last chance

Pleasure Gardens

6 Jun 2024 – 29 Jun 2024

Regular hours

11:00 – 18:30
11:00 – 18:30
11:00 – 18:30
11:00 – 18:30
11:00 – 18:30

Free admission

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James Freeman Gallery

London, United Kingdom


Travel Information

  • 73, 38, 4, 43
  • Angel
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Exploring the legacy of pleasure gardens from a gay male perspective.


The Pleasure Gardens of 18th century London were a destination not just for entertainment but for social freedom – in 1732 Vauxhall Gardens saw the earliest verified public appearance of a gay man in London, John Cooper, better known as Princess Seraphina. The gardens’ roots, however, were much grittier: in his diaries of the 1660s Samuel Pepys describes them as a place of “boys doing tumbling tricks” and drunken visitors seeking sexual favours. This exhibition explores the legacy of pleasure gardens from a gay male perspective as spaces of social and sexual liberty through the work of four contemporary artists: Matt Smith, Guillermo Martin Bermejo, Stuart Sandford, and James Mortimer.

Matt Smith’s artworks reconfigure traditional aesthetic forms from a queer perspective to look at how accepted histories underpin social limitations. The two re-worked textiles here examine the eighteenth century love of pastoralism and its implicit sense of natural order. Geometric patterns embedded into bucolic scenes suggest how seemingly benign cultural narratives involve rigid rules of what is deemed acceptable. His black parian ceramics similarly rework neoclassical sculptural forms but undermine them with suggestive marine shapes, two disembodied spouts joined by a string of pearls oozing a seaside sauciness beneath the veneer of refined elegance.

Guillermo Martin Bermejo’s drawings describe a romantic inner world populated by remembered faces, often creatives or artists, whom Guillermo displaces into the mountains near his home north of Madrid. His scenes thus become become part fact, part fiction, glimpses of an inner realm that he draws onto pages rescued from old books as if bringing forgotten stories back to life. The group of drawings here all orbit around the theme of cruising, with romantic figures glimpsed in light-speckled glades, half-hidden in a forest. The natural space is here a place of enchantment, of anonymity, allure, and discovery.

Stuart Sandford’s sculptures look at the classical tradition of the ideal human form, reinterpreting it through the gay male gaze and contemporary 3D modelling. What was once a philosophical abstract, the ideal concept versus imperfect flesh, is in Stuart’s work articulated as a polished template 3D scanned and cast in bronze. The Wrestler/s here presents a naked man grappling with himself like a feature in a quintessential classical garden, channelling the raw energy and animal urges that natural spaces give rein to. Stuart’s painting ‘Self Portrait with Leo #1’ sees this aggression turn into lust, rendered in Polaroid flash-lit chiaroscuro.

James Mortimer’s paintings describe a natural world whose inhabitants are unrestricted by social convention or self-consciousness. His settings are idyllic, a subconscious world of raw unfettered instincts. In this bucolic land the inhabitants are driven by the twin urges of sex and violence, characteristics they share with the animals on equal terms. Dogs are savage; lambs slaughtered; horses on the point of being so. Amidst this the humans lounge in blissful oblivion, or fight amongst themselves as fires break out in the distance. The pleasure garden here is a dreamlike landscape, symbolic of untrammelled human nature.

Exhibiting artistsToggle

Guillermo Martin Bermejo

Matt Smith

Stuart Sandford

James Mortimer


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