art attack: chris pensa

Have you ever wanted to have a cup of tea with a famous painter in their studio? Or fancied a look around the Bank of England’s private art collection? Or merely experience art in a way you’d never get to normally? Well Chris Pensa had these yearnings and figured he’d do something about it. Josh Jones had a quick chat to the founder of Love Art London.

How did you come up with the idea of Love Art London?
I was visiting the Eduardo Chillida sculpture park just outside San Sebastian when the idea came to me. It led me to think of all the great places in London, most of which I had special access to as a Sotheby’s auctioneer, that people either don’t know exist or take for granted. I set about opening up the art world in a way that was fun and interesting. I specifically wanted to reach out to a young, alternative crowd of art lovers and get them engaging with art in a more immediate way – Love Art London has been designed to get our members as close to the action as possible, whether that’s taking an after-hours stroll through a gallery show with the curator, having a cup of tea with a famous artist at their studio or actually handling a priceless collection of Ming vases. Ultimately what makes Love Art London so great is the people – the artists, curators, experts or gallerists we choose to hang out with all have such great stories to tell – their willingness to share their knowledge and experiences never ceases to amaze me.

What’s your favourite Love Art Experience so far?
Without doubt our visit to Bompas & Parr’s studio/kitchen for a private session of architectural jellymongering. Sam Bompas talked us through the contents of their ingredients cabinet which includes explosives, love drugs, anaesthetics, sperm whale secretion and a quantity of the industrial dye they actually use to turn the entire Chicago River green every St. Patrick’s Day. Insane stuff. We were then guided through the technicalities of 3D architectural modelling and mould-making using an industrial vacuum packer – moulds we made (and got to keep!) ranged from St Paul ‘s Cathedral to Buckingham Palace. We then hit the kitchen for a live demo and feasted on some extraordinary jellies and a Black Gin Punch Sam had prepared earlier. It was like Heston Blumenthal meets Norman Foster with a bit of Willy Wonka thrown in for good measure. Other past favourites include our live demonstration of the art of taxidermy and talking to the legendary tattooist Alex Binnie about body art at his studio in Clerkenwell.

Are normal galleries too boring for you now you’ve seen all these secret collections!?
Absolutely not. It’s really important to me that Love Art London offers its members variety – we’re as at home in The British Museum as we are leading a graffiti tour around the East End or in Sir Anthony Caro’s private studio. When we do visit more traditional places, though, we take a distinctly quirky approach – we recently curated and led a Tits & Arse Tour of The National Gallery, which went down a treat with our members, less so with the Establishment! We offer a real mixture and that’s entirely the point. London ‘s art scene offers so much variety and is packed with fascinating characters wanting to share their stories – Love Art London’s programme is just one big celebration of that diversity.

Other than your fine tours, where would you say is the best secret place for us to go and look at awesome art?
Jack Bell Gallery is a hidden gem worth sniffing out – it’s on the second floor of a town house in Mason’s Yard but it’s easy to miss as White Cube claims most of the limelight. Jack represents a handful of cracking African artists, there’s always something quirky to see and for a commercial gallery in the West End it’s very affordable – the only problem is every time I go in there I spend more money than I have!

Photo: Tom Medwell

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