Welcome to the Gallery

Imagine is set in the Suffolk village of Long Melford.
This is an attempt to record the daily trials, tribulation and pleasure of running an art gallery.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

The return journey.
Or 'There and back again' would sound better if J.R.R. Tolkien hadn't used it for "The Hobbit".

Really this is just a follow up to the last 'post' that I was too tired to do last night.
So if you were anticipating fights with Dragons and Goblins you have come to the wrong place,
although I did visit "Barrow Hill" which is a very bad place, unless you love Cider.

Anyway, leaving the town of 'Saint Ives' on a wet misty morning, I was undecided about where I should visit on my journey home.
There are so many really exciting artists working in this corner of England that I really didn't know where to head for.
I sat in the car tapping different addresses into my 'SatNav' trying to work out what [Or who] I could fit in on my return journey.
I knew that I would not be this far south for some time so I wanted to make the most of the trip.
It was impossible to decide, I have so many old friends in that area I didn't know where to go.
The decision was made for me by John Bedding.
Well not really him just his advice, because of an exhibition that I have planned for June of this year.
It has been in my thoughts for many months, it has been something that has fascinated me
for a long time and I admit that I have been greatly influenced by another blogger,
Margaret Brampton.
Not only does her own work intrigue me but she has lead me down the path of history.
So for some time I have had the thoughts "let's do Reliquary as an exhibition",
then recently I decided to stop pondering and to actually do it.
As a result I feel very contented and excited and I have a feeling that I will tell more about
who is involved in the near future.

One person who has confirmed "just one piece" is John Bedding,
the man who instigated.
He suggested that I look at the work of 'Sim Taylor'.
"His thoughts are there already", he told me.

So I did look at his work, and also where he worked.
"I can do that on the way home".
As a result my route back to Suffolk was dictated by the need to visit this man,
which was made harder because he was lecturing at a University in North Somerset and his time was restricted.
I spoke with him, we fixed a time to meet and then the rest of my journey was based around our meeting.
Hhhhmmmmmm, who to visit?
There were two people that I would like to visit but only the time to see one.

Decision made, I set off to see John Leach the potter.
I had last seen him maybe 29 years ago! Little wonder that I look old [but only 18 inside].
John not only happens to be the grandson of the famous Bernard Leach but more importantly he lives only 5 miles from 'Barrow Hill Cider Press'. How convenient.
So after our different "lunch breaks" I parked my car outside his pottery/gallery just as he was
opening after his lunch.
Although we had met many times in the past I wasn't silly or vain enough to think that he would remember me, and he didn't.
That made no difference, he welcomed me inside and said
"quick come and look at these before they all go".
He was talking about an exhibition of prints that had been on show for two months in his gallery by the artist Julia Manning.
" Ooohh it was so good", he said.
"It was embarrassing as we sold so many.
Hhmmm, no, no it wasn't embarrassing at all it was good".
What a lovely man to assume that I had come to see the art of someone else.

However, I was excited as for a long time I had been trying to contact Julia, and here she was
in front of me packing up her few unsold prints.

I will cut a very long story short,
which I don't really want to as John and I talked of many events, potters, artists and friends,
and I know we both enjoyed the reminiscence, except for the mention of the death of the potter
Ray Finch.
His smile vanished from his beard covered face.
"Oh that man was my mentor, I will miss him so much. We are going there tomorrow".
Apart from that the chat was fun and enjoyable.
Eventually he said, "I must go, I lost the key to the kiln shed two days ago and the blacksmith has called to say he has made a replacement, but it needs 'tweaking'.

Where in the world would you use a blacksmith to get a new key?
Only in deep Somerset.

But before I left I had hurried discussions with Julia Manning and to my great delight I walked out of the Leach Pottery with pictures to bring home.

Before I drove away I decided to take a couple of pictures of the pottery "just in case".
I took one photograph but it wasn't right so I crossed the road to take another.
"That's more like it".
Then a car pulled in front of the pottery/cottage.
Out of the car climbed John Leach.
"Oh, John you are still here"?
"Yes I was just taking a picture of the famous 'John Leach' pottery when some old bugger parked there car and spoilt it".
"I'm sorry about that".
"Now your here make yourself useful and pose for my Blog".

This is all true.
So there he was the world famous potter with a bag of shopping posing for you all.
"I know a potter near here you should go and see, Paul Jessop. He's blogging mad.
I don't know how he finds time to make his pots".
Of course Paul was the other potter that I would have liked to have visited.

But hey! Paul your a youngster, us old folk have to meet while we are still here.
Next time.

From the Leach pottery I drove to?
Actually I'm not sure as I just did what "SatNav" told me.
Eventually I arrived in the evening at a University where I was greeted by the incredible
Sim Taylor.
I have never seen someone so young, so handsome with such long hair since I was eighteen.
That was me looking in the mirror many years ago.
Sim is a real dynamic character, full of life and enthusiasm for his art, it is little wonder that he is so sought after as a lecturer and teacher of ceramics.
He whisked me away to his room and showed and explained to me the philosophy and techniques of his creations.
He was so humble when describing his ceramic sculptures.
" I am honoured that you have bothered to come and see me", he said many times.

I felt like saying "are you stupid? The honour and pleasure is mine".
I told him after looking at his work "you are going to be so big".
He shook his head, and that is what I liked so much.
He is striving to make beautiful things not a name for himself, that was unimportant to him.

But he will become known, just for the simple reason that he is interested in his craft.
I don't have the time to write more about Sim or his art, plus I don't want to as I intend to write an article about him.
After all if he is not interested in promoting himself so someone had better do it for him.
Most importantly he agreed to participate in the Reliquary exhibition.

Five hours after leaving him,with a head full of memories and loud music I arrived home.
To the ecstatic welcome of two beautiful dogs.
They missed me.
This is what life [or at least mine] is all about.

Friday, 27 January 2012

I had a lot to write about that I thought might be interesting, and was poised
"pen in hand"
ready to blog when I remembered that I was going on a long trip and thought that maybe I might have something of even more interest to write about on my return.
Well it probably might not be, but as it involved me going off on an adventure and meeting people I had a feeling that I would find it more interesting,
otherwise my small world exists within these walls and although a lot happens
[some good some bad] it is nice to get away,
if for no other reason than driving for hours allows me to think without interruption,
and I like that. I also enjoy playing music at full volume without worrying who I might annoy.

So, off to St. Ives in Cornwall I went.
I must admit that I wasn't looking forward to the journey as it is long and this combined with fog and heavy rain made it was worse than anticipated, but I arrived safe and with a head full
of new music, at least that was fun.

I was visiting Cornwall to see a potter called John Bedding.
I have mentioned him and shown his pots here before, but this was to be my first time
to have a "proper" conversation with him.
Before it had been restricted to emails, telephone and hurried chats at motorway service stations where we did our furtive exchanges.
Pots from him and a big smile from me.

I have long been totally fascinated and puzzled by the techniques that he uses to decorate his pots, the truth is I just didn't know how he did it.
On the frequent occasions I have been asked in the gallery "how did he do this"?
I have had to bluff and guess as I had no idea at all, all that I knew for certainty is that I loved them and coveted them however they were done.

So for the first time [of what will be many] I eased the car down a very small alleyway and
into the courtyard of the "Gaolyard Studios" in the centre of St Ives.
As the name suggests it used to be the village gaol, now it is owned by John and is home to many different and talented potters.
But it was only John that I had come to visit [or so I thought].

His studio/workshop was no different to that of many potters, in fact it is in the running for being one of the most untidy, but that would include almost every potter I know.
What made the greatest difference to me is that out off this studio came some of the most beautiful, elegant pots I have ever come across, and I really wanted to know how they were
created as I have never seen anything like them.

Two hours later I left feeling like I was walking on a cloud.
John is one of the nicest, cleverest and most forward thinking craftsmen I have ever met.
I was staggered to find that he uses a computer to decorate his pots.
It is true, there amongst all the normal pottery clutter was a laptop computer sitting beside
clay and normal pottery tools.
Attached to the laptop was a projector, in front of that a pot.
From the computer he projects his designs onto the unfired pots.
Don't ask me how, ask him, and if he tells you how he will be mad.

Let me explain that the studio was full of pots, some in various stages of being fired but most
still damp and drying, each one decorated with patterns and images that moved the heart,
each different but in some way or another Japanese in influence.
This is no great surprise as John had not only worked for the famous potter Bernard Leach
but had also trained and worked in Japan many years ago.
I say many years ago and this is what surprises me, that a man with his background and knowledge of making real "Leach" influenced ceramics was bucking the trend.
He was taking all of his knowledge of past pottery and with modern technology using it to create the most wonderful eastern style ceramics I have ever seen.
If I had been watching and talking to a younger man I would have been thinking
"kids today, what they can do",
but this is a man who is older than me [yes, that is possible even though he looks 10 years younger] his mind and thought process was so exciting and invigorating.
He is moving forward, not trying to make copies of past masters, he is his own man
creating on his own terms and is unconcerned by criticism of others.
He is making his pots for himself and his collectors not for acclaim on the small pottery map,
and that is why he is so good.
There was no ego, no searching for approval or acknowledgment.
A man who has every right to make pots in the style of others but who is mature enough to walk his own path.
Wow! This is sounding like a one man fan club, but I think by now you understand that he
greatly impressed me.
The man and his work.

As I was about to leave he asked "have you been to my shop"?
"Yeah, about 20 years ago".
"It has changed a bit if you want to have a look".
I promised that I would, so he told me to take attention to the work of different potters he thought I would like.

I visited his shop.
The "shop" turned out to be one of the best galleries I have ever visited, it shows nothing but ceramics but is beautiful and with great attention to detail.
In fact it is more like a museum than a gallery as there was work on show by almost every
great potter of modern times, those living and those dead and every piece a collectors item.
Potters like Shoji Hamada, Bernard Leach, Colin Pearson, Mick Casson, David leach and
Michael Cardew were on show and for sale.
All shown in the most subtle surroundings, almost like a Japanese tea room.
"Less" definitely was more.
Amongst the various famous names on show there were a few, but only a few of John's own pieces, for me these stood out as being some of the best pots on show.
There were two I was smitten by, one nearly four feet tall, the other was smaller but it burnt an
equally large hole in my heart.
Showing alongside the older traditional pots were also the works of the modern studio potters,
some of the them like Ruthanne Tudball I know and am friends with, others I didn't know at all although I do now.
One in particular whose worked I really admired was a young man named Sam Hall.
"Shit", I had just met him back at the "Gaolyard" without knowing who he was or what he did, and for that I plead ignorance as I now appreciate that he is well known and very collected
but luckily I didn't know of that.

So back to the studios I returned to meet Sam.
A lovely gentle and handsome young man [if I'm allowed to notice that].
I confessed that I knew nothing of him and
"did not know of his work until today, but could I take some".
I think that the honesty paid dividends as he showed me much of his work, some I criticised
and to my surprise we both agreed in the criticism and it was an enjoyable,
"I really like that"
"So do I"
"I don't think that has worked"
"That's what I think".

Eventually he asked "would you like to take something? I don't let many galleries".
I think ignorance and honesty this time the right thing.
I was lucky as yet again there wasn't an ego, instead just a very good potter.
Of course I have since found out how well known and collected his work is, but as I have always said "the bigger the artist the smaller the ego".

Anyway, I had hoped to complete my trip on one post but I appreciate that most people will have fallen asleep by now, so my return journey and meeting with a very famous potter I will leave until next time.

Above the pictures explain themselves.
John Bedding's gallery [or a small portion of it].
The giant bottle that I loved, Sam Hall's pots and of course the pot that I loved so much,
which of course, John allowed me to bring back to the gallery.

Friday, 13 January 2012

This year I am behind with events that we should have planned for the future and at the moment I am playing "catch up".
I usually try to be at least one year ahead with exhibitions, firstly because it gives the artist time to plan their own year or even to try out new idea's out without added pressure, and secondly it allows me to work out how the gallery will look as the year progresses and to plan the promotion, advertising, invitations etc,etc.
But, it doesn't take a lot to throw things out, plus I find that I tend to get over excited about one
idea or another, or a particular artist whose existence I have only just discovered and start wishing I could fit another event in the calendar.
I like to leave a gap here and there in the years events just in case something like this happens
plus sometimes it is just enjoyable to have the space as it normally is without all the work and disruption that an exhibition can sometimes bring, plus I like the gallery as it is everyday.
But this year started and I was definitely behind.
I have been awaiting a couple of confirmations before I could definitely know that the year
was sorted.
Having said that, I have left the very end of the year open until I have really thought through a
particular idea that I have in mind.
Anyway, more about planned events in the next post.

Apart from thinking about who and what we shall show at exhibitions there are the constant
thoughts of who I should talk to or go to see so that we can fill the place everyday with the
unusual mixture of art we have.
Sometimes this is made easier, yet a lot harder by one particular artist,
Michael Parkes.
I almost liken him to the slogan for the film Jaws,
"just when you thought it was safe............"
or in his case
"just when you thought you had it all planned............."
The man is just so talented and prolific, he seems to work non stop, which makes it really hard
when I am trying to work out what different art I want to show.
I think I have it worked out and then the bugger creates something else, and everything seems to say "John must show this".
Trouble is, "John really wants to", as a result I become very indecisive and tend to think to myself "I will make a decision tomorrow, or next week".

Time passes, and Michael creates more, and I find it harder to make a decision.
Sometimes, just occasionally, I start to think that maybe I don't feature on his list of major priorities, or perhaps it's just a case of him trying to work out what I "really" like.

So after not having talked about much at all I will show a few of his pieces that I have been presented with recently, then maybe you will see why I get distracted and behind on events.
Although really this post is just an excuse to show some things that I have wanted to show for
few weeks.
I didn't get around to it before because I was distracted
......................by more Michael Parkes.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Self doubt.
I'm sure that it is something that we all have from time to time, especially me.
This might come as a surprise to the people who may find me a little [or a lot] arrogant, but
usually this only comes to the surface when someone is critical of the work we show.
My own self doubt [my own photography aside] arises when I think that maybe I have made
a bad decision about how different pieces of art should be displayed, or if I think I have not
done justice to the work, as I know and understand that presentation is everything and it is very easy to undersell something with a poor display.
Sometimes I think that maybe I am showing the wrong combination of different works and so
I start again, or maybe I think that new displays need to be built for a certain piece.
I constantly worry that I haven't got the window display right, or I get indecisive about what should be in the window.
The one thing that doesn't worry me or cause doubts is the quality and variety of work we show.
So with all this in mind I found myself getting slightly concerned and later very annoyed
when the "seeds of doubt" were sown by someone this week.

I have mentioned before that I don't enjoy it when different artists come in "cold" and ask would I look at their work?
I don't dislike it and I am pleased to have the opportunity to look at something new, but I do
hate having to say "no" if I don't like the work or if I feel that it would be misplaced in our gallery.
Sometimes the art presented can be great but it just wouldn't look in place here, and it often
comes as a surprise that people don't first have a look at what we show and then think
"would my art fit in with what they show"?
But, I do look at all work presented and at times with a heavy heart have to say no.
What I have been shown may be really good but it wasn't for me.

So it was this week I had one such "cold call".
The artist in question had been inside the gallery with his partner for a while, and as is usual
we started having a chat about different pieces of work etc.
Nothing unusual there, then he told me that he was a sculptor and that he happened to have
some work with him in the car that had just been returned from another gallery.
Sculpture! He had hit my soft spot, I always want to see new sculptors.
I might not like what they have created but I definitely want to see it as I have a fear that it
might be the one that "slipped through the net".
So I did view his work.
It was bronze animal sculpture, for me this is often very dubious as there seems to be many people out there all producing very similar not very good brown bronze sculpture and all of it set with a high price tag,
because after all we all know bronze is expensive.
Which is exactly what he told me when I questioned the price of a Wren.
"Blimey", I thought. I could have created a bird garden for that price.
However his work was not without merit and both he and his partner seemed very nice people
and I enjoyed talking with them and when they left much later I was the recipient of one new sculpture.
Since then I have looked at his piece many times and pondered and indeed a little doubt grew in my mind, "did I take this for the right reasons]? Still what was done was done so now I will do my best to display it properly and achieve a sale for him.

Next morning I had a call from the same artist.
It started really well, he told me how much they had enjoyed having a chat with me and how much they liked the gallery, "we talked about it all the way home", he said.
"However, we did have some thoughts".

Yes, I was going to get the benefit of those thoughts.

They loved the gallery, the building , the displays etc,etc. It reminded them of one other really good gallery which is very successful financially and has sold "thousands" of pounds worth of his work.
Apparently there was only one major difference between us, they had an identity and we didn't.
"if you had an identity you would do really well", I was told.

While he was giving me his [well intended, I am sure] advice] I looked online at the other
"similar" gallery.
"now if only you............."
at which point I interrupted him to tell him I was looking at the "art" of the other gallery while
he was talking.

"What am I looking at"?
A painting by an English artist of a scene of Venice, another still life painting of a vase of flowers, a painting of race horses.
" I have seen it all before, the only difference is the paintings had different names on them.
I wouldn't give them house room", I told him.

Then on to their sculpture, which was all wildlife and animals
[which I have no problem with if done well].
"I am looking at bronze brown horses, they are crap".
What else was there?
Brown bronze, Lion heads, Elephants, Tigers, Antelope, Penguins, game birds, and even Pears
[wow! I haven't seen those somewhere else for at least a week].

"It is all rubbish", I told him.
"Yes, but they make lots of money, everything sells in the thousands, because of them I have had my best year ever, and it's all because they have an identity".

I tried to explain to him that so too had Imagine Gallery.
It is different, everything in it is different, but it sits together well because it all has a common thread, me, I love it all.
I tried to explain to him that we all have many different aspects to our personalities and
that the varied collection that we show was just a collection of all the things that I love in the world, that I equally loved the abstract paintings and sculpture as much as the life like work that we show, that the illustration from a children's book that hangs on the wall was equal in beauty to a famous painting that hangs beside it, that I loved a small rough pot from Japan
priced at £20 every bit as much as a bronze priced in the thousands".
He just didn't get it.
"You need more bronze, he told me".
Unaware that when he was here he was standing next to a fabulous and very expensive bronze
while he was talking to me. He didn't know because it wasn't shiny and brown.

[Thanks Emma that bronze is one of the pieces that I am proud to have on display].

He tried again to make me understand that the other "similar" gallery was making
"loads of money".

"If money was our only motive we wouldn't be here, we would have done something different".
I explained.
We never set out to make money, even though like everyone we need it.
Our gallery is here because Irene [bless her] realised that there was something in my life that I wanted to achieve, and that "something" was showing this great mixture of beautiful artifacts.
Sure, we want and have to make money but that has never been the goal.
To survive, and do something as interesting and fulfilling and as much fun as this was.
In that respect I am rich.

I was wasting my breath, he knew I was an idiot.
Indeed thinking things through over and over again today, I think maybe I am wrong.
The seeds of doubt were planted by someone who boasts great success.
As he told me "the trouble with your gallery you can only sell to people who think like you".
Very true, but I hope there are more people out there who appreciate beauty more than a
brown shiny overpriced piece of bronze.

My parting words were [as always]
"it's my party....."

"yeah, I know, .......and you will cry if you want to", he replied before hanging up.

Cry I will, and cry I do, but never caused by egotistic, vain, money grabbing fools like him.

So on a parting note I am showing you a few "wacky" sculptures by two people who don't understand the importance of "life like, shiny bronze shit".
I mean to say, when did you last see horses in the wild that looked like this?
Never, and as for a Unicorn?

The beautiful pieces are by Paul Priest and Elaine Peto, two people who aren't chasing money.
Just Life