roof that there are still moments of kismet to be found in London’s stretched property market. When Supriya Lele’s studio landlord offered her a good deal on an empty pharmacy next door, she jumped at the opportunity.
Fans of Lele’s work – her day job is as one of the capital’s most exciting young designers – need not fear; she is not pivoting into prescriptions yet. Rather, Lele and her friend and business partner Donald Ryan decided this would be the perfect venue to set up home for a burgeoning creative project. ‘It was much more than we initially thought about taking on. However, the opportunity was too good to pass up!’ says Lele. ‘Now we have a project space. Some would even call it a gallery’.
The result is Qrystal Partners. A short walk from Elephant & Castle tube, on a busy but outwardly unnoteworthy street, it seems to exist in a different world to the glinting galleries of Mayfair. ‘There has been a lot of talk about how the notion of a gallery context has more or less died. That the only context that matters now is being in relation to wealth or other expensive art. I really dislike this. It really depressed me at the end of my time in big galleries,’ says Ryan, who has a decade of experience working at blue chip venues in London, New York and LA. ‘However, I do agree that the old notion of a gallery context has become irrelevant. The kind of context where a gallery only shows one kind of art like conceptual art, German painting or American minimalism’.
Figure in Garden
/ Jai Chuhan
The goal then, for the duo – who met at a dinner party at the writer Tish Weinstock and the stylist Tom Guinness’s house two years ago – was to do something different. ‘I wanted to create a space that looked back at the kind of experimentation that was done in artist run spaces,’ he explains. ‘Places that existed in the 1960s like David Medalla’s Signals or Keith Coventry’s City Racing in ’90s South London. Places where people came together, not to make money, but to participate in something cool’.
As fans of Lele’s design work know, part of the beauty of what she does is that it defies categorisation. It’s sexy, yes, but in a cerebral, never brassy way; tough and soft at once. This liminality continues through to Qrystal Partners. Lele didn’t want to give it ultimately meaningless raison d’être ‘like to “bridge the worlds of art and fashion.” Instead we wanted to make a space that provided artists with a new kind of context. We’re not sure exactly how to describe that yet. Our hope is that it will grow organically and reveal itself as we produce more and more projects’.
Shadows/ Jai Chuhan
The first project is an exhibition of work by the Indian-born, UK-based painter Jai Chuhan, whose work Ryan discovered on a work trip to Manchester. A quietly impactful show, Chuhan’s expressive, intimate works deserve a second look – and their own show. ‘Me and Jai share a lot in common as artist as well as our heritage,’ says Lele.It’s a strong start for the duo. So what’s next? Ryan is adamant that Qrystal Partners will be a professional and rigorous endeavour, with a hint to expect some more historical shows as well. ‘Our aspiration is to produce a program that is as engaging as possible. We want to be a place that provides artists with an opportunity to have meaningful collaborations. We really hope that we can avoid the monotony of the corporate art world’.
‘Yes, we hope that the kind of interdisciplinary foundation of Qrystal will keep it from becoming like everything else,’ adds Lele. Judging by their debut, there’s no need to worry about that.
Jai Chuhan, Small Paintings at Qrystal Partners (7 Newington Causeway, SE1 6ED) until 15 June
Reclining Figure/ Jai Chuhan