Natalia Zagorska-Thomas is an artist, textile conservator and gallerist.
Provided you avoid mistaking Camden Road for Camden Street before finding the bell for 132D in the correct Victorian terrace in Camden Town, Studio ExPurgamento is not hard to find. Once buzzed in, you may be escorted up the two flights of stairs by the friendly gallery dog, before being invited into the home of gallery owner and curator Natalia Zagorska-Thomas.
There isn’t a single item to be found at this address that isn’t beautiful and interesting, or a piece of art in its own right – even before you enter the actual exhibition space! Studio ExPurgamento is a purpose built exhibition space dedicated to showcasing exhibitions that may not otherwise be seen. It is rare in the current climate to come across a private gallery that is built around an ideal rather than calculated return on investment.
There is an underlying sensibility and attention to detail in everything Natalia does, and learning that she has worked as a textile conservator for some of London’s most prestigious cultural institutions does not come as a surprise. Her wire sculptures Diasporids are featured in this year’s anniversary issue of critically acclaimed literary journal NOON and are described as ‘clotted shadows, or things you might find under your bed in a dream’ in the Times Literary Supplement.
ExPurgamento perfectly describes her artistic practice which generally starts with existing, often discarded, objects that receive new meaning through subtle interventions and her delicate wit (the gallery name loosely translates as ‘out of rubbish’).
Her curatorial approach follows in a similar vein and each exhibition starts with a broad theme with the overriding intention of creating relationships: between the people who exhibit, between works of art and between object and viewer – resulting in the type of exhibition she herself would like to see. While her choices are unabashedly subjective, she looks to the objects to lead the way rather than asserting control. The results are seemingly effortless exhibitions that entice, surprise and entertain in equal measure.
Despite its domestic adjacency, Studio ExPurgamento is a professional gallery that brings together works by established and lesser known artists which are combined with related disciplines like poetry or architecture. The common denominator is Natalia herself whose personal experience as a Polish-born woman artist has an undeniable influence on her practice.
While immigration or gender politics may not be immediately obvious themes, they add a crucial dimension to the curation. The idea of London as a cultural melting pot, and Camden’s heritage as a hub for alternative culture, is reflected in Studio ExPurgramento’s community of artists from many nationalities and backgrounds.
As an unintentional counterbalance to the many men-only exhibitions still dominating the contemporary art scene, a recent exhibition exclusively showed works by female artists. Rather than making gender the subject, the selection happened by accident with women intuitively responding to the theme of ‘Secrets and Lies’ in a way that resonated best with Natalia’s curatorial approach of combining works and words that hint at those parts of the story that often remain hidden.
This year’s exhibition is titled Square2. It is curated around the concept of art in, of and about boxes, all contained in a 2m x 7m x 2m gallery. Works by more than 20 artists, ranging from literal to metaphorical iterations, invite viewers to, literally, lift lids on some works and intellectually engage with others. Mechanical sculpture, found objects, photography, drawing and more are placed in conversation with each other and inspire dialogue with and amongst viewers.
Unlike private views at most commercial galleries, an opening at Studio ExPurgamento turns into a private party at Natalia Zagorska-Thomas’ home and conversations continue until late, with each weekend during the run another mini private view event.
Square2 is open most weekdays and some evenings from 8 November and continues until 8 December, but please call ahead to avoid disappointment. No appointment is necessary on Saturdays or Sundays when the gallery is open from 11 to 6pm.