Hogarth: London Voices, London Lives - whynow

Hogarth: London Voices, London Lives at Pitzhanger Manor

Courtesy Long Live Southbank Archive

It’s rare for an exhibition to be housed in such a strikingly grand building such as John Soane’s beloved country home, Pitzhanger Manor. Tucked away in a bustling Ealing Broadway on a picturesque lawn, the neoclassical architect spent most of his time entertaining guests such as JMW Turner and collecting art and historical artefacts.

The manor hosts a variety of classically Soane rooms, from his personal library to his drawing room, there are endless reminders of why Soane is such an adored London architect. London Voices, London Lives, however, is not simply a celebration of his extravagant architectural achievements, it is designed to focus on the complicated stories of London life; the good, the bad and the ugly. Soane came from humble beginnings, the son of a bricklayer with a basic education and no social connections, but with his skill and wildly creative imagination he became notorious and was responsible for such neoclassical landmarks such as the Bank of England.

Hogarth – A Rake’s progress

In 1802 William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress was purchased by Soane’s wife and displayed in the still-standing drawing room. Ironically it became prophetic of the life story of Soane’s son George, from whom he became estranged. Displayed within a mock version of Soane’s drawing room are the eight depictions of the rise of fall of a young man, Tom Rakewell, who inherits a vast fortune only to embark on a profligate London lifestyle where he lost it all in frantic moments of recklessness and madness. Now 200 years later the paintings have returned but unlike ever before.

A Rake’s Progress I: The Heir

A Rake’s Progress II: The Levee

A Rake’s Progress III: The Orgy

A Rake’s Progress IV: The Arrest

A Rake’s Progress V: The Marriage

A Rake’s Progress VI: The Gaming House

A Rake’s Progress VII: The Prison

A Rake’s Progress VIII: The Madhouse

London Voices, London Lives presents a modern comparison on the micro-narratives depicted in Hogarth’s work, a contemporary discussion on the city and the people that exist within the harsh social boundaries of London. Works featured by Debbie Tucker Green, John Riddy, James Fritz, Ruth Ewan, LLSB and Faisal Abdu’Allah offer a fantastic alternative to the frenzied and chaotic scenes painted by Hogarth.

London Voices, London Lives

British photographer John Riddy presents some of his urban architectural photography highlighting the stark differences in the way people live in the city, from vast shots of the Heygate Estate to the Garrick. Creating an instant dialogue between Hogarth’s city scenes and urban architecture it is important to realise the division between rich and poor in the modern day and 1700s London. Although architecturally there are blunt differences the stories that attach themselves to the buildings will remain painfully the same.

British film makers Olivier Payne and Nick Relph’s pseudo-documentary ‘Driftwood’ (1999) guides you through the streets of London, drawing attention to the collision between people and public space. The footage, now 20 years old, takes you through the ever-gentrifying London, with narration remarking on tales of success and ruin. An exploration of the creation of anti-homeless street furniture shows how design since Hogarth’s era has adapted to put even more people at a social disposition. London’s consumerist society is bleakly cemented into the simplistic footage of the streets of Soho where poor meets rich. Driftwood offers an insight into a city changing for the worse. A reminder that our London and Hogarth’s London aren’t too dramatically different, although they may exist in two completely different times.

Driftwood: Marble Arch

Driftwood: Lina stores Soho

Driftwood: French House Soho

Artist and Barber Faisal Adbu’Allah had set up a live immersive barber shop for the exhibition, but sadly due to the pandemic this was not running, however the build aimed to show how even 300 years later the barber chair still hosts thousands of  daily conversations from the banal to bizarre. Alongside the build are a series of stunning tin type photography displaying the modern tools used by barbers today.

After working your way around the naturally lit exhibition (thanks to Soane) you are met with a recreation of Southbank’s undercroft, the world longest continually skated street spot that was recently saved by the LLSB (Long Live South Bank) campaign. Alongside this to-scale build is some radical photography of skate culture by Harry Turner; free parties in full effect, scenes of chaos and achievement prove how public spaces can be enjoyable whilst being problematic in London. Although you won’t catch any skateboarding in Rake’s progress the scenes of scuffling and drama are well depicted in the LLSB photography section. These photos present architecture as power and personal ownership compared this to the now destroyed Heygate Estate captured by John Riddy. ‘London voices’ successfully narrates the full story of the city leaving no pavement slab unturned.

As historic buildings are getting relentlessly demolished to be turned into new builds for the rich we lose a little bit of the city’s history every time. Soane was an underdog, a once poor bricklayer that ended up creating buildings for the upper-class. His dynasty however played out much like the selfish and irresponsible actions of Rake, his two sons rebelled against him and much like ‘The Prison’ ended up in Prison due to debt.

Hogarth: London Voices, London Lives is not simply a celebration of the return of Hogarth’s timeless paintings, it creates conversation and comparison around ever shifting city. It isn’t often where an exhibition is so rich in history yet effortlessly combines contemporary art within the walls of John Soane’s once country manor.

Rampa  They Will Be