawn off shotgun who lived in the house opposite doing it for his own amusement.
What is different now?
The streets in Bethnal Green are quiter now and things have changed in the art world as well. I think young artists are much more hungry for a show now, whereas in the late 70's we didn't expect so much. We did lots of talking and had lots of discussions, we were very ambitious and were searching for things but it was different.Post Thatcher, different framework, people leaving college now are more product orientated.

"Sally Musgrove takes a dialectical step, affirming the tradition of the icon and the halo, while cancelling it at the same time in her acceptance of the heritage of the autonomous abstract painting as it derives from the practice of Denis, Malevich and their successors" Stephen Bann 1996

About the work:
The work intially , was born out of an interest in Taoist philosophy and in the meditative quality of Russian icons. I aim for a stillness; an arrested moment in time, perhaps alluding to what is referred to in Buddhism as 'Bardo Time'. The still moment before the pendulum repeats its movement, and swings once more.

The small paintings were originally made seven inches long, the length of my hand and therefore related to my body. Pure pigment was used on the surface of gesso panels and the intention was to achieve the same colour saturation and intensity as the raw pigment had in its pot.

The diptychs are about duality. One panel might draw energy inwards, whilst the other simultaneously reflects the light outwards. Prussian blue, representing a deep space, a void, infinity and absorbing light, and the other, gold leaf, having its own internal light and directing its energy outwards. The blue also stands for anti-matter. Yves Klein declared that he sought in his work to 'represent immateriality' and that 'the world of the soul was pure energy'.

My titles sometimes refer to metaphysical states or allude to duality, for instance 'Hama' in Greek means; 'together, all at once, both together and at the same time'. 'Inter-Vallum' is Latin for the 'space inbetween, interval of time, pause, difference.'

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