SEEN was very absorbed in this personal and poignant exhibition about the life and times of the late singer, whose distinct presence and talent is synonymous with the Camden area and the Jewish presence in North London. Set firmly within the context of her family (particularly formidable matriarch Grandma Cynthia) it was moving and powerful to view an exhibition rooted in family memorabilia. It’s intimate, unshowy and very much celebrates Amy Winehouse as a person in her right as well as that of performer, daughter, and sister. Most poignantly (for SEEN at least) were the two empty birdcages (Amy’s own) that seemed rich with metaphor for the singer’s life. Now the public has a real chance to connect with Amy the person, rather than Amy the star, who has been paraded enough for public consumption.
SEEN can remember seeing footage of Amy Winehouse at Glastonbury at the depth of her addictive illness and thinking how scared she looked. Yet here she is in footage from her time at Sylvia Young Stage School, totally owning the stage, a star in the making as her essay to enter the school clearly displays. Her dresses, guitar, shoes, even lanyards (obsessively collected by the star on her tours) and photos of the family make a fascinating companion piece to the Asif Kapadia documentary if you haven’t seen it. The glimpses into the Winehouse siblings’ lives (particularly brother Alex) were also illuminating.
You should also check out the art trail; there are some top portraits of Amy in her beloved Camden and in free exhibition by Chicago-born artist, Pegasus, in the museum. SEEN was lucky enough to talk to the artist who was a friend of the late singer. Her death led to him creating the famous portrait of her with wings that became a destination for grieving fans. Pegasus has created a series of four portraits in which he cleverly uses colour to create a different mood for each one. The red heart to denote passion and happiness; the blue to denote sadness; the pink for girlishness and innocence and a final teal heart which is quite ambiguous, to denote that part of the late singer that she never really knew herself, perhaps. SEEN thought them outstanding, on a par with the Marlene Dumas portrait of Amy currently in the National Portrait Gallery. The lyrics to ‘Love is a Losing Game’ accompany the series, contextualising the singer’s yearning for love and the destructive part it played in her life. Yet Pegasus’s paintings are essentially redemptive in that they give a glimmer of hope, something that imbued Amy Winehouse’s life with possibility as it should do for all of us.
The exhibition will be travelling soon so see it while you can. It’s the sort of exhibition that London does best: personal, meaningful and, uniquely, sets its subject within her community. Unmissable.
Raymond Burton House
129-131 Albert Street