Art collective Inkygoodness opened their first London exhibition last week in memorable style with the usual drinks, chat and photo opportunities extended to include what looked like a space hopper race down Brick Lane. Brought together by the charming and energetic Lisa Hassell, Inkygoodness Creative Director, Play features the work of 38 up and coming artists, designers and illustrators. This translates into an awful lot of ideas and variety rammed into the compact East Gallery – art floor to ceiling and then some.

Given that any verb used as a command always reduces me to sulky immobility I think these artists’ responses to being told to play strike just about the right balance between responding to a theme and doggedly following their own obsessions in the way any self-respecting artist should. From paper planes to computer games and playground swings to love affairs what we consider to be play and how it affects our lives is set up in one corner of the gallery only to be bowled over in another like a set of skittles.

This exhibition is strong on showcasing the work of illustrators, a field that’s often overlooked or taken for granted. Sarah Dennis makes delightful collages, coaxing shapes and stories out of scraps of coloured paper. Echoing the exhibition’s title Play is a three dimensional dream landscape inhabited by a fox, a fish and what I can only describe as a wallpaper ghost with huge eyes who has conjured herself (believe me this is a female ghost) up out of a wisp of smoke. Ms Ghost is speckled grey and white and reminds me of those scraps of wallpaper that cling to half demolished houses, witnesses to so many scenes and changing tastes in interior design. Right at the landscape’s edge a girl plays at cat’s cradle and the whole scene is bordered by unravelling balls of wool, neat references to the idea of daydreaming as ‘wool-gathering’.

Working in the same medium as Dennis Jason Devine creates a completely different ambience with his squadrons of paper planes. Boxed and deployed in varying formations they merge low-tech, DIY home entertainment with the scary mathematics of war games, virtual and real.

Simon David Mills focuses on that territory and time of life when play segues into love affairs causing all sorts of confusion and heartache. His lovelorn characters – usually bearded men – are haunted either by what they didn’t say to their girlfriends or what they said to them all too often. Drawn in ink and emulsion on pieces of cardboard, metal and wood they seem to fuse with whatever medium has given them a chance to express themselves, sticking to it like gum on a shoe sole.

Our contemporary fears about play, especially with regard to young children, are summed up in a painting by David Bain, It’s all going to be okay. A gleeful blond boy on a swing is surrounded by an apocalyptic landscape of fire-belching chimneys and what look like fields sown with purple dragon’s teeth. The boy seems unaware of the serpent from the Garden of Eden hovering at his shoulder. As yet untouched by the snake’s forked tongue he simply doesn’t see all the dangers imagined by the fearful adults who care for him. Perhaps the most poignant thing about this picture is the boy’s age; Bain catches him at the point where he is still seen by adults as a charming, threatened innocent yet in a few years time he may himself be viewed as a threat by the same adults.

The young artists featured in this exhibition work in a whole variety of constantly evolving areas of design, creating pictures, patterns and motifs for books, websites, TV programmes, iPod wallpaper etc. In a sense they create the mood music for our lives so if you want to glimpse the work of those who will be fine-tuning our subconscious over the next few decades get down to Brick Lane – space hoppers not compulsory.

Play runs until 12th September at East Gallery, 216 Brick Lane, London E1

Image: Play © Inkygoodness