Although it looks like an old traditional pub, apparently it is a relatively modern conversion of a former shop. If so, the transformation has been well done and The Reliance feels like it has been here for ever, not least because of the rickety wooden staircase that runs up the side of the building from the side door to the top floor which, unusually, houses one of London’s most interesting art galleries. When the current coronavirus crisis is over and we all re-examine lessons learnt about that might change the way that we do things in the future, art galleries and pubs will both be looking at the cost of physical premises with their high rental costs and business rates. Partnerships such as the one here may become more frequent, as already seen also not so far away at the Eagle Gallery in Farringdon Road and The Approach on the first floor above the pub of the same name in Approach Road in Bethnal Green.
There is something surreal about visiting a pub when it is closed and wandering through the empty bar spaces to reach Charlie Smith London at the top of The Reliance which, until the recent closures due to coronavirus across the UK, was host to Hugh Mendes and ‘Autorretrato: The Female Gaze’ with obituaries of well-known female artists such as Artemisia Gentileschi, Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun, Maria Lassnig, Agnes Martin and Freda Kahlo shown in the visual form of a paperback novel rather than the usual typewritten text in newspaper such as ‘The Times’, with the visual image of the artists in their own styles, a unique way of celebrating their lives which is derived on the deep research which Mendes carries out into each of his subjects and their art.
As with other art galleries, Charlie Smith has embraced the digital world for its next exhibition, until the world returns to some form of normality.