On a quiet Wednesday evening, London’s freshest new gallery opened its doors for a launch party. Visiting the day before the big opening, the space still had that fresh paint smell, and was immaculate. With wrap-around rooms, a Samsung-led visual experience space entitled The Wall, and centring on a Brutalist concrete staircase, it has all the features of a traditional art gallery. But OMNI is doing something different.
Aiming to democratise art and all forms of creative expression by making it more accessible to young people, OMNI represents a diverse roster of multidisciplinary modern and contemporary artists. Cultivating a vibrant community of established and emerging artists, collectors, and enthusiasts, they work directly with talent to provide unique access to artworks over the progression of their careers. They do however, also have £1.5 million of Damien Hirst pieces in the basement.
The first artist to show at OMNI is Bisco Smith – presenting his first solo exhibition in London, entitled RE/STRUCTURED. Catching up with him ahead of the launch night, he seemed characteristically calm – unfazed by the occasion, and explaining that the process is as important as the outcome in his creative projects.
Renowned for his storied approach to painting, Bisco Smith’s body of work on display at OMNI includes paintings on canvas, commissioned installations, and monochromatic murals. These latest works hinge on moments of the past two years of his life; from personal to professional, geographical to global. “It’s a meditation on the pandemic, and I became a parent just before it all hit which restructured my life. I’ve been trying to figure it out, it seems like the whole world’s restructuring. We changed our priorities, we’ve changed what we value – I kept that in mind when approaching the paintings” Smith explained. “The ‘RE/’ is the response to the structuring and restructuring of the last two years, and you’ll find the ‘RE’ spelt out within the work itself a lot”.
If being an artist is about encompassing and encouraging all forms of creative expression, Bisco has that down. Starting as a “graffiti guy from really young”, music has also had a big impact on him – “Hip Hop is really deep in me, making records, breakdancing – all that shit”. It’s obvious upon meeting him that Bisco considers every element of his work in meticulous detail; from ‘hiding’ words within the paintings, to how his audiences will move around the space and experience it.
As OMNI puts it, Smith’s pictorial practice is “infused with the energy of the moment, evident in the starkness of his colour palette, and the layered depth of his markings, which appear interconnected; overlapping with trails of dripping paint and speckled splodges of colour”. As much as the final product represents a striking culmination of colour and sculpture, Bisco still meditates on the process, levelling it to be more important to him than the outcome.
“I paint my house, I keep a blue collar, I try to keep grounded in my life. The gloves are work gloves, it’s an ode to what it takes to make the work…I have hundreds of these gloves at my studio, I love them and what they represent. I love the paint buckets and the brushes – sometimes more than the big paintings”. In placing the gloves in the white-washed walls of the gallery, Bisco both elevates their importance and serves to remind viewers of the process behind each piece he produces, adding a further dimension of authenticity to his creative offering.
But on the cusp of the launch which will see hundreds of people packed into the gallery, he also understands the fleetingness of this moment of bringing people together for art, and appreciates its singularity. “I think we’re all trying to cheat death in some way, so maybe making art that could outlive me is a good way to do that. But I’m just following what feels good – I’m fortunate to have good connectivity in my life, and [this exhibition] makes sense to me right now. Until it doesn’t, and then I’m onto something else”.
Catch Bisco’s work RE/STRUCTURE at OMNI gallery in London until early June.
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