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Cosmo Chancer speaks!

To mark the publication of his new book, Cosmo Chancer – chief curator and artist-in-residence of the Penge Sculpture Trail – talks to Colossive Press…

Colossive Press (CP): Judging by the amount of sculptures around Penge, you’re obviously a very busy man. Thanks for taking time out to talk to us today, Cosmo.

Cosmo Chancer (CC): No worries. I managed to move a few things around for you guys. And my tea won’t be ready until after Coronation Street.

CP: Great. We know you address a little about this in your introduction to the book – but can you tell us how you first became involved with the Penge Sculpture Trail?

CC: Sure. I saw an ad in the News Shopper asking for someone who had experience of rubbish clearance and/or public art. It turned out the ad had been placed by Sir Toby Carvery, who’s Chair of the Penge Chamber of Commerce and Street-Cleaning. He’s also an old friend of my dad’s, as it happens.

Anyway, Sir Toby was looking for someone to do something about the plethora of natural raw materials found on the streets of Penge – mattresses, fridges, shopping trolleys and so forth. I think he was initially looking for someone with a van who’d take stuff away and chuck it on a layby in the middle of the night, no questions asked. But he was also open to ideas. So that’s when I mooted the concept of a Sculpture Trail. And it all took off from there.

CP: Can you talk us through your artistic process?

CC: My work centres around ‘found objects’. It’s about repurposing and reappropriating things that are already there, rather than – you know – going to the untold hassles of creating something new and original.

CP: A bit like Duchamp did with his urinal then?

CC: Sorry. What?

No. I haven’t actually worked with any urinals – yet – but I have incorporated a lot of discarded toilets into my work. There are one or two in the book, in fact. But I’ve also tried to think beyond the obvious and expand the original brief to include other bits and pieces I’ve spotted around Penge.

CP: Ah yes, the half-eaten pork pie on the top deck of the 194 bus is one of our favourites…

CC: Mine, too. It’s wonderful when something just drops in your lap like that. I’ve also done quite a bit of work with traffic cones. Anything can become a work of art if you just look at it for long enough with your head tilted in a certain way.

CP: Quite. There’s also a thriving street art scene in Penge. Have you ever thought about joining forces?

CC: Absolutely not! Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got the utmost respect for those guys. But they put an awful lot of thought and effort into what they do. And that’s really not what I’m about. Their aim is partly to make the streets look better. Mine is to keep the streets looking exactly the same, but different. You get me?

CP: How has the Covid-19 lockdown affected your work?

CC: Mate, it’s been absolutely mental. With everyone stuck at home and the council tip reopening by appointment only, the streets have been heaving with raw materials. Every time I step outside, there’s a new ‘found object’ waiting to receive my magic touch.

CP: It’s amazing that you found time to produce this book. Speaking of which, do you want to tell us a little about it?

CC: Yeah, it’s basically yours truly talking the punters through some of my most celebrated works from the first three years of the Penge Sculpture Trail. There’s a lot of stuff people may not already know – behind-the-scenes anecdotes, local folklore, thought-provoking creative insights, that kind of thing… There are some lovely full-colour photographs and it’s also got a foreword by Sir Toby Carvery.

CP: Finally, Cosmo, do you have a favourite work on the Penge Sculpture Trail?

CC: Oh no! I knew you’d ask me that, and it’s really, really difficult to choose…

CP: It must be a bit like Sophie’s choice…

CC: What? Which of my works did Sophie choose? I bet she loved the stuff with mattresses.

Really, though, I’d have to say that my favourite work is always my next one. Yes, the stuff I’ve done today may be completely out-of-this-world – but just wait until you see what’s coming up tomorrow. The thing about the Penge Sculpture Trail is that there’s always something amazing just around the corner…

Cosmo Chancer’s Penge Sculpture Trail is available now, price £6.

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More Things My Dad Saw – and how they’ve helped us through lockdown

More Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning)

It’s been nearly a year in the making. After all, it takes a while to sift through 10,000 photographs. But More Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning) is finally here. This is the second collection of Dad’s bizarre and baffling London street photography. And it’s even bigger – and a little bit brighter – than the first.

More Things My Dad Saw: On Your Bike

Like most people, we’ve been trying desperately to look on the bright side of life over recent weeks. And if the global pandemic hadn’t pretty much put us under house arrest, chances are I still wouldn’t have finished going through Dad’s albums. On balance, of course, I’d definitely prefer that to be the case. But it’s also true that – three years after his death – Dad’s been helping us get through the uncertainty, upset and boredom of lockdown.

More Things My Dad Saw: Parade

The photographs he took on his London wanderings have kept us entertained and intrigued as we made the final selection for the book. They’ve also helped us feel connected to the city we love while we haven’t been able to get out there and enjoy it properly for ourselves. There are some sadder shots among them – but on the whole, Dad’s pictures show the capital at its very best. It’s loud. It’s crowded. It’s colourful. And it’s the best place in the world.

All profits from both books go to St Christopher’s hospice.

Buy More Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning) for £6.

Or buy both Things My Dad Saw and More Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning) for just £10.

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Penge street art – a blog post about a blog post

Raven by Airborne Mark

Having lured you into the Colossive blog, I’m going to send you straight out again – to a guest post I wrote for Differentville, my friend Helen’s travel blog.

This post seems to have encouraged another flurry of interest in How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While), with more book sales meaning more much-needed money for St Christopher’s hospice. Every little helps!

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St Christopher’s hospice: we’re upping our fundraising efforts

Our books and zine for St Christopher's and Age UK
Look, I know we could all do without yet more misery at the moment, but please hear me out… Due to you-know-what (I can’t even bear to type its name), our local hospice – St Christopher’s – has had to cancel all the vital fundraising events that were planned for the spring and summer.

It’s 25 years today since my wonderful, irreplaceable mum died – with Dad, Tom and I at her side – at St Christopher’s. And three years ago today, we were having one of the worst days ever at home with Dad, who was suffering severe symptoms stemming from his cancer and a recent hospital-acquired infection. Frankly, it was unbearable.

And then St Christopher’s came to our rescue. Later that week, Dad was admitted to the inpatient unit in Sydenham for symptom control and to give Tom and me a rest. By the weekend, he had perked up considerably and we were able to take him out from the hospice to look at the amazing street art that had started to pop up in Penge.

If you’ve read How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While), you know the rest. Yes, Dad’s love of graffiti and street art gave him (and us) focus and meaning at a time when our world was otherwise falling apart. But it was the invaluable support and care we received from St Christopher’s that really made those final few weeks as smooth and bearable as they possibly could be.

Our family owe St Christopher’s a huge debt, which we’ve been trying to repay in some small way by donating all the profits from How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While) and Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning). As you may know, we’ve now raised more than £2,500, with a little help from our friends. Oh, and I should add that the idea for the graffiti book really came to life during bereavement counselling sessions I received via the hospice.

I’ve also just written a little zine – Send Me A Sign – which is about Mum’s messages from beyond the grave (possibly). It’s only £2, but we’ll be donating all the profits from that to the hospice, too. And we’re already giving half of the profits from Nan to Age UK – but we’ll now give the other half to St Christopher’s.

I realise everyone’s watching their pennies at the moment. And there are lots of other worthy charities across the UK who are feeling the pinch and equally deserving of our support. But, you know, if you’re in the market for a book or zine while you self-isolate/try to ignore the news… Every little helps.

PS Please also take a look at Victoria Sellar’s beautiful photozines – 3:52AM and Anything With A Face. All proceeds from both go to the amazing Maggie’s Centres, who provide free cancer support and care.

PPS On behalf of Mum, who is doubtless rolling her eyes at me in the afterlife, I would just like to say that – unlike everything else I’ve written for Colossive – my next zine will NOT include any mention of her dying. After all, she did lots of other things, too. And out of everything she did, the bit where she died was definitely my least favourite…

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Nan – the ‘lost’ photographs

Isn’t it always the way? When I was compiling Nan at the end of last year, I was convinced I’d once seen some photographs of Nan as a little girl. But try as I might – and God knows I tried – I couldn’t find these pictures anywhere.

And then a few days ago – when I was, naturally, searching high and low for something else of great importance – I stumbled across a grey cardboard folder containing around 30 assorted family photographs from way-back-when. (I think Dad assembled this little collection when he was going through his ‘genealogy phase’ in the late 1990s.)

Anyway, here’s the aforementioned picture of Nan when she was about three or four years old, I think…

Nan as a little girl

This would have been taken soon after the rapid change of fortunes that saw her mum, Gertrude, marry Bill – the man Nan came to call ‘Dad’.

And here’s Granddad (fourth from right, with his tin hat at a jaunty angle) and his fellow air raid wardens in Dulwich during World War II…

Granddad and the air raid wardens

I was also very pleased to find this picture of Granddad (back row, left) with his parents and siblings in around 1920…

Dyck family

Aunty Jimmy is missing from the line-up for some reason. Perhaps she was making the tea. But that’s Aunty Pussy striking a pose with a kitten in her arms in the foreground. I’m wondering now whether Aunty Pussy’s rather ‘unusual’ name was due to her love of cats. It’s a much nicer theory than some I’ve come up with over the years.

And finally, here’s Nan circa 1980 – continuing the family’s love of wearing off-kilter headgear…

Queen Nan

The crown was mine, by the way. But I didn’t mind lending it to genuine royalty…

To find out more about Nan, Granddad and Aunty Pussy (but mainly me and Nan), buy Nan for £6 plus postage; half of all profits will go to Age UK

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Penge street art tour adds £258.90 to our hospice fundraising

Airborne Mark's Raven
Penge Street Art Tour reaches Airborne Mark’s ‘Raven’, in memory of Dad


Anyone who’s read How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life will already know how much the early days of London Calling Blog’s SprayExhibition 20 project in Penge helped us through the final few months of Dad’s life. Even when he was an inpatient at St Christopher’s hospice, Dad insisted on going out to photograph the new works that were starting to pop up in the area.

Three years on, it’s testament to the hard work and tenacity of Steve at London Calling Blog – as well as the huge talent of the many street artists he’s lured to SE20 – that Penge now boasts an incredible open-air gallery to rival any other urban art hotspot in the world. And that’s why yesterday’s Penge street art tour, in memory of Dad – a Sunday stroll around most (but not all) of the walls – lasted a whopping six-and-a-half hours.

Steve and project volunteer John gave up their time to lead the walk – while Airborne Mark made an early start on Maple Road, painting yet another brilliant piece for Penge. Despite it being a typically cold and miserable end-of-January day, there was a huge turnout. Admittedly, some people did have to go home for lunch and/or a lie-down three or four hours into the walk – but there were still around 20 hardy souls who stayed right to the end!

It was great to meet so many people who share our enthusiasm and passion for street art – among them the lovely Lindsay, who made the winning bid in our recent TRUST.iCON print auction for St Christopher’s.

Thanks to everybody’s generosity, the event raised £258.90 from donations and book sales for the hospice. That brings our running total up to £2,486.70 – and there’ll be more money on the way very soon. A massive thank you from the bottom of our hearts to Steve, John, Mark and everyone involved with the project.

And thank you Penge. (Shoreditch is so last decade.)

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Why I wrote Nan

Nan coverIt’s just over 24 years since Nan died – so why suddenly write a little book about her now?

I read somewhere that most people are ‘forgotten’ within three or four generations. We hand down stories about our parents and grandparents – but beyond that, things tend to get a little hazy. I never met my great-grandmother, Gertrude – we missed one another by just over a year – but thanks mainly to Mum and Nan, I’ve been armed with enough colourful anecdotes and black and white photographs to form a vague picture of the kind of person she was. But that’s all it is: vague.

Nan, however, lives large in my mind. I don’t think a day has passed when I haven’t looked at her photograph, said her name out loud or at least thought of her. I can still hear her voice. And if I close my eyes and focus, I can feel her hand in mine. I miss her terribly.

I don’t want Nan’s memory to fade away to nothing. But Tom and I don’t have any children. We’re the last of the line in both our families. There’s nobody obvious to pass these stories on to. In the main, this doesn’t worry me. I can’t grieve for people who never existed. It’s exhausting enough grieving for the ones who actually did. And yet…

It’s hit me harder over the past two-and-a-half years since Dad died. The family home where I grew up – an end-of-terrace house with Nan’s little flat on the side – is finally empty, and Tom and I have been tackling the gargantuan task of clearing out everything my family ever owned. The clothes, the crockery, the furniture, the toys, the ornaments, the plethora of vintage sporting equipment: most of them are easy enough to part with. But what about all the photographs, the letters and the other little mementos that somehow clung on through time?

Some people would have just chucked them all in a skip. And I know that’s what will happen eventually – but not on my watch! They’ve helped me through the grieving process, to revisit the happy and not-so-happy days of the past and to tell the story of my Nan, and my relationship with her.

Nan was my ‘third parent’. I was so lucky to have her – particularly when my other two parents were pretty special, too. She spent her entire life looking after other people and never wanting anything more than what she already had. I wish I could be more like her.

So in short, I wrote Nan because I wanted to share her story. I didn’t want her to be forgotten. I wanted somewhere to store all these anecdotes and memories. I really hope you enjoy it…

Buy Nan for £6 plus postage; half of all profits will go to Age UK.

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Bid for this Trust.iCon print and help the hospice

The Dark Side Trust i.Con

We’re very excited to announce that we’ll be auctioning The Dark Side – a limited-edition silkscreen print by street artist Trust.iCon – to raise funds for St Christopher’s hospice, in memory of Gordon Gibbens  (or ‘Dad’, as I prefer to call him). Make your bid here.

When we published How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While), we were overwhelmed by the response from the graffiti and street art community – many of whom had got to know Dad over the years, and had grown accustomed to him popping up behind them with his camera when they were working on a wall.

Trust.iCon had never met Dad. But when he found out about the book from Steve at London Calling Blog, he immediately bought four copies and posted about it on Instagram, generating lots more sales and more much-needed funds for the hospice. And then he went a step further and sent us this amazing print (plus a couple more – so watch this space)…

We’re hugely grateful to Trust.iCon for this truly amazing gesture. And we know Dad would be so pleased and proud, too – although, like us, he’d be hugely tempted to keep the print for himself!

As I mentioned in the book, we made a special trip to Queen’s Park on Christmas Eve 2016 so that Dad could take a picture of a new piece by Trust.iCon that had popped up next to the station. It took us about two-and-a-half hours to get there by train and bus. And we only got the shot after a florist agreed to dismantle his stall, which had been obscuring the work.

That wasn’t our only stop that day, though. We then headed for Latimer Road to see another new work by Trust.iCon that Dad was desperate to photograph…

(Dad was happier about it than his expression in this picture would suggest – honestly!)

Nearly three years on, and – thanks to London Calling Blog’s SprayExhibition20 project – Trust.iCon is now a regular visitor to Penge, where Tom and I live. There’s a Snoopy-based work on a garden wall just round the corner from Colossive Towers, and this Trump-meets-Lucy masterpiece from earlier in the year has become a firm favourite with everyone…

So even if you live miles away – Queen’s Park or Latimer Road, for instance – and it’s a bit of an effort to get to Penge on a freezing cold winter’s day, it’s well worth coming to see…

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Things My Dad Saw (That Didn’t Make The Book)


After Mum died in March 1995, Dad never went back to his job in a sports shop. He was heartbroken, exhausted and not *that* far off retirement age anyway. Instead, he began to spend more and more time out with his camera in London – taking countless photographs of the city he knew and loved. But he didn’t always think to mention where he’d been and what he’d seen. And I didn’t always think to ask…

Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning) is a – sort of – prequel to How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While). It’s a collection of Dad’s London street photography – Stop the War marches, performing budgies, naked bike rides and more – dating from the late 1990s to around 2012.

In compiling this book, I was once again faced with a huge challenge: which pictures to use from the many, many albums and memory cards Dad left behind?

Picture quality was a major consideration. Not all the negatives from the pre-digital shots survived and many of the A5 scans just weren’t good enough to make the final cut – which is why this one of the Royal Family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace ended up in the ‘overs’ pile…
Royals on balcony

There were also lots of pictures of celebrities: Gordon Ramsay running the London Marathon; Dawn French strolling through Trafalgar Square; and a delightful close-up of Rolf Harris at an art fair, taken back when he was a much-loved family entertainer and adopted national treasure, rather than… well… you know…

Quick! Let’s change the subject – here’s that nice Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet…

Tony Hadley

Oh, and here’s another picture that didn’t make the book: writer and broadcaster Robert Elms interviewing a giant hamster…

Now, that’s something you don’t see every day.

All profits from Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning) are going to St Christopher’s Hospice. Price £5, you can buy a copy online; at the hospice reception in Sydenham; at next week’s DIY Space for London Zine Fair in Peckham; or at the Northwest Zinefest in Manchester at the end of July.

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Four new pages added to How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life…

After a flurry of surprise sales at London Calling Blog‘s Penge street art tour earlier this month, we had to order another print run of How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While).

So I took the opportunity to add a four-page postscript with a couple of new images: Roo‘s lovely wall from the Anything’s Better Than A Blank Wall paint jam, which was dedicated to Dad, earlier in the year; and Airborne Mark‘s beautiful Raven, a tribute wall to Dad, just round the corner from our house. Both of these were organised by the tireless Steve at London Calling Blog.

Raven by Airborne Mark

When I was first compiling the book, I tried to include as many works as possible from Dad’s favourite artists. But I had 33,000 images to choose from – and that’s just the ones he’d put on Flickr! (I’ve since found hundreds more that were just in albums.) Inevitably, there were a few glaring omissions in that first edition. I would list some of the more obvious names here – but I know I’d end up forgetting someone important again.

I will say, however, that Roo was among those omissions. Dad was always pleased to see her, and she’d happily stop work to talk to him. We took him to see her brilliant work in Tower Hamlets Cemetery a couple of months before he died. So I’m very pleased she’s in this new edition.

Roo

Hopefully, I’ll be able to squeeze a few more artists into the next print run – and eventually I can rest easy, knowing everyone’s in there. I wonder if the world is ready for a 33,000-page book, though…