Liverpool Biennial 2010: An Encounter with Culley at Leo Casino.

Leo Casino


"Hello. (cautiously) Are you a member?"
"No. I'm hear to see the exhibition."
"I'm sorry I don't know what you're talking about, sir."
"Oh. Um, it's in the leaflet. Let me find the leaflet."

I fumble about in my bag. It's the end of a long day trawling through the Biennial and I have many, many leaflets. No sign. I look again and find it hidden in the pages of my BBC Music Magazine special on The Great Composers.

I turn to the relevant side and give the red Independents leaflet to the receptionist-come-security guard. He scrutinises the entry at the bottom of the page.

"Oh, Derek Culley." I notice a pile of business cards on the counter.
"Right sir." He turns and opens a visitor book. "Can I ask you to sign this? And I also need to advise you of the fire assembly point, which is ..." He points to the end of the building as he explains.

I write my name in the visitor book. After my name, under all of the other entries which say "member" I put "visitor". I pause. What reason to give for visiting? "Art" I write quickly.

He thanks me. He tells me the paintings are upstairs, at which point I notice staircase, a tall windy affair that wouldn't have looked out of place on Titanic. I ask him about toilets. They're upstairs too.

Upstairs turns out to be the main casino room. Roulette and dice tables. I feel out of place, uneasy, especially in my jeans and black jumper with the sleeves that are too long for my arms. Danny Ocean always wore a suit. After taking a look at the gorgeous view of the Mersey from the massive window which fills one side of the building I seek out the paintings which are strewn on the cushioned surfaces of each of the other walls.

Derek Culley paints in an abstract style and in contrast with the setting his brush strokes and choice of colours are very deliberate, not by random chance. Most of the canvases are in bright fluorescent colours, though my favourite is a moodier piece in which a swirls of yellow bush stokes mask the shape of a tree trunk against a black background. It reminds me of a still from one of the 70s New York animations that Rolf could show as a special alternative to Warner Brothers on his cartoon club or as a buffer on Take Hart.

Before too long I feel like I'm outstaying my welcome; I'm not a member, after all. So I head down the stairs and through the lobby again then exit onto the Dock Road, stopping only to pick up a business card from the counter on the way out.

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