Jewel Goodby is in awe of Terry. “He wants to run his own airline,” she announces with pride, gesticulating excitedly in front of the six-foot life-size metal portrait of the 17-year-old by Matt Small, one of the artists on her roster at the Moniker Art Fair in Chelsea. But Goodby is unimpressed that not many collectors see the stoicism and potential in Terry that she worships. In a art world fuelled by trends and the next big thing, Small’s subjects of teenage male black youth do not represent a bankable investment.
She laments the cynicism hanging around this demography like dark clouds as she gazes into the portrait that has been the centrepiece of her gallery and her world for some time. “Can you see the iconography?” she queries, as she traces an imaginary arch around Terry’s head with her fingers. She indicates “a crown”, in the form of brass diamond tiles that forms a celestial glow around his head.
Goodby, who co-founded the West London Art Factory with her husband has long been on a mission to remove the stigma associated with male black youth in the capital and can’t help herself telling the world about Terry’s quest to become a highflying airline mogul. She once penned a heartfelt message on Instagram at the height of the knife crime epidemic in London which struck a chord with many. “Let’s start to pay attention to the radiant young ones that are nothing but inspirations and are changing the world. There’s a lot of them around you. Just reach out and give them a chance to blossom,” she pleaded.
Oh, and there’s Abdi, another black teenager with a piercing stare, oozing cool self-confidence, one of Small’s magnetic portraits constructed out of scrap metal and iron fragments. An accomplished portrait artist, Small who has been nominated for the BP portrait awards, has entered a more grounded phase in his career and a change in direction with his uncompromising subjects.
Jamal Edwards, millionaire entrepreneur and founder of the SB.TV Grime music channel is his latest commission, currently taking shape, metal scrap by metal scrap, at the Bollo Brook Youth Centre, Edwards’ old stomping ground in Acton, west London. Goodby tells WLT: “This is going to blow people’s minds.” It is difficult to argue otherwise, if Edwards’ story does not resonate with the art or real world then nothing else will. Once completed, with metal flotsam and jetsam collected by local schoolchildren, the finished work, a second instalment in a public arts project, Acton Unframed, will be installed on a prominent wall in the town centre to inspire young and old. An irony in itself, discarded metal junk recomposed to form something of immense beauty.
Edwards, an only son, grew up on an estate with his mother Brenda and stepfather. He went to school in south Acton which was a rough part of the neighbourhood, but had that self belief and confidence in spades, a trait which all Small’s subjects seem to possess. At 18 he began producing YouTube videos of local Grime artists and his channel soon became the bellwether for musicians on their way to stardom discovering global stars like Ed Sheeran. The rest is history.