Written by Kevin Dean
Visiting your gallery is always such a pleasure, the quality of the space as much as the art itself is as good as anything you’d see in London. How did it all start and why did you choose to locate to Old Portsmouth?
My husband comes from hereabouts and started his working life in the dockyard. He refused to make our home in London and I need to be in a city. I knew Portsmouth because 30 years ago I did my Fine Art degree here and I liked it so we bought Jack House. The commercial property next door became available and everything fell into place to open a gallery by joining the two.
Have you always worked in galleries or with art in some context?
Yes. My first job was a backroom girl at the Fine Art Society in the archives and library. A series of lowly gallery assistant roles, interspersed with a spell in arts marketing and a really disastrous stab at art teaching in the Middle East.
Then back to gallery work, again in the Middle East. Have you found plenty of art buyers in Portsmouth, or do you have customers coming from further afield?
Sales have been increasingly elusive due to the economic downturn and the financial uncertainties people are facing. Art is a luxury and in harder times it’s shunted down the list of priorities. I never expected to rely solely on Portsmouth buyers and hoped that in time we would draw people from further afield than Portsmouth itself, including London, Chichester and Brighton etc. but it’s takes time to build recognition and reputation. I am now having to seriously consider alternative ways to make the space pay for itself and am looking into hiring it out for events, meetings, product launches and social activities. Maybe classes? It’s a lovely space and it would be nice to make it more useful whilst also enabling me to continue a strong exhibition program without compromise.
How do you select which artists to show?
It starts with a basic ‘like’ the work response’ and then onto whether or not they have a body of work, or sufficient evidence of commitment/ history to have a story to tell in the gallery. There is also ‘a like the person response’ by this time because I have to get on with the artist however talented or successful they are.
Some of your shows have been quite edgy and have made demands of the viewer. As a gallery owner you need sales to survive, would be easier to sell work that is more accessible or decorative?
It’s a difficult balance to strike. I spent years selling stuff other people had curated, and which I very often didn’t rate. Having a genuine respect for the art is important to me. It probably would be easier to sell more decorative pictures but I wouldn’t enjoy it. At the moment it’s difficult to sell anything and the few times I’ve tried to second guess or compromise it hasn’t worked anyway, so I don’t bother now.
Would it be fair to say, that you prefer imagery that includes the human form, or reflects human existence in some way?
Yes. Totally. I show pictures I like to look at and I’ve always liked pictures that tell stories or suggest narratives, however ambiguously. I like pictures that are full of ideas and questions and that are beautifully made with complete integrity by the artist. Unfortunately it means abstract artists don’t get a look in.
Over the past two years are there any shows you are particularly proud of?
I was really proud of the first show we did because it felt brave. It’s was a bit contentious and very bold but I wanted to ‘arrive’ and Amartey Golding pulled it off. I love working with him and got a real kick taking his film to the London Art Fair. The really warm response for John Green’s first show was so gratifying because he is a genuinely talented very ‘real’ artist and the experience of meeting so many ex-dockies and their families that his show brought to the gallery was very moving in a way. It really touched people locally.
Your plans for the future?
I’ve been pleased with the support the local community has given the gallery and it was great to have a visit from Stephen Morgan MP recently. But I may have to reduce the number of shows, so that I can generate income from alternative sources, but quality will not be compromised. Next year I have lined up 3 veterans – Garrick Palmer whose wood engravings I love, John Green again – he has so much work that should be seen – and I’m very excited to say that Derek Boshier approached the gallery to do a show. Portsmouth born and bred, he has real pop art pedigree. People will know his designs for album covers for Bowie and the Clash but he’s still painting in Los Angeles where he now lives. I will host a group show of some kind and have been in discussions about another big print show.
Art, an investment or love at first sight?
For me love first sight always. But good art is never, ever a bad investment.