Art

Meet the Drummond Street Artists – the new art collective with histories of homelessness

Drummond Street Artists was founded by London artist Geraldine Crimmins to give people experiencing homelessness a place to make art. Now their new exhibition is creating a buzz in the art world

Geraldine Crimmins beside some of her artworks

Geraldine Crimmins. Image: Katie Ryan Creations

Geraldine Crimmins is a big name in the art world of London. There’s her art, which is first rate. And then there is the force of her personality, which is quite something to behold.  For her latest trick, Crimmins has galvanised a community of outsider artists with a history of homelessness, found them a space to work and formed the Drummond Street Artists. Now, this loose collective of talent that Crimmins mentored and helped find a place to work, have their very first show.  

Paintings hanging on a wall
Image: Katie Ryan Creations

The opening night of the DSA exhibition at the Old Diorama on Drummond Street, where the artists meet each weekend to work, socialise and shelter, is buzzing when The Big Issue arrives.

The artworks are eclectic, colourful, impressive. And the artists? They look proud as punch.  

Like some of the artists she works with, Crimmins has her own history of homelessness and addiction.  

“I started painting in prison and sold a few pieces. That got me the bug. After I came out of prison, I was clean, I got my health back, but didn’t know how to re-enter society. So I volunteered at Crisis at Christmas and because I was ex-homeless I was able to go to classes there. I got my drawing skills up, took some courses, did a BTEC, then got myself on my feet. And I met a lot of other artists.  

Painting of lamps, lampshades and a mirror
Michele’s Sideboard by Geraldine Crimmins

“I was offered my first exhibition up in Turnpike Lane and Channel 4 saw me in The Big Issue and wanted to interview me. It got about 750,000 views because they put a headline on saying, “She spent £2,000 a week on drugs”. But the comments were positive. I sold more pieces and got a residency here.” 

For Crimmins, the exhibition is the culmination of months and years of working with marginalised artists. She formed the Drummond Street Artists in January after realising that there was a huge gap in provision for precariously sheltered people at weekends.  

“I met a guy through The Big Issue and he bought a few paintings from me over the years,” she continues.  

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

“He gave me a commission, which kept me going over lockdown. When I met him to give him the painting, I mentioned I had been volunteering, running a mentoring group. He offered to sponsor it – I hadn’t realised that he was a philanthropist!  

“But I didn’t want to set something up in competition to other projects. So I came to the director here and asked if there was something we could do at the weekend. Because there are other workshops for marginalised artists but nothing like this at the weekend.” 

She gives a flavour of the way the Drummond Street Artists work. It is inclusive, collaborative, lively – with DJ Geraldine playing the music while the artists create.  

“It is a workshop. We provide all the paint and the paper. It is naive art. And some are really skilled. Half of them are professionals. And I try to help out the beginners, like Bahja. We give people a space to come and create.  

“A few are street homeless and the rest are in hostels. Dan is living in a tent outside London with his dog – he’s been attacked twice. He doesn’t paint but comes to the group. I’m careful with the funds entrusted to me. But they get Pot Noodles, tea, coffee, crisps and biscuits.”  

Now the work they’ve been producing is on show. And as well as hopefully selling a few pieces, the artists are reaping the rewards for Crimmins’ tenacity.  

A painting of sunflowers against a blue background
Sunflowers by bhavit.art

“I’m good at organising. I’m a bit bossy! But I remember when I did my first exhibition and I couldn’t believe it. Someone took my photograph. And it’s that self-confidence you get. That is huge.  

“I know some of them will sell pieces. And selling is important. But somebody came in to the workshop crying their eyes out the other week. They went in, started painting and absolutely smashed it. They made two amazing pieces of work and left laughing. And that is what it is all about, really.” 

Bhavit: ‘I’m surrounded by such creative people’

The art group has given me focus, it gives me an opportunity to socialise otherwise I can be isolated. It challenges me as an artist because I’m surrounded by such creative people. After a traumatic history of homelessness I got a council flat a few years ago. Most importantly the group gives me an opportunity to exhibit. bhavit.art

Dave Sohanpal with one of his paintings
Image: Katie Ryan Creations

Dave Sohanpal: ‘Art gave me some freedom’

I came here as an asylum seeker. In this hostile environment when you have no recourse to public funds, you are not treated as a human being. I was pretty much homeless and then we had Covid, so I was even more isolated. My GP suggested art therapy. Art has helped me have some autonomy. It gave me back some freedom. Because nobody could tell me what to paint. Art is a place where you lose yourself and also find yourself – it wasn’t therapy or pills, it was art that helped me to deal with the trauma. When you are an asylum seeker, your circle is so small. But now it is a bit wider because I have found a community of artists who have been through similar things and really inspire me. Insta: @davesohanpal1

Bahja Mahamad beside paintings Pandora Garden and River Rose
Bahja Mahamad. Image: Katie Ryan Creations

Bahja Mahamed: ‘Art is literally my life’

I am honoured to be working with the group here at Drummond Street Artists. I’ve been coming since the beginning and I’m learning all the time from this amazing group of artists with different styles and different energies. They are like family to me. This painting is meant to be a strong rose – it represents breaking through hardship. Painting always helps me. If I don’t have somebody to talk to, I get a canvas and talk to my canvas by colouring it. So it is not just a piece of art, it is me talking to you. Art is literally my life. And Geraldine has made my art dream come true. Insta: @cali.bahja 

The Chair painting
The Chair by Mary Vallally

Mary Vallely: ‘I turn my anger and pain into beauty’

For this chair, I was thinking about Van Gogh. But I didn’t want it to be like his work. And I wanted it to look like the floor was caving in. Working here helps my depression and anxiety. The space is good. The artists are great. And it is very free. So it is a beautiful community – bless Geraldine for starting it up. Everybody here has a history of homelessness. I was on the streets from the age of 14. Anyone can be homeless and anyone can have mental health issues. I use my anxiety to produce the work. All my work is colour. And the colour comes when I’m more depressed. The more angry and upset I am, the better my paintings are. I turn my anger and pain into beauty

Eugene Little beside his work, The Streets.
Eugene Little with his work, The Streets

Eugene Little: ‘There is a primal scream of people suffering in doorways’

I’ve got boxes of pictures of people living outside all across London, going back to the 1970s. I became homeless years ago myself and it brought me closer to them. You can learn from everyone if you really listen. There is like a primal scream of people suffering in the doorways. I’ve recorded terrible things. I struggle to open the boxes sometimes – I get so emotional because I remember everybody.”

John Sheehy
John Sheehy. Image: Katie Ryan Creations

John Sheehy: ‘My work is like the “dance of a damaged soul”‘

John Sheehy is an artist whose works have graced these pages over many years. He describes his work as like the “dance of a damaged soul” and has endured extended periods of homelessness since arriving in London from south-west Ireland in the 1950s. Since discovering painting as a means to express his pain – following encouragement by The Big Issue – Sheehy’s raw talent has seen his work exhibited at Somerset House, The British Museum and The Royal Academy. 

“I’m a visionary artist. These paintings just come from somewhere. I don’t know where, so whatever the viewer sees, that’s correct. 

Abstract painting in blue, pink and green
John Sheehy’s Opening the Rhyme

My work is about passion and vision. I have to sign them straight away otherwise I won’t recognise my work – it’s like it is coming through me from somewhere else. Probably from God. Inspired by God and nature and the spirit of London.  

“I made these works here. It’s good to have a place to go on Saturdays because there is nowhere to go at weekends. It gets me out and about, to do a bit of art, a bit of creation, and meet other artists. There is a lovely community here. There is tea and coffee, sandwiches and biscuits, and all the materials so I can follow my vision.  

“It’s very good to see it up on the wall and be with the other artists. I admire their work. We all come more or less from the same boat. We are kindred spirits.”  

Artist beside his paintings
Shakir at the Drummond Street Artists opening night. Image: Katie Ryan Creations

Shakir: ‘This place has given me hope’

“I had lost contact with everyone, being housebound since having Covid and being hospitalised. I’ve been recovering for about 18 months. I did some detective work and found Geraldine’s details, because I knew her years ago and we lost touch. Once we were back in contact, she really pushed me. Initially I just liked being among other artists. I have nerve damage and suffer with fatigue; I only drew for half an hour and was knackered but that feeling of doing my creative thing again was amazing. This place has given me hope. Having my art exhibited has given me a lot of confidence.” 

Michael Crosswaite: ‘Geraldine is a star’

Artist beside a painting of a dog
Michael Crosswaite with his Lancelot – The Destroyer of Kings and Queens. Image: Katie Ryan Creations

 I was reaching a point where things were taking off a bit when Covid happened. And it really fucked everything up for two years. Geraldine is a star to put this together and get a space for us to come. She has been good to me over the years and helped me sell lots of my work. Because I’m terrible at business. I know lots of the other artists from drop-in places, and there is a guy called Dan (a Big Issue vendor) who comes here with his dog. And the dog was terrified of men. I painted the dog, he is called Lancelot, and I finished it on the day of the Queen’s funeral. And you know the story of King Arthur – and how Lancelot fucks everything up at the end? So I called it Lancelot – the Destroyer of Kings and Queens.” Insta: @michaelcrosswaite 

Lui Saatchi: ‘It’s a real communal feel’

Lui Saatchi and his creation Eddie, a rooster
Lui Saatchi and his creation Eddie. Image: Katie Ryan Creations

I did a pheasant painting and a few landscapes. It is very nice to see it here – and I really enjoy coming here to paint. The atmosphere is very nice. It’s a real communal feel. This is a proper art centre, so it is nice to be part of the team. Geraldine is a really good artist and an even better human being.

The Drummond Street Artists exhibition is at the Old Diorama Arts Centre until 28 August.  

To purchase artworks from the exhibition, contact Geraldine Crimmins on 07412 316184 or email crimmins16@gmail.com

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy!

If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

 

Support our vendors this winter and beyond

If you can't visit your local vendor on a regular basis, then the next best way to support them is with a subscription to the Big Issue. As a social enterprise, we invest every penny we make back into the organisation. That means that with every subscription, we are supporting people in poverty to get back on their own two feet.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Women of Ukraine displaced by war rebuild their lives in striking new portrait exhibition
Ukraine photo exhibition
Photography

Women of Ukraine displaced by war rebuild their lives in striking new portrait exhibition

Meet the proud blind man who overcame homelessness to live his dream as a renowned artist
Clarke Reynolds blind braille artist
Art

Meet the proud blind man who overcame homelessness to live his dream as a renowned artist

Celebrating the career of Yoko Ono – a resilient artist who's so much more than John Lennon's wife
Yoko Ono retrospctive
Art

Celebrating the career of Yoko Ono – a resilient artist who's so much more than John Lennon's wife

Stunning portrait of Big Issue vendor 'shows the power of art' to tackle homelessness
Shane Record's painting of Big Issue vendor Raheem Ahmed
Art

Stunning portrait of Big Issue vendor 'shows the power of art' to tackle homelessness

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know