Yess lad – it’s not just the name of this exhibition, it’s also what you’ll be saying as you walk around it, because this show of neurodiverse and learning disabled artists who work with Manchester charity Venture Arts is fist-pumpingly, head-noddingly brilliant.
The title comes from a piece by Barry Anthony Finan, who writes stream of consciousness block letter improvised poetry on long scrolls of paper. ‘Yes lad’ is how his dad used to encourage him – ‘yes lad, you can do it’ – and it appears over and over again on the scrolls, alongside words like ‘everryday’, ‘lotssoffgoodmonney’, ‘iwillbeafriendtoyou’ and ‘iwillhellpyoudothatagainnandagainn’. It’s positive, life-affirming, relentless and has a great, bold aesthetic.
Along the walls opposite is a series of blue plaques by Horace Lindezey, each dedicated to a famous person who matters to him: Dennis Waterman, John Steed, Keith Chegwin, Barbara Windsor (‘she slapped Pat Butcher across the face. Pat told her to behave herself’). It’s a lovely act of cultural celebration, a visual diary of actors and musicians and the way they can shape your life.
It’s positive, life-affirming, relentless
Around the corner is Leslie Thompson’s wall of toys still in their packaging. There’s Mr. T, Burt Reynolds, a rhino, the artist’s brother, all rendered in bright clashing colours like characters from the Yellow Submarine. It’s another act of devotion and celebration, the artist presenting the people he admires and loves, elevating them to the status of collectable comic book heroes.
And then there's Dominic Bennett’s army of terracotta weasels who come crashing out of the wall, here to defeat who he calls Mr Toad, and who the rest of us know as Boris Johnson. It’s funny, chaotic, critical. It’s great.
There's abstract painting by Ahmed Mohammed and Violet Elmsley, little bursts of colour by Jennie Franklin, wistful photos by Terry Williams. Bold lettering, pop culture references, political critique – this could be any 2022 group exhibition. The difference is that these artists aren;’t doing it to make money, or carve out a career in the art world, they’re doing it because they want to. No other reason. And that makes it feel really powerful, really special.
And it doesn’t matter that these artists are learning disabled or neurodiverse, because what they’ve made eclipses the everyday: this is just fantastic contemporary art, filled with fun and love and humour. Is this one of the best, most joyful exhibitions in London right now? Yess, lad, it is.