The sight of boarded-up, empty Woolworths shops on the high street was the inspiration behind Josef Valentino's pop-up art studio Worthless in Covent Garden earlier this month, and now the empty Leytonstone branch is getting an arts make-over of its own. From tomorrow, and open for four weekends, the store's original fixtures and fittings will hold art work by over 60 East End artists as part of this year's Leytonstone Arts Trail.
The group show, entitled Pick 'n' Mix, is being curated by two local residents, artist Jo Grant and Mark Hampson, a printmaking tutor at the Royal College of Art. Several students from the college are showing work in the exhibition, alongside more established artists who have produced paintings, sculptures, films and site-specific installations all fuelled by their personal memories of the high-street chain. Some artists have used materials found in the store from packaging and clothing to graffiti on the wall or been inspired by the art deco architecture of the building itself.
"Woolworths is part of our culture, it's always been there and one thing that's come though both from the artists and passers-by who stick their nose in the door is how much it means to people and how much the loss of it has impacted," explains Grant. "When Woolworths handed the keys over they left an awful lot of Woolworths in there and it has really captured people's imaginations to be creative, right in the heart of Leytonstone." Other venues on the trail, which is in its second year, include galleries, pubs, schools and the local library, but no site carries as much nostalgia as Woolies. So for now, forget the old days of going down for a quick sugar fix or the latest toys and trinkets; go instead for a visual pick 'n' mix of eclectic art.