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Review: Arcadecardiff

(June 01, 2013)


Opening night for 'Paintings Now', by David Charles Williams. Photo Robert KennedyOpening night for Paintings Now, by Opening night for 'Paintings Now', by David Charles Williams. Photo Robert KennedyDavid Charles Williams Photo Robert Kennedy

Cardiff used to be know as the City of Arcades. It certainly has a large and diverse retail centre, including the beautiful Victorian arcades with their small shops and the larger mall style indoor streets - the Capitol, Queens Arcade, St David's and St David's 2.

You may have noticed a trend in recent years of living in the city, just as it was in Cardiff’s Victorian boon years. Redevelopments and new-builds have brought professional apartments, student flats and mini supermarkets to this shopper's paradise. You may also have noticed retail spaces doing some surprising things.

Professor André Stitt in front of Undeniable Truth, by David Charles Williams. Photo Robert KennedyProfessor André Stitt in front of Undeniable Truth, by David Charles Williams Photo Robert Kennedy


One of these was BigLittleCity: Cardiff, who held their Arcade Art winners exhibition in an empty retail space in Queens Arcade in 2011. Helping to get the exhibition up and running was Robert Kennedy - Liverpool native, local artist, sign writer, art cinema projectionist, Cardiff School of Art fine art graduate, sculptor, stone restorer and, as BigLittleCity's project leader Dan Green says, "thoroughly decent chap". Robert has built a vast circle of friends and colleagues in the art and artisan world. Meeting him is like hanging out with the mellower half of the Fab Four. You get a real sense that he knows everyone and could name drop like crazy. But all that impresses him is genuine artistic expression.

Arcadecardiff - Robert KennedyRobert Kennedy, then

He is passionate about enabling artists to create something they are not commissioned to do. This led him to set up Arcade Art (now Arcadecardiff), persuading Queens Arcade to let him take on the empty shop used for the exhibition indefinitely, and initially for free.

Arcadecardiff - Robert KennedyRobert Kennedy, now


Arcade Art opened in September 2011, as a six-week show, and has gone from strength to strength. Arcadecardiff now has two spaces on the ground floor of Queens Arcade and has enabled many artists to showcase their practice.

Arcadecardiff - Pothole Cardiff, Amber MottramPothole Cardiff, Amber Mottram, at Arcadecardiff

Arcadecardiff - Pothole Cardiff 2, Amber Mottram
Pothole Cardiff
(detail), Amber Mottram
Arcadecardiff - Pothole Cardiff 3, Amber Mottram
Pothole Cardiff
(detail), Amber Mottram

This venture is thoroughly artist led, a group have now joined Robert to form a Community Interest Company, so that they can secure the spaces for longer. It has never been about money, artists take on some financial costs and some funding has been secured. Mainly it runs on goodwill and generosity of artistic spirit. They have more approaches than they can accommodate but are still interested in hearing project proposals.

Robert also trained as a traditional sign painter at the hands of a local retiree; he has used this skill as a source of income and harnessed it to express himself through art. The first exhibit in the space was his signwriting-inspired artwork, created on glass with Humbrol enamel paint and pure gold leaf. This has also been seen at Chapter, Canton, Cardiff’s Art in the Bar gallery exhibition, and he had a piece in the Howard Garden’s gallery show, which ran until 16 May 2013.

Shoppers found themselves wandering in and many more shyly looked through the vast shop windows. From the very beginning, people who had never been to an art exhibition found themselves looking at art. Artists who have used the space to complete projects and show their work (known as shopped) have found new audiences, had frank feedback from the public and many have picked up paid work or other opportunities from the exposure.

For the general public, the space has been an ever-changing smorgasbord of delights:

Sara Rees' Democracy (created as part of the 2012 MadeinRoath festival), had volunteers wearing T-shirts with the word emblazoned on their chests and the shop signage, showing Democracy – closing down sale. Using the artspace in a closed shop to great benefit, the space became an interactive project, where shoppers were asked to discuss the concept of democracy and politics. This became very popular, even though many people were concerned that they were being given the hard sell at first. It left visitors talking about it for weeks to come and opened up some of the disenfranchised to politics for the first time;

Sara Rees Democracy 15 to 20-10-2012 Democracy, Sara Rees; exhibited at Arcadecardiff, October 2012


Freya Dooley traced the building and observed shoppers in spaces where they meandered and waited, showing her results in the space as a one off event; Mall Walkers. This examination of what it is to be human and of watching people is all part of her practice and, therefore, a perfect opportunity to have the observation and interaction come full circle in this project;

Freya Dooley 12-09-12 - 22-09-12Mall Walkers, Freya Dooley; exhibited at Arcadecardiff, September 2012


Ellie Young's Same Place/Different Time showed a mixture of her series of One Hour Portraits. Painted in the studio, it contrasted with drawings of people moving through the city, made on site at Queens Arcade and from the top floor of the Cardiff Central Library. Beautifully executed portraits of local artists and characters, shown alongside snatched depictions of the patterns made by people in public spaces;

Arcadecardiff - Ellie Young 02-08-12Same Place/Different Time, Ellie Young; exhibited at Arcadecardiff, August 2012


Unit 17 recently showed Nathan Wyburn's artwork, made out of edible substances. Nathan became famous by drawing Simon Cowell on Britain's Got Talent. A fellow graduate of Cardiff School of Art, Robert explains that Nathan is interested in the materiality of the substances. "He's really a sculptor" Robert says. Conceits and puns seem central to his communication. Jesus in chocolate sauce - pricking the conscience of those who have reduced Easter to a commercial chocoholics holiday. A portrait of Rupert Murdoch made up of portraits of Leveson Inquiry witnesses. Nathan showed his work for the charity Bullies Out and spent weeks in the space meeting the public and making new work. Nathan's website ( has much more of his work on show;

Arcadecardiff - Nathan Wyburn, Chocolate Jesus, 17-04-13Chocolate Jesus, Nathan Wyburn; exhibited at Arcadecardiff, April 2013


Pascal Michel-Dubois, showed his third solo show in Wales - NOW THAT IT’S OVER, WHERE WILL IT END? This was a real showcase of his work, punning with visuals and words, he showed projections, photographs and sculptures.

Come Again Another Day, Pascal Michel-DuboisCome Again Another Day, Pascal Michel-Dubois


More exciting work is to come. Sraunus, the travelling photography show that originated in Lithuania in 2010, held its UK première in May 2013 at Diffusion Festival in Arcadecardiff.

Genetic Moo transformed one shop unit into Microworld:Arcadia in May, as part of Diffusion 2013 (finishing 2 June 2013); a 'living' art space which will grow, transform and evolve in response to user activity.

Arcadecardiff - Microworld:ArcadiaMicroworld:Arcadia, by Genetic Moo

Microworld: Arcadia at Arcadecardiff; featuring the work of Genetic Moo, Tine Bech and Jockel Liess

Interacting with Genetic Moo's Shangrila Virus and Paul Granjon's Thingy at Microworld: Arcadia

Arcadecardiff has now secured a backstage space to allow artists to assemble works on site. To pitch a project for late summer onwards, contact the community group at

The project has been a joy for the artists involved and continues to amuse, bemuse, inspire and distract shoppers. Do pop your head in when you are passing. It will always be worth your while.

Jennifer Pearce, 1 June 2013

Queens Arcade
Queen Street

CF10 2BY

Facebook: ArcadeCardiff

Jennifer Pearce is the founder of Art Club and can be followed on Twitter

 If you liked this, you'll also enjoy:
     Review: Eight and a half Welsh comedians, December 2013
The Albany Gallery, Cardiff
, Christmas Exhibition, December 2013
John Gingell Award at g39
, September 2013
Response, Annie Giles Hobbs, June 2013
     Review: Arcadecardiff, June 2013

     Review: St David’s Hall exhibition space - Triad and Mount Analogue, January 2013
Review: St David’s Hall Christmas Exhibition, January 2013
     Taming the Drew? Graffiti as art,
September 2012
     Review: Nothing Like Something Happens Anywhere - Chapter Arts Centre, Canton, Cardiff, August 2012
     National Museum of Art, contemporary galleries, March 2012


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