This walk is best experienced on the last Friday of every month, when the galleries of Deptford, Bermondsey and Peckham all band together to open late in celebration of the South London Art Map, or Slam! similar to east London’s Time Out’s First Thursdays.
If you start in the morning, you could begin at New Cross Gate station and pop in to a great coffee shop, London Particular (399 New Cross Rd), for an emboldening burst of caffeine. If you’re pushed for time, however, New Cross station is a more convenient place to start.
Turning left after the ticket barriers, you might think regeneration had come wholesale to this part of the south east, with the imposing Waldron Health Centre in warm woods and rusted steel – but this is a false dawn, as much of Deptford and New Cross has yet to feel the gentle glow of gentrification on its grimy little mush.
This down-at-heelness makes it all the better for artists, of course. So, if you stumble across a shop window full of dilapidated furniture on the high street that proclaims in large type that ‘We Sold a Chair to Damien Hirst’, it’s not an entrepreneurial office clearance company, but a witty project by students from Goldsmiths College across the road – just one of the local beneficiaries of shuttered businesses and cheap rents. Passing some allotments, you’ll arrive at another happy example of artistic repurposing in the Old Police Station (114 Amersham Vale), an atmospheric warren of studios and gallery spaces (including Kynaston McShine and Cartel Space’s outdoor shipping container). It hosts Slam’s Last Friday ‘Dirty Cop After Party’, where you can get a drink while standing at the original criminal booking desk. If you’ve had a few, just don’t go into the real police station next door asking to see the installations in the cells, or you may stay longer than you’d bargained for.
Take pedestrianised path Warwickshire Path, and wend your way through the estate while reenacting a chase sequence from ‘The Sweeney’ in your mind. Douglas Way is one entrance point to Deptford’s glorious Junk Market (Wednesday and Friday mornings) where you’ll find artists shopping for inspirational knick-knacks among the boxes of remote controls and dolls’ heads. Hang a left, stopping at Utrophia gallery (120 Deptford High St), and head under the railway bridge to Bearspace (152 Deptford High St), the headquarters of Slam (pick up one of their printed maps here) and an incubator for local art-school graduates.
Double back down Deptford High Street, taking in the Deptford Project‘s tube train-turned restaurant (121 Deptford High St) and the Deptford Lounge, a golden wonder of architecture commissioned by Lewisham Council (the word among the local traders is that it’s made of real gold). Take Reginald Road, or any other left, to reach Creekside where a cash ’n’ carry alcoshop sits cheekby- jowl with industrial lock-ups and more artists’ studios than you can shake a stick at as well as the charming Big Red pizza bus (30 Deptford Church St), a pleasant eatery and bar. There’s Art Hub on the left (5-9 Creekside) and APT (6 Creekside) on the right, which has the more reliable exhibitions and views out the back to the wilds of Deptford Creek, as well as Cockpit Arts (18-22 Creekside) further down the road, all of which have regular open studios so that you can wander in and purchase direct from the artists (the next one at Cockpit is June 22-24).
The final stop is not a gallery exactly, although it has been decorated with murals and light fixtures designed by famed ex-Goldsmiths teacher of the YBA generation, Michael Craig-Martin. It is the Laban Dance Centre, a shockingly brave piece of architecture for what at the time it was built was an almost completely unreconstructed area. Its crystalline form shimmers above the grassy knolls of the landscaping out front and against what Peter Ackroyd describes as the ‘muddy, melancholy banks’ and the ‘desolation of empty silent shipyards’ that remain of the surrounding historic royal docks. Inside, unlike all you’ve seen so far, is an oasis of space, light and calm. Ossian Ward