Lever Gallery is a commercial art gallery devoted to handmade lifestyle illustration of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
At that time increased affluence, social mobility, the advent of mass media and free state education - including a proliferation of art schools - generated a perfect storm of opportunity for a brilliantly talented crop of commercial artists to thrive.
British culture, in particular, was propelled into the postmodern era by a group of young visual revolutionaries who transformed the face of art, fashion, film, television, advertising, newspapers and magazines, to define the look of a generation.
Although we didn’t know it then, this period was the heyday of print media in contemporary Western culture. For an all too brief period, prior to the ubiquity of photography, illustration of astonishing quality gloriously captured (or created?) the commercial and cultural aspirations of the time. The explosive growth of colour magazines and TV attracted a new breed of progressive, modernist art directors and designers who were instrumental in commissioning captivating illustration.
While the most in-demand illustrators of the time have distinct individual styles, collectively, they portray a time similar to Weiner’s Mad Men universe. Their work reflects an openness to new ideas and styles from Europe and the US.
Their use of consciously cinematic imagery, abstract application of colour and collage, and experimental composition were all new to commercial illustration.
The new was, however, married with demonstrably deft old-style draughtsmanship. Each hand drawn line and brushstroke, free of photoshop and other digital effects, is resonant of that other time and place.
Artists represented by the gallery include the masters of the form in the 60s - Michael Johnson, Renato Fratini, Pino Dell Orco, Walter Wyles.
Unlike in the US where acclaimed illustrators of this era have a loyal and sophisticated following, and where iconic works now command significant sums, lifestyle illustration is something of a forgotten art form in the UK. Indeed much of the original work is lost or has disappeared and surviving work is in urgent need of preserving. Many of the illustrators and art directors themselves are well into their 70s and 80s and Lever Gallery is on a mission to ensure they receive the recognition they deserve.
Ideally located where London’s centres of commerce meet culture, the gallery can be found on Goswell Street. Sitting on the fringes of the City in creative Clerkenwell, the buzzing tech hub around Old Street is a stone’s throw to the North, while some of London’s most vibrant cultural venues - the Barbican and Sadler’s Wells - are nearby.
The gallery was converted from an old bank branch into a bespoke exhibition/work space by RIBA award winning architect Pascal Madoc-Jones.