Contemporary artist and painter Marcus Aitken, recently named as one of Saatchi Arts’s top 20 artists to watch in 2020, calls South London his home. From cool contemporary art spaces to vintage markets, Aitken speaks to Charlotte Peet about his life and work, and offers his tips for the best spots to explore in South London.
Marcus Aitken is a South-London based contemporary artist, painter, musician and design enthusiast, living and working in Tulse Hill. He may not be a London native but he maintains that his heart, spirit and inspirations are here. He grew up on Portugal’s Algarve coast, but is no newcomer to London’s artistic scene, having spent the latter half of his adult life in South London’s creative corners.
Much as Aitken’s creative process has evolved and blossomed over the years, so has his love for this complex city. “When I first came to London I didn’t get it, I thought, what’s all the hype about? It’s a city that I think takes time to understand and I’m still figuring it out, but I love it.” It’s the close-knit community of South London that Aitken values the most, where he feels his home offers him the freedom to pursue his creativity and fully express himself.
Aitken cites one of the city’s many beautiful parks as a favourite retreat. “Crystal Palace Park is my favourite park in London, largely due to it having so much to offer.” Aitken says. “The dinosaurs [pictured above] are actually listed as Grade II buildings now and have their own conservation team.” He continues, “People always say ‘It’s a great place to take your kids’, but it’s awesome for adults too! If you grew up watching Jurassic Park, you’ll feel nostalgic when you see them up close.”
Mere footsteps from Marcus’s home in Crystal Palace is Haynes Lane Market, just a short bus ride away from Crystal Palace bus station. “It’s full to the brim with everything you can imagine: vintage toys, antiques, furniture, clothes, records… Everyone selling has been there for years and it’s a unique collection of things,” Aitken says. This is the kind of place where you can grab a unique item that you can treasure for years. “While you are there, the market continues outside with local food sellers offering all sorts of goodies.”
While the weather can often be a bit temperamental in England’s capital city, there is no shortage of museums to visit. The Horniman is one of Aitken’s favourites. “If you don’t like taxidermy, don’t go… no. But they have it all here – musical instruments through the ages, an aquarium, live bees, a farm, beautiful gardens and not to mention a weekend market. You’ll never get bored.”
Speaking of never getting bored, if you happen to be in South London and are heading to a party (as a side hobby, Aitken is renowned for hosting some of the best fancy dress parties in town) then Prangsta is your place. “Everything is bespoke, appointment-only, but sometimes they accept walk-ins.”
Head north-west from Prangsta and you’re just a short walk from Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Arts. “This place is one of the hottest new gallery spaces in London,” Aitken says. “If I’m in need of some fresh inspiration for my work, then this is where I naturally head. I went to Mika Rottenberg’s gallery opening show there, which was brilliant, and have been to every show since – always different and always interesting.”
London is riding a new wave of sustainability in which vintage is king. Aitken explains, “Vintage goods have become very popular in recent years, from clothing to furniture, and I’m often shocked at what people are selling these items for.” Letting us into a little secret, he explains that you can find great gems for next to nothing at Deptford Market. “Oh, and whilst you’re there, check out Deptford Cinema, which is community-run. If you’re lucky, you might catch an art show or live-music performance there, too.”