Coningsby Gallery


Imagine a Super8 film made by a group of teenage art college students on the outskirts of London in 1965: arsing around, doing little dances, smoking lots of fags, cramming into telephone boxes, that sort of malarkey.

1965, remember. These are avant-garde kids, the boys with hair over their ears, the girls in miniskirts, the camera a brand-new toy, the film stock put on the market by Kodak that very year to enable its users to get all Fellini, or Polanski, or Bergman or whatever.

Then imagine that one of the kids in the film was a shy, 18-year-old Freddie Mercury, newly arrived in the country after fleeing from a bloody coup in Zanzibar, wearing a white polo neck, and sporting an interesting Micky Dolenz-like haircut.

Well such a film exists, and it is the centrepiece of an exhibition at the Coningsby Gallery in Fitzrovia, by the adman-turned-artist Adrian Morrish, entitled Moving Images/Forever Still. Morrish, who part shot and part starred in it, is the tallest and best-looking of the bunch, the one the girls are clinging to, cigarette between lips, managing to keep a too-cool-for-school straight-face throughout.

He did the same art foundation course as Mercury at Isleworth Poly; they were in the same friend group, they later attended the same Blues gigs on Eel Pie Island, before going their separate ways around 1968, two years before Mercury formed Queen. Morrish thought only memories remained of their friendship, until the rediscovered the film – which he had previously never seen – in 2012.

Having retired from advertising, he has set himself up as an artist, and he’s used the film – which you can watch in its fifteen-minute entirety at the exhibition – as the basis of his first major work.

The Coningsby is a small, two-storey gallery just off Charlotte Street, and the walls of both floors are covered by eight large multi-panelled canvases onto which the film has been transposed, largely rendered monochrome, with added layers of black topography, red splodges, white arrows, and hastily-scrawled cropping marks, like gigantic photographic contact sheets.

I meet Morrish at the show’s private view (on Tuesday September 27), and he talks about the crossover between his work as a graphic artist and his work as a fine artist, about Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol and what the pop artists learnt from the ad industry, and vice-versa. About his friendship with Mercury, whose timidity disappeared when he hit the stage, as he did, for an example, in a student production put on the same year as the Super8 film was made, of Arnold Wesker’s The Kitchen (a photo of which is in the exhibition).

The show will be catnip to diehard Freddie Mercury fans, if they find out about it: it shows a vulnerable, not-fully-formed side of him I certainly never knew about. And it’s of sociological value, too: an insight into the art-school world on the cusp of the Summer of Love, the political turmoil of ’68, and Woodstock.

The artwork is interesting too, it must be said. Morrish was using state-of-the-art technology back in 1965, and he’s doing the same today, manipulating the images on his iPad, inkjet-printing them onto canvas, even inventing a jointing method (which he has patented) to piece together the component parts of each wall-sized image. It’s a kind of magic, I guess, but you’d better be quick: it closes on Saturday September 28.