I’ve got a habit of picking a spot on the map and throwing my body at it. Usually, the place has some kind of hook: for instance a particular person, as in the case of my old psych M.A. cohort friend Mathilde, who needed a little moral and editorial support while slogging through her thesis in what I will always remember as the Stepford Golf Enclave of Lutz, Florida. Maybe Lutz wasn’t a pleasant revelation, but the Salvador Dalí Museum in nearby St. Petersburg – housing the largest collection of Dalí’s work outside of Europe – certainly was.
Weird history, particularly the supernatural, is another kind of hook. A few years ago, I got it into my head that I needed to visit the Cary House Hotel in Placerville, California. Hadn’t Mark Twain stayed there? Hook. Didn’t it have the second oldest elevator west of the Mississippi? Hook. WASN’T IT HAUNTED? Hooked. I certainly believed it was haunted, my first night there. Turned out the sepulchral voices calling to me from beyond the veil belonged to nothing more nefarious than the clock radio, on all night and dialed down just between “inaudible” and “just audible enough to sound to someone with an overactive imagination like garbled messages from the spirit world.”
But the upshot of that sleepless night and my gold rush country wandering was that Placerville turned out to be a mine of inspiration for the fantasy series I’m *cough* still working on.
This brings us, almost, to Deal: a living, breathing, picture postcard of a town on the Kent coast in Jolly Old. I found where I wanted to land in Deal by happenstance, through following Noel Fielding on Instagram. If you’re late to the party, you might have a pretty skewed view of him as a quirky caketaster. I’m not going to get into his entire CV here, but Artist (yes, I insist on the CAPITAL ‘A’) is high on his list of accomplishments. Noel had posted that a couple of his paintings and a number of oil stick drawings were available for purchase in a tiny haven for art in Deal, DON’T WALK WALK Gallery. When one of his drawings, a picture of an owl entitled Andrew, You Piece of Shit became available, I knew it had to be mine.
But that was just the initial tumble into the rabbit hole. I’ve since fallen in love with works in the gallery by Mark Hargreaves, Maria Clemen, Julius Kalamarz, Vanessa Panayi and Alexander Robertson, to name only a few of the artists featured in this wonderland of a gallery.
And it’s all down to one fella, the artist and owner of DWW. Neil (Ned) Kelly will be celebrating his 20th year as an exhibiting painter this autumn with – fittingly – an installation of twenty new works entitled, An Instance of Return, at Deal Castle. When I made the trek out to Deal, this *ahem* “Billy Elliot of Visual Art,” gave me a lesson in art and psychology and big-heartedness, disguised as a casual chat over a couple of pints and a tour of the gallery.
That Neil isn’t only a gallery owner but an artist himself makes all the difference at DWW. He knows the genesis of each piece in the gallery off the cuff, and delights visitors with fun facts and affectionate anecdotes about the artists themselves. The artworks appear to be in constant conversation and rotation, like the records he plays in the shop (The Cure! The Stone Roses! Björk!). Maybe the best way I can describe the gallery’s vibe is that it feels warm and winking, like walking into an in-joke with an old friend.
And the driving ethos seems to be: sure, it’s art if it makes you think; it’s art if it makes you reflect; it’s art if it makes you uncomfortable; it’s art if it makes you cry; but it’s no lesser art if it makes you laugh, too.
Neil’s journey as an artist began as an art therapist, and it shows. His own work ranges from updated – or more accurately, “bastardized” – 19th Century paintings, to large-scale, moody storms and clouds and light, oh the light! You can stand in front of these pieces for a long, long time – until they cease to be paintings and become a mirror of your own interiority, something that you both see and feel seen by. From the moment you step in the door, Neil’s art and the art he’s chosen tells you, “This guy gets it.”
Also, he is a lovely human, husband and father, whose care extends to the people who visit the gallery as much as the artists he features. When I asked after a piece he had hanging in the small studio space where he somehow manages to create images so vast in scope, he gave me a rundown of the artist, David Shrigley, and even insisted I take a book about him from his personal collection . I suspect Neil’s a born educator. We recognize our own. I further suspect he’s great at it.
I’m so glad I went to Deal. My brain is clicking and my own creativity feels revivified, which I think is really art’s highest calling, to bring us back into dialogue with each other and ourselves. What’s more, I have that elusive feeling of a lighter heart despite a lighter pocketbook. There’s no buyer’s remorse when the X on the map marks a treasure like DON’T WALK WALK Gallery.