There’s no defined career path for an art student – still less so when you’re entering the world of work just before a recession. Mark Lungley, the founder of Dalston’s Lungley Gallery, graduated from Central Saint Martins and worked in marketing during his twenties – always aware that he wanted to return to the art world in a professional capacity. “The big concern for many artists is how to sustain their practice once they leave school,” he says. It was easy to become dissatisfied quickly during the transition, especially when galleries, both independent and funded, were struggling. If established artists couldn’t make ends meet, what hope was there for emerging ones?
It wasn’t until he began an MA in fine art at Chelsea College of Arts that an idea began to form. “Another student [Ilana Blumberg] and I decided to pull down the studio walls of the space we worked in, and created a makeshift gallery called Side Room,” he remembers. “We put on shows not just for students inside the school but those from other institutions, as well as artists and designers from all over the UK.” The incentive was clear: “We wanted to build a community, to provide new opportunities for ourselves and others.”
Fast-forward two years to the launch of Lungley, the self-funded enterprise run entirely by Mark. A trendy east-end pub (The Haggerston) might seem an unlikely location, but it has provided precisely the footfall that any start-up requires. Mark currently represents just five contemporary artists, but the diversity of their work was a conscious decision designed in part to bring in new crowds, their friends and networks. The Haggerston’s cellar is transformed with each exhibition to incorporate sculpture, painting, architecture, performance and video.
Exhibitions to watch for
Most recently, Mark has been developing an exhibition with Lana Locke, entitled Making (Babies). This collection of work, which can viewed online here, attempts to resolve, as Mark says, the boundaries between the artistic and domestic spheres: “She is interested in the idea of the ‘feral’ between the wild and the civilised, and how it feeds into social, material and feminist concerns.” On a video screen we watch as Lana disentangles her second child’s umbilical cord from a freezer drawer; it’s later transformed into a patinated bronze cast.
Lana joins a long line of artists who have enjoyed successful shows at the gallery. One of these is Jack Killick; Mark saw his degree show at the Royal Academy in 2015 and the work stuck with him, with its focus on psychological space and confronting sculptures such as Collapse and Untitled, a floor-to-ceiling object that the viewer must navigate around, twisting and turning to prevent touching it. “The experience of viewing Jack’s work is compromised and projects a contradictory identity, monumental on the one hand and absurd on the other,” he says.
Brian Dawn Chalkley – Mark’s former tutor at Chelsea – is the most established artist of the group, having exhibited around the world and with works in major collections. “Brian Dawn is a great fabler of contemporary life, tackling subjects that are universally human: identity, gender, social status and sexuality,” says Mark. Missing featured 454 watercolour portraits of “people, all from the imagination. They don’t have defining features; they’re quite androgynous, almost alien.”
The gallery’s normal opening hours run from Friday to Sunday, though appointments can be made for private viewings.
“I am overwhelmed by the support and positive feedback we receive from visitors, press and other galleries,” says Mark. The exposure alone is something money cannot buy, at a time when it’s challenging to encourage people into galleries, particularly independent ones. “The space is small and modest enough to allow artists to make one piece of work really well,” he says. “It’s exciting to see each artist tackle the challenges of the space, without spending a fortune.”