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Shop Local: Hoxton Fruit and Veg

Bob & Roberta Smith

Evelyn Walk
London N1 7PE
Tube Old Street

In many ways, Hoxton Street is the backbone of Shoreditch. Looking at a map of the area, the street runs straight down the middle, curving slightly at its top end, just like the spine. It has been a centre for trading since the Hoxton Street Market was first set up in 1850, when it was home to a daily market of over 200 stalls, selling a wide range of goods from fruit and veg to clothing, ironmongery, pots, toys and plants. It’s still the centre of a community today, and is a familiar place for many Shoreditch locals who shop, eat and drink on the Street. This August, and for the next 12 months, Hoxton Street’s unique character will be celebrated by Shop Local, a special project by the artist Bob and Roberta Smith and commissioned by the independent arts organisation Peer, located at 99 Hoxton Street. Bob and Roberta Smith will collaborate with five small businesses along Hoxton Street. This project is inspired by the advertising signs painted in the area during the 19th century and is a tribute to the local businesses that maintain their individuality in the face of an economy that is increasingly dominated by mega-corporations and usually offers a homogenised shopping experience. Bob and Roberta Smith’s bespoke advertisements for the Hoxton Street businesses will be installed at five different locations around Shoreditch.

Sign painting is central to Bob and Roberta Smith’s artistic practice and his works usually bear humorous mock-radical slogans in lettering hand-painted on found bits of wood or board. For Shop Local, Bob and Roberta Smith have created monumental signs advertising well-known Hoxton Street businesses Hoxton Fruit and Veg, Hoxton Electrovision, Ron’s Eel and Shellfish van, Discoveries bric-a-brac shop and Dad’s Unisex Hair Salon. Bob and Roberta Smith’s work has an extraordinary capacity to go beyond the intentions of the artist and to acquire a life of its own. Often his work invites or provokes a response from the audience, or as in the title of his recent book Make Your Own Damn Art, playfully commands the viewer to participate in the creative process. His work is frequently critical of the political status quo of the art world or the world at large, but his criticism is not simply negative, and it has a built-in element of productivity. The signs speak for themselves in a strong and eccentric voice, proposing a topsy-turvy world with slogans such as HOLES ARE THE NEW HILLS, GM FOOD PUTS HAIRS ON YOUR CHEST, FARMERS ARE THE NEW MINERS. Audiences are encouraged to take part in whatever harebrained scheme the artist has concocted. Previous projects have adopted a faux-democratic slant, with the artist inviting groups of gallery-goers to suggest slogans for the artist to paint, talk about potatoes, make plaster casts of vegetables and objects, and paint objects orange among other activities.

With Shop Local, the artist invites us to do two things: shop at our local businesses and explore the Shoreditch area to see his work and look out for the faded signs from a bygone era, which were the inspiration for the project. Here is a suggested route that will take you through the shopping wonders of Hoxton Street, and on a route that takes in a selection of these antique signs and Bob and Roberta’s brand new advertisements for today’s Hoxton Street businesses.

Shop Local Walk

Start at Peer, 99 Hoxton Street. Next door to Peer is the Post Office, whose side wall bears Bob’s sign for Hoxton Electrovision. Looking north along the right hand side of Hoxton Street, and on the side of Hoxton Works you’ll see the sign for Dad’s Unisex Hair Salon. Keep going up Hoxton Street and take a left at Ivy Street, where you’ll see the third sign, for Discoveries bric-a-brac shop along the side of Burbage Primary School. Carry on until you reach New North Road and cross over a bit further into Murray Grove and then Evelyn Walk, where a massive sign on the old tram shed has been made for Hoxton Fruit and Veg. Then cut back, through Shoreditch Park and along Bridport Place to the bridge over the Grand Union Canal. Here you’ll find a bit of history in the old painted signs for the London Fancy Box Company (formerly located on City Road) across the water from Thomas Briggs’s tent factory, suppliers of tents to the British Army. Head down Shepperton Road until you see the elegant painted sign for Warings Wilton Factories, painted on the side of numbers 83-87. In 1896, Wilton Works comprised a large plot of land between Shepperton Road and the Canal. In fact, the entire canal area was home to numerous wharves and industrial works, trading in stone, timber and other building materials. Turn around and head back to the Canal towpath heading east. Pass under four bridges and you’ll find the final sign by Bob and Roberta Smith for Ron’s Eel and Shellfish van. The last place to see a faded sign from days gone by is just outside the Geffrye Museum on Kingsland Road. It advertises Blooms Pianos Perfection of Kingsland Road, and a small painted hand on the lower right side points around the corner to where the shop must have been, one of 14 piano manufacturers and one piano warehouse based in Hackney in the late 19th century. This is just one of the old faded signs that have witnessed the radical changes that Shoreditch has undergone over the past 150 years. They offer a glimpse into Shoreditch’s trading past, which is illuminated by Bob and Roberta Smith’s new work, celebrating the diversity and vibrancy of the area today.

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