Not For Rental

Not For Rental

A Movie-Inspired Charity Exhibition — Timba Smits and “Flash” Gordon Shaw are raising money for Macmillan Cancer and Art Against Knives by paying homage to their love of film.

One was stabbed while defending strangers. The other is battling brain cancer. After facing two of the toughest challenges life could throw at anyone, designers —and best friends — Timba Smits and “Flash” Gordon Shaw decided they want to do work that helps make the world better. The result is their movie-inspired Not For Rental exhibition, which will raise money for Art Against Knives and Macmillan Cancer Support. With over 200 artists contributing, it promises a twist that could make it the summer’s most surprising show.

Timba Smits — the creator of the ambitious indie mag Wooden Toy Quarterly, whose cult following spans from Melbourne, his hometown, to London, his adopted home — was riding the 488 bus to his studio at 10:30 a.m. on a Wednesday in September 2011 when three teens began harassing a young mother. Then they started intimidating elderly passengers. Polite but firm, the six-foot-six artist called to the teens from his seat at the back of the bus, asking them to behave.

“I’m going to mess you up,” one of the teens threatened, suddenly in Timba’s face. Timba asked him to sit down. The teen responded with his fists, smashing Timba’s head into the window. Standing up, Timba grabbed the teen’s arm. A second teen began punching him while the first pulled a knife. He plunged it into Timba’s stomach, then into his thigh. And they ran.

On the operating table in the A&E, Timba passed out from the loss of blood. The room went white, then black. He remembers thinking: “Is this it? Am I dead?”

He had a concussion, his jaw was broken, his hamstring punctured, and the wound to his stomach would leave deep scars. The attack lasted two minutes, but Timba was traumatised for months. The artist, who normally describes himself as happy-go-lucky, became withdrawn. He wasn’t able to focus on drawing. He didn’t feel safe going out. “It wasn’t London I was afraid of, but how your world can collapse so quickly and easily.”

Before his attack, he had been vaguely aware of the charity Art Against Knives , which helps young East Londoners at risk of falling into — or victim to — the world of violent crime. Through training and job opportunities, the charity introduces them a world beyond the housing estates. Weeks before the attack, another artist mentioned Art Against Knives to Timba for the first time, but he was too wrapped up in his own work to give it much thought.

But the attack changed him. “Now sometimes I struggle sitting down to my regular work because I’m like: ‘What’s this got to do with the bigger picture?’ Yeah it’s going to make somebody smile, but is it going to have an impact ten years from now? I don’t think so. It’s a different ball game now,” he says.

“I went through the whole process of facing my own mortality. It was really heavy and dark times and it’s made me think every single second that I’m alive, I have to be doing something that makes some kind of positive difference to those around me.”

A few weeks after his attack, Art Against Knives co-founder Katy Dawe contacted Timba and invited him to come to an event when he was ready. It took time but Timba started going to Art Against Knives activities, mentoring teens and contributing to benefit exhibitions like Secret 7s.

The charity opened his eyes. Many kids, he says, are trapped by short horizons where they can’t what opportunities are out there and by fear — afraid a wrong step could lead to someone threatening to mess //them// up. “I’m still learning, but that’s the way it is for a lot of these kids,” Timba says. “I think about how free we were when we were kids. We’d just go anywhere we wanted without a fear in the world.

In the hospital on the day of the attack — and nearly every day since — Timba’s best friend “Flash” Gordon Shaw has been at his side. The friends met when Flash was traveling through Australia. Flash was working in a pub run by Timba’s high school sweetheart and began helping out with Wooden Toy. When Timba moved to London in 2010, Flash moved down from Glasgow to join him.

“One of the things that cemented our friendship was we were both film gluttons,” Flash says. In the weeks when Timba was bedridden by his wounded hamstring, Flash brought over food and DVDs that they would watch into the night. “It’s amazing how movies can help you through tough times,” Flash says.

Then in August during one of their spaghetti and movie nights, Flash had a seizure. Now it was Timba standing by Flash at the hospital as the doctors found a brain tumour. A year later, their roles reversed. “That’s the good thing about being with Timba, you’re just kind picked up and put in a happier kind of place,” Flash says.

His own moment of clarity hit Flash a week before Christmas. He was in his back garden looking at the stars.

“Right, there’s no point in wasting time feeling down,” Flash remembers thinking. “There’s no point in wasting time. If I do only have a certain amount of time left, then there’s no point wasting my time in my own room crying or watching crap telly or avoiding phone calls. If I only have a certain amount of time left, then I should make it bloody worthwhile.”

Not For Rental was born on a bus on the way to pick up MRI results. Flash and Timba were sitting on the upper deck in the front seat. “We were looking out on the world; London was passing us,” Flash recalls. “It was brief thing I mentioned and Timba just picked up and ran with.”

Flash’s initial idea was to do a series where he would take different films and try to distill them into a logo.

“We started talking about this and it expanded,” Flash says. “It could be an entire film or it could be a piece of dialog or it could be a character, it could be a film character 20 years after, and how could all that inspire an illustration, or photography, or a crochet.”

Within minutes, they decided it would be a charity exhibition. Timba wanted to raise money for Art Against Knives and Flash chose Macmillan Cancer Support. He chose Macmillan because his mother died of breast cancer when he was a teen and he is still grateful for the care Macmillan gave her. His memories of his mother are also intertwined with movies. As kids, Flash and his brother went after school to the video store where she worked and watch VHS tapes until her shift ended.

Not For Rental kept growing to include art workshops with East London teens and cancer patients and film screenings. Hundreds of artists signed on, along with Little White Lies magazine (Huck’s sister publication, whose cover for the July/August is drawn by Timba).

The ten-day exhibition begins July 4 and on the last day, July 13, each one-of-a-kind artwork will go on sale with all proceeds going to the two charities. The pair have other surprises that they refuse to reveal until opening day. “Like all good films, there has to be a twist,” Timba says.

But one thing is clear, the two friends are determined to make this one count.

Not For Rental runs July 4-July 13 at 71a gallery on Leonard Street, EC2A 4QS. Check out for details.