(London, UK, 12 December 2022) From 6 – 25 January, Saatchi Gallery will present George Westren: On the straight and narrow in one of the main spaces at the Gallery. This free-to-enter exhibition celebrates the life and work of a relatively unknown artist, George Westren. The show represents a positive outcome to an emotive story that gained worldwide news attention in the summer of 2022.
In June 2022, George Westren became the unlikely subject of a viral news story reported by TV, radio and print media across the world. Westren, a relatively unknown artist living in a tiny housing association flat in Spitalfields, East London, had sadly died in July 2021 during the UK’s Covid lockdown. A year later, in June 2022, a neighbour stepped in to prevent George’s portfolio of intricate op art drawings from being destroyed by a home clearance firm. The artwork went viral on Twitter, where Westren’s story – of humble beginnings, homelessness, addiction and eventual salvation through art – touched hundreds of thousands of people. Funds raised through the sale of a small run of prints helped to preserve, catalogue and exhibit Westren’s artwork. The exhibition is curated by Alan Warburton, the neighbour who rescued the works. Saatchi Gallery are pleased to have the support of Westren’s surviving family in showcasing this selection of works that represent twenty years of dedicated artistic endeavour.
As Westren himself said, making these intricate compositions kept him ‘on the straight and narrow’ after many years struggling with addiction and homelessness. The artist designed and executed his work in a straightforward way: patiently plotted with compass point, ruler and pencil, then inked with felt tip pens on standard cartridge paper. Initially inspired by the work of Bridget Riley in 1999, Westren embarked on his own creative journey over the next 20 years, beginning with simple ‘tunnel’ designs, through which he ventured towards his own distinct motifs and techniques. His pulsating stars, battling chevrons, interlocking spears and protruding 3D edges hover between subtle op art illusion and muscular, graphic clarity; all the more impressive that he worked alone, without formal art training, producing a steady sequence of work that so clearly demonstrates a precise understanding of contrast, depth and optical effects. Westren’s love for art took him to art classes at outreach projects around London, where he forged new friendships, most importantly with fellow artist Bill Dennison and Jaime Bautista, director of SMart Network, both of whom – in Westren’s words – showed him that he might be ‘worthy of someone’s attention’.
This exhibition has been made possible due to the thousands of people around the world who saw the value of George’s work and were touched by his story, and especially those who bought the prints that helped fund this project. Special thanks also go to the Westren family, SMart Network and the Ten Feet Away art group at Union Chapel, Islington, London.
“For George, art was a means of transformation and salvation. For those touched by his story, it is a symbol of hope in the face of adversity” says exhibition curator, and former neighbour, Alan Warburton