By Chris Finnigan
If you head towards Pedralbes and turn up a narrow side street with thin trees and laundry drying from the balconies above, you’ll come across an art gallery called Punto Apart. This is the city’s moneyed area and if you survive dodging the swarm of four-by-fours, half-way down this street, between the hours of eleven and two and then four and six, there is a group of Parisians sitting on a table in the middle of an exhibition space that is indistinguishable from an itinerant’s front-room: Welcome to Pete Doherty’s Barcelona exhibition, also known as Flag from the old Regime.
Following two albums with the Libertines, another two with Babyshambles and a few solo releases along the way the singer-songwriter is now showcasing his art for the first time in Spain. (If you’d like to read further afield, have a look at this article published in The Guardian some two years ago that talks about his notoriety, heroin addiction, military family background and efforts to become a filmmaker).
Walk in and familiarize yourself with a man who fled to Paris in 2008 after being “banned” from London and has been dreaming about home every since. The nostalgia isn’t confined to the near-past but stretches back to pre-1945 Britain: rusting tobacco cases, dented shoe polish tins, and vintage typewriters, one of them an impressive black Underwood. A few faded British flags lay slump over the ex-Libertine’s guitar cases. Move around the table in the centre and you’ll find a stack of old records on the floor and what appears to be a broken grammar phone. Look up and you’ll remember there are quite a few paintings and sketches too, all of which are for sale. A canvas that uses Doherty’s blood will however set you back an extra €1,000. (A substance when dry that’s indistinguishable from another, not so pleasant bodily fluid.) The exhibition extends to the first floor where lightly penciled outlines of figures, some with short, typed poems are on show. On the stairs there’s a rather striking drawing of George Orwell with a reference to his book Homage to Catalonia. An image the curator informed me was made only a few days ago. As I walked up the stairs a mother in a flowery dress with her newly born baby stepped in pushing a buggy, completed a swift lap of the first table and exited.
Dreamlike figures of inwardness and despair concerned with national identity characterize this oddly conservative (with a small c) exhibition. It’s on for another three weeks (until May 31st) and is reminiscent of Barcelona’s permanent Artist-in-Residence – the late Antoni Tàpies – who was fond of abstract images and suspiciously gross substances, too.
While the singer’s painting credentials are yet to be confirmed in the art world, his skill with the pen is well established, and the best pieces include short poems stuck somewhere on them. The exhibition is in a pretty incongruous setting, however there’s something that tells me that those who live in downtown Barna and make the journey towards Sant Cugat, will mostly likely not regret it and might just meet an enthused English teacher who popped by on their way home from teaching rich kiddos whose parents drive those 4x4s.