There are barely any walls not being put to some use in Jesmond Dene House. And there are a lot of walls. Almost every wall that I can think of, if it hasn’t a window or isn’t an outer wall, has something interesting mounted atop it. What’s more, for those who really pay attention, the things that are mounted change at fairly regular intervals. A lot of time and effort, then. But for those who do pay attention, very rewarding. True to its Arts & Crafts architectural flirtations, in its own way, Jesmond Dene House is a kind of Art Gallery and all because having art on display for those who visit has to be more interesting than having none.
If one should visit at the moment, one would stand a good chance of seeing my favourite of all the mini-Exhibitions that have ever been on display at Jesmond Dene House: some work by revered photographer Chris Steele-Perkins. To be sure, I hadn’t discovered him until he showed up at Jesmond Dene House, atop of one of the many walls. But, it didn’t take me long to figure out that I liked his work.
Born in Rangoon, Burma, Steele-Perkins came to England aged two. After growing up in Burnham-on-Sea, poignantly enough, Steele-Perkins studied Psychology at Newcastle University. I’d like to think that his time studying Freud in our home city may have helped him, later, at capturing a kind of instant-humanity prevalent across his work. After a spell in London, Steele-Perkins moved to Bangladesh and captured the work of relief organisations. Thereafter, he returned home to work with “EXIT”; a group dealing with social problems in British cities. For sure, this period seems to have been formative as even in his most outwardly harsh-seeming shots there always seems to be some redeeming quality.
The work on display at Jesmond Dene House, is more along the lines of a collection that became a book called The Teds – that affectionately documents British Teddy Boy culture – or else, England, my England; spanning 40 years, this book captures idiosyncratic moments of British subculture (way before, and more subtly, than Shane Meadows, for instance). The work ingeniously juxtaposes a recognisably British rawness with a subterranean tenderness that is familiar and endearing.
So hurry and come and see it; before something else moves in, atop the walls!