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 29 January 2011

At the moment we are in what is considered the "dead time" of the year.
Many shops close for a few weeks, the owners taking holidays, decorating or just sitting at home.
It is the time when traditionally sales are bad as the public have spent all there money over the Christmas period, well that's the theory anyway.
Certainly, there are more than a few shops near us that are closed and others are open for just a few hours each day, I have a feeling some that are closed may never re-open, because believe it or not there is a recession on at the moment.
Well not at the moment actually, its been going on for a long while but it seems people have been afraid to admit it.
Even artists.

Well not all artists as it seems that the good have been unaffected or have even prospered because in uncertain times it seems that people are thinking
"Hell! We can't make any money from the banks so let's put our money into art".

What a good idea.
Lets face it, if you choose wisely and with your heart then you will always have treasure.
If it doesn't make you money then so what? You have something that enriches your life.
In fact the majority of people who purchase good art never make any financial gain from it as they have no intention of ever parting with it.
I like those sort of people.

It is strange this recession thing.
I could tell you many tales of artists in denial who have to pretend that they are unaffected in case people think their work is worthless.
Silly artists, I feel. Also silly buyers if they judge beauty by the number of sales.
I much prefer to talk to someone like Karen, who a couple of years ago called me and announced
"I'm sending you some "Recession Hares".
"Oh, great I will look out for them" I replied, and then started wondering
"what is a recession Hare"?
I admit I am not very good on wildlife and I had never heard of them, so I called her back.
"I know it sounds like a stupid question Karen but what is a Recession Hare"?
"Oh them", she laughed "they are my new Hares that are guaranteed to sell in a time of recession".
She was right, they do.
Thinking about this today it made me realise that this "blip", "credit crunch", "recession" has been around for a while now.
It's a way of life.
So at the moment I am much more enjoying the artists who are just "rolling there sleeves up"
and getting on with what they do best and not wasting energy telling an uninterested world that they are doing "just great"when they aren't.
As I read on a recent post by an American artist, she said that she has been through these times before, "It is a time to up your game and produce your best possible work as there is always a market for good art".
Best advice I have read in a long time.

So how does this relate to me, my gallery?
Everything that we show is chosen from the heart, everything here I would love to own.
Different kinds of art that fascinate me, excite me, and leave me wondering
"how did they think of creating that, what an imagination".
Work that touches all those different parts of our being and soul, that move us in some way.

Many times I have been advised by well intentioned people,
"you should get rid of these and get in things that sell", advice that at times has made me question what we are doing.
"Am I wrong, should I go with the flow"?
My own personal 'Jiminy Cricket' would whisper to me.
Then I argue back "no I would sooner close the door".

It seems that I was right.
For in these uncertain times when I see the closed shops I feel so pleased that we stayed firm.
It seems that the art that moves us also moves others, and for us nothing has changed.

Well there is one small change, I now find that the artists that we have shown over the years
are being chased by other galleries.
It had to happen.
So I have carried on as I always have, and for me the start to the year has been busier than ever.
I arrive home even later and seem to have less time to myself, not more.
The days in the gallery are full, if I'm not selling something then I'm talking about it.
This is my life, and it is fun and a great pleasure.
When the day ends that's when my mails and calls start, when I have a chance to talk to artists.
My time to think and plan.

It is from evenings like these that I find and unearth treasure.
When I can concentrate on what possible reason could I give to an artist I admire in the hope they will "give us a try".

It is from a time such as this that I found myself recently standing at the counter unwrapping a parcel, a painting, an original piece by
Jo March.
I have loved and admired Jo's work for a very long time, and we have shown and sold countless
prints of her work during this time, but never an original.
Indeed I had never seen or held one, only prints and pictures.
I had tried countless times to contact her about a year ago, my calls were always taken by a young boy, her son.
He would explain that she couldn't talk just then, to which I replied every time
"I will call later".
I did, again and again for what seems like weeks, until I eventually accepted that you "can't win them all" and gave up.
Some weeks later I received a call "Hello this is Jo March".

Jo explained the very sad and bad things going on in her life.
She needn't have, but I appreciated that she felt the need to and it explained a lot.
I think we got on, and it was left that "one day she would paint me an original.

Two weeks ago I called her again.

The original arrived at 11.30am one morning a few days later.
Her first painting for a year.
I loved it and was so excited and proud to place it in my "special place" on the wall.
By 4.30pm it was gone.
Isn't that the way of life? People always take what you love away from you.

But it was good.
Jo's life has changed, and in just two weeks we have become good friends.
It is as if we had known each other for a long while, and perhaps we have because it was long ago that I entered the world of her imagination.
Her paintings are all based on real locations, but they are set in the past, in a time of greater innocence and gentleness, they are of a world that is held in our deepest memories and one we would like to return to.
A new string tied [who uses string] parcel arrived today, containing three new treasures from Jo, perhaps these will be with me a little longer.
All I know for certain is that I would like to live in these landscapes.
Only problem is she doesn't paint roads, how do I get there?

Thursday 13 January 2011

So much of the time running a gallery is spent doing the many things that are of no interest to me, no matter how important they are.
Things like accounts, advertising, writing letters, ordering packaging,
etc,etc,etc., the list seems endless.
I don't suppose that it is any different for people who run shops of any kind.
But at times I do wonder how I got into this situation, at times it feels like working in an office, and I am really not an office sort of person.
After all I should be talking to artists, or at the very least talking about them and their work.
So it has been good to be distracted for a few days working on the logistics of a future exhibition.
'Maureen Minchin'
That's the name of the exhibition and the artist, or more to the point the potter.
No! That's incorrect, she is an artist potter.
And it is strange to think that Suffolk's most famous potter lives in Scotland.

Many years ago in a different lifetime I was a potter and I couldn't imagine a day when I wouldn't be making or dreaming about pots.
But life and politics had different plans for me and the time came when I hated pottery and everything connected with it and it was only through Irene's urging that I kept my old wheels
and a kiln or two, plus my box of tools.
Then one day [as they say] I saw in a gallery window a pot that I fell in love with,
and purchased.
[But that is a tale for another day or a tale for later this year].

I understood that I could like pots again if I put history behind me.
So, I did come to admire pots and potters again [not politics] and started to take pleasure from
seeing good pots by good potters, but I was never tempted to purchase again.
I felt that I had seen it all before.
Then one day I found a pot that was unlike any I had ever seen before,
this was by Maureen Minchin.
It wasn't like anything I had ever liked or collected, but I loved it and had to have it.
I couldn't afford it but I loved it.
I have it at home now, because Irene and the kids bought it for my Christmas present.

That's how my love affair of Maureen's work started, and the day we decided to open the gallery she was the first person I contacted.
But she couldn't let me have any pots at that time, as she was very ill plus her own life had taken different directions.
But we kept in touch and eventually she brought me some.
We have had many over the years since, but never a complete exhibition.

It is strange to think that she is probably the best known and most collected potter in East Anglia but she lives in a very remote spot on the west coast of Scotland.
I suppose it's not that hard to understand, as she used to be a Suffolk potter until the day she followed her heart and dreams and moved to the Highlands
[taking her Gypsy caravan with her].

Now she lives in a spot so remote it takes half a day to get to the town.
She is as remote as remote can be.
The view from her small cottage is across the Atlantic, interrupted only by the mountains on
the Islands of Rhum, Eigg and Skye.
It is a location you would dream of living at [well I do].
But as she told me one winter evening "you wouldn't want to live here today, there is a gale from the sea and the roof is moving".
But I still dream of it.

Living in such a remote spot has done nothing to diminish interest in her work, in fact it has increased. She is now as popular in Scotland as she was in East Anglia.
I spoke recently to a gallery owner in Inverness, the morning after the private view of Maureen's last exhibition.
"It was incredible, just like a 'Harrods' sale opening, and the telephone didn't stop with people far away trying to purchase".
I believe her, I have experienced how popular her pottery is, on the occasions that we have been lucky enough to have any, most of it goes to America.

So this April we have our first solo exhibition of Maureen's pots.
We have waited nearly five years for this show, and I just know that the wait will be worthwhile.
Maureen being a true professional has been supplying me with material well in advance.
She understands the amount of work we have to do and does everything to make life that little bit easier. After all it's not easy to promote an artist that sends you nothing before the event,
but it has happened.
Our discussions and the pictures that she has sent have only increased my excitement.

I will come back to talk about her more as the date draws closer I'm sure as we are very committed to this show and are producing a booklet to go with it, plus I will be travelling North to see her and collect pots early in March, so I think for a while I will have nothing on my mind but her and her work.
That's not a bad thing.

Above is a picture of her scenery and daily view [makes me want to cry]. A jug, showing the different sides. A jug that she is working on, drawing through the thin covering of slip to reveal the red clay, then another jug and a dish to match.
These we sent to America some time ago.

Monday 10 January 2011

I have never made a New Year resolution before as I know that I would be incapable of keeping to it [whatever "it" was], but this year I did.
"My resolution is to finish that bloody picture", I told myself.

The picture in question was a photograph that I had taken about two years ago.
Well really it was a collection of photographs, as I was trying to build a finished picture from
thirteen different shots.
I may have mentioned before that at times people have commented that some of my photographs
look like paintings, as a result of this I decided that I should never consciously try to reproduce a painting of any kind but that I should just let things develop by themselves.
I have broken this rule once already, this was when I tried to re-create the painting of
based on the famous painting by John Everett Millais.
I had loved the painting so much I wished that I had created it, so I did in my own way.
Another favourite has always been
'The Lady of Shalott', by John William Waterhouse.
I find these paintings so very moving and romantic, and so clever in their execution and use of light. They may be old fashioned but I still find them beautiful.

Having been lucky enough to find one model to play "dead" in a winter stream, I was now even more fortunate to be friends with another young woman [Sarah Day] who not only didn't
mind modelling for me but who also owned her own boat and enjoyed making re-creation clothing.
Added to this I had an offer from a lady who visits the gallery
"if you ever want to use my home for your photographs you are welcome".
Her home is an old mill, set beside the river and with its own weir and large pool.

So, one summer day I set out with the intention of trying to once again create my version of an old painting.
Perhaps I should mention here that I don't actually enjoy taking photographs, I find it very hard
technically [especially with limited knowledge] as my own expectations of what I would like to see are hard to produce.
Many times I don't bother to take a picture when the opportunity comes as the thought of having to work out exposures, choosing the right combination of filters, and making sure I have covered every angle tends to take away "the moment".
Any real photographer wouldn't understand this, but they would be more qualified than I for the job in hand.

This time everything was ready.
Sarah had made a dress in the style of the painting, and even taken her boat to the mill pond
the previous day.
The sky was clear and the sun shone, what more could I ask for?

From the outset I had known that I couldn't take the picture with one shot as I wanted to finish
up with a large file [over 200 mg] and this wasn't possible with a camera like mine.
So it meant that the picture would have to be a montage of different shots.
Also I wanted to create the 'spirit' of the painting, my version, or what might have been the painting under different circumstances. So I knew that many pictures would have to be taken
so I had enough to choose from and to "build" with.

For an hour or so Sarah paddled or drifted her boat about the pool.
I knew what I was looking for but creating it or capturing it was a lot harder and I spent my time scrambling about the bank side or wading into the shallows [I had my boots on] trying to get the perfect shots.
Luckily Sarah has been the 'star' of many previous photographs of mine, so she knew what to expect, what to do and how to react to my vague prompts.

Eventually I announced "that's it I must have everything by now".
Understanding what was required Sarah reminded me that I hadn't taken any pictures of reeds.
The main reason for this being that they were in deeper water and too far away.
"Climb in and I will paddle us out there", she told me.
I had wanted to go out on the boat so I jumped at the invitation.
I jumped into the boat and immediately capsized it, turning it over with us both in it.
My first thoughts were for my camera.
Standing waist deep in the water I realized that it was immersed.
"The camera, I must save the camera".

I waded to the bank side, climbed it and run to the house.
I had to dry the camera, and quickly.

I was fortunate, fifteen minutes later after taking it apart and blasting it with a hair dryer it was working again.
Crisis over.

Oh! I wonder what happened to Sarah.
[You understand that at times I'm not the kind, considerate person I pretend to be, and this was one of them].
But luckily she was aware of this and after dragging the submerged boat to the bank by herself she somehow upturned it and drained the water out before squelching her way back to the house.
" You poor girl, come in quickly and have a hot shower, you must be frozen".
No, that wasn't me that was the lady of the house.

One week later, having chosen what photographs to use I had made a "rough" by putting four of them put together.
This had taken two days.
I understood then that this was going to be a very long process so I put them aside and got on
with life.
Every now and again I would play with the picture a little and move it forward, but not very often.
Eighteen months later it was finished.
But only for a few minutes. It was as if my computer had had enough of it.
The screen went dead never to come back on again, with it went all of the pictures that I had created over the past few years.
Some were of course saved onto Cd's but not all, and certainly not
Lady of Shalott.

Recently I had a lot of the contents of the hard disc recovered, but the finished picture was gone
for all time except in my head.
I managed to get back some of the original photographs, including a picture of a soaked Sarah.

Sitting looking at this I decided that I must finish that picture one day,
just for her sake if no other reason.
We have kept in touch and indeed produced other pictures together, and she has never once
bothered me or complained about that picture.
So that was my resolution, to finish it,
and I decided that I would not write here again until I had.

So it's finished, I am unhappy with it and will one day go back and start again with the pictures I have, but at least for me at least it captures a little of the atmosphere we set out to create.
Thanks Sarah.

Above are the finished [for now at least] picture, the beautiful original painting which inspired it. An early start picture using six images, then another about a week and several changes later,
and of course my star on route to the shower.