Germany's Düsseldorf can shout from the cutting edge rooftops about its encouragement and devotion to the advancement of art. Boasting of over 300 years of artistic excellence, it has never shied away from adapting with the shifts in our world and perceptions of creativity. Meet Heike Bosch, Axel Abstoss and Spot the dog, a fascinatingly artsy family, whose passion and vision for culture has come to fruition in their gallery Take A Butchers. Having left a piece of my heart in the Dorf, it was a pleasure to listen, learn and generally be awed by what I heard.
The characterful pair's background in art stems from a lifelong interest, with enthusiasm at heart, especially but not exclusively related to street art. They eloquently illustrate, "Street art is special to us because you don’t have to make an appointment to be confronted with it, it jumps at you and surprises you and that is the beauty. If you go to an art museum, you make a conscious decision to spend time looking at artwork." They acknowledge the wonder of street art being everywhere around us in all manners of shapes and forms, makes for an inspiring wander, filled with the potential to discover something new or unexpected.
"There is a vast pool of talent out there, which we want to introduce to people who may not know much about street art or have no comprehension of the skill and precision required in, for example, cutting an intricate stencil, or spraypainting a mural." The artists they invite are selected solely on their appreciation and merit of the works.” How famous they are, or how many followers they have on social media plays no part in our choosing. We run our gallery on the side of our breadwinning jobs otherwise we would not get by. But this gives us the best of both worlds: financial stability and a chance to do what excites us."
Düsseldorf is artistically blessed; culture radiates in a kaleidoscopic whirl over the city, and there is a promotion of an expressive and modern approach to creating. Although location played a factor in Heike and Axel setting up shop, they are certainly in the rightful place. "We toyed with the idea of opening a gallery for a few years, but the right space at the right price did not come up. We chose Düsseldorf because it’s the city where we both work and we live 20km away towards the countryside."
"In 2017 we got really lucky and found the perfect gallery space, at reasonable conditions and with the most wonderful landlords anyone could wish for. It is located in the borough of Flingern, which is a vibrant part of town and wonderfully supportive neighbourhood. We are very happy here and hope we can continue for many years to come," they add with a pink flush.
Take A Butchers originates from the London idiom 'have a look' and was chosen above other contenders because of its catchy ring. However, there is also a smidge of history to be discovered. Axel lets us in, "Heike lived in and around London for 20 years and really loves the place. Having spent a number of years squatting, she has picked up a lot of local slang and colloquialisms. Cockney rhyming slang is particularly fascinating as it is probably the maddest form of linguistic re-/deconstruction anyone could possibly come up with."
The name effectively encapsulates what the two wish their gallery to radiate and be perceived as: "A place where people feel welcome, that’s open to all to just pop in, have a look around, chill on our sofa or numerous armchairs with a cup of coffee and a chat or a little play with Spot the dog." Indeed, it is a big plus when people buy the artwork, but their door is open and beckons inquisitive people to have a look around, ask questions and regularly show interest.
"We find a lot of art galleries to be quite intimidating places, where people feel uncomfortable entering if they don’t have the means to buy. We want our place to be the opposite of that," they explain with sincerity. Community plays a vital role in the overall vibe and success of the gallery; all are welcome."Our space consists of two showrooms, a tiny kitchen and bathroom. In the summer, we put a bench outside the shopfront, and it is a regular resting and dwelling place for all our neighbours, especially the older folks."
Another draw to the neighbourhood is the third member of the team: the refined critic Spot the dog, who is always in attendance and takes his role of guarding the place seriously. "Sometimes a little too overenthusiastically, greeting visitors with an energetic bark, but this is quickly followed by tail-wagging and excited sprints through the gallery rooms. He is very careful around the artworks, especially when they rest on the floor prior to being hung. So far, the count of artwork damaged by Spot is zero, the count of artwork damaged or by idiot courier companies: 5. So we are pretty certain that he loves art!"
An exhibition held last year, One Word, was something that Axel had yearned, as he is creative texter and has affection for lettering, fonts etc., so the idea lit up to host a solely word-based show, incorporating many varied styles. "We spent a long time researching to come up with a long list of people we wanted to invite. The rule was for each artist to create just one piece of work, regardless of size and medium used, and to create one word only that would encompass for them the at that time, the upcoming year 2020. To complete the artwork, each artist also had to submit a statement explaining their particular choice."
Much to their surprise, just about everyone spontaneously said yes, with several notable names in that hat, who certainly would never have heard of Take A Butchers before, they were quite rightly chuffed. The directors reminisce in fondness,"Altogether, we had 30 artists from 15 different countries participating, and the words chosen and reasoning behind were extremely versatile as you would expect. What was most striking about this show though, was the fact that each artwork was made before anybody knew of Corona and what was to come only a few weeks later. And suddenly all the works and words took on a whole new dimension and magnified validity. Strength, Hope, Trust, Empathy, Respect, Ghosting, to name but a few."
Ehsan by Na7designs
"With regards to the show’s intention and concept and the absolutely mesmerizing skills of all our participating artists, all works we received were simply stunning. Adding to that the stylistic diversity displayed, it would be next to impossible to single something out." That said, the minute they unwrapped Ehsan from Na7tdesigns, they were awestruck. "It simply was the most beautiful artwork we ever held in our hands. This artwork radiates elegance in a way we have never seen before; it is a large-scale halo on canvas. Interestingly, the Arabic word Ehsan translates as seeking perfection, and that really sums it up."
Like an immense number of others, the duo was required to shut their hub earlier in the year. They are now closed once more. "We had to postpone plans repeatedly and keep shifting dates in the hope of better times to come, and the gallery desperately needs to have some fresh works on display which is currently not possible. But we are in good spirits."
Recent show From Brussels With Love by Nean did not receive the usual snazzy launch, and the sort people are accustomed to: a DJ creating the party atmosphere and lots of delicious alcohol to add to the festivities; the turn-out to the opening night here was slim. "But Some lucky fairy must have put a good word in for us, as the online sales on our website have increased a lot since the summer, with more people becoming aware of our gallery and showing interest also in artwork from exhibitions long past."
Our conversation turns to a place of jaw-dropping sorcery, fans of Düsseldorf and street art will be well aware of the street Kiefernstrasse, filled top to toe with vibrancy, design and colourful history. Axel and Heike agree that it holds magic and the hope that it will last for a long time to come. "We have friends who live there and sometimes venture with our artists for a bit of daytime vandalism in that direction since it is quite close to our gallery. Also, as part of the 40 Grad Urban Art Festival where Nean painted a massive wall for us, we were very engaged with the organizers and Axel was interviewed for their YouTube channel in their Kiefernstrasse office. The place has an amazing atmosphere and community spirit, reminiscent of those London squatting days!"
We wrap up our conversation with the guys looking ahead sprinkled with their familiar positivity: "All we can do for now is keep our hopes up, our spirits high, support our local community and have a smashing next show as soon as we’re allowed to! Watch this space!"
Article by Beverley Knight