Trust Board member and photographer Rob White spoke to the gallery’s founder and curator, Justin Hammond, to find out a little bit more about the project at the first exhibition – pithily entitled BALLS – which promised “twisted, manipulated, deformed football sculptures” when it opened on 23 July.
Justin Hammond: I run OOF with my partner Jennie and the art writer Eddy Frankel. It all started four years ago when Eddy visited my gallery in Archway and we ended up in the pub discussing his idea for an art and football magazine. It seemed to fit perfectly with a vague plan I had for an exhibition focusing on the dark underbelly of football.
I quickly offered to publish OOF, thinking it would be an interesting side project for the gallery, but as soon as Issue One started selling out, we all realised that OOF had the potential to be way more than just a niche publication. Since then, we've put out two issues each year and curated a series of OOF shows, including one during the 2018 World Cup where we transformed the gallery into a functioning pub and screened all the matches. We've also hosted an event at Tate Modern, released artist-designed football shirts with Umbro and staged an artworld five-a-side tournament.
OOF's now a full-time project and it feels surreal to drive to the stadium every day because I've been coming to Spurs as a fan for over 40 years. I remember Warmington House from when I was a Junior Spurs member in the early 1980s. Back then, I stood behind the goal in the Paxton before eventually graduating to the Shelf. By the end of the decade I was following Spurs all over the country, staying over in Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham to go clubbing after the game.
Eddy's also a massive Spurs fan and he's got a season ticket in the South Stand. Unfortunately, our shared passion costs us money every time we print a new issue of OOF because we insist on the dimensions of the magazine replicating the dimensions of the old White Hart Lane pitch. It's not a standard paper size, so it's expensive, incredibly stupid and ultimately pointless. But hey, that's the life of a football fan.
RW: When and how was the idea of a gallery at the stadium arrived at?
JH: We were actually looking for an empty shop in Tottenham, preferably on the High Road. The idea was to take over an old bookies or barbers and present something in a shop window that fans would walk past on matchdays. Someone mentioned that it might be worth speaking to the Club because they owned a number of buildings that were currently unoccupied. When we heard that Warmington House was a possibility, it blew our minds and we started drawing up our dream proposal for a world-class art gallery in N17. It's taken roughly a year to pull it all together.
RW: What was the response of the Club and how did it help?
JH: We had a meeting with one of the Directors, Simon Bamber, who was not just a Spurs obsessive, but also a knowledgeable art fan. Straight from the off, he totally understood our vision and he loved the idea of the art world's biggest names showing in Tottenham. We owe Simon a lot. Tragically, he passed away earlier this year and we want to honour him by setting up a studio residency programme in his name.
RW: Tell us a bit about your community engagement plans, and your exciting plans for an Artist in residence.
JH: The artist residency would provide a free studio space in Warmington House for, say, three months, during which time the artist would develop a new body of work in response to OOF Gallery, the stadium and the local area. Eddy and I would provide mentoring and arrange visits from collectors, curators and writers. If there's scope, we'd love to extend the project to include more studios, creating a real hub for artists.
On top of that, it's vital for us that we engage the local community. OOF Gallery is inclusive and open to everyone. There's no snobbery here. We've got plans to set up an outreach programme to make sure young people in Tottenham know that this is for them.
RW: What is the current exhibition about?
JH: It's called BALLS and it's a group show featuring sculptures inspired by the ubiquitous football. We've sourced artworks from collections around the world and commissioned some of the most exciting young artists in the UK to make brand new pieces. On one level, it's an incredibly simple and direct exhibition, but each work has a fascinating backstory and our staff are on hand to talk you through the show if you want to delve a bit deeper.
RW: Who out of the current Spurs squad do you think would produce the best artwork? And what do you think would be their medium?
JH: It’s got to be Bryan Gil. Let's face it, he looks like an 'A' level art student with big dreams of moving to London, enrolling at Goldsmiths and playing bass in a Slowdive tribute band. He's got notebooks full of drawings of melting clocks, floating eyes and clouds with faces.
'BALLS' runs until 21 November 2021.
Opening hours are: Thur-Sat 10-5, Sun 11-4, Mon 10-5.
Entrance is free
THST Board Member
28 July 2021