Collector

paul-hedge-1

Gallerist Interview: PAUL HEDGE

Paul Hedge is the co-owner and founder of Hales gallery, located in London and New York.

Over the last three decades he has skillfully ridden the relentless waves of change in the art world.

As an evangelical arts enthusiast, he has an irresistible way of communicating the transformative power of art. He is deeply curious and has developed an encyclopedic knowledge of artists, movements and the cultural contexts that have shaped them. He is a warm, generous host, and captivating storyteller.

In every exchange, Paul’s genuine love and appreciation of the artists he works with is evident. He is truly delighted when anybody connects with the artists and artworks he shines a light on.

I appreciate Paul's eye, his programme and that he sees opportunities where others see obstacles. I have so appreciated his generosity, time and support over the years.

Paul Hedge, at Hales London, 2017. Photography by Charlie Littlewood

Paul Hedge was born in Stevenage New Town in 1961 and is the Co-Owner/Founder, Hales (London/New York). He studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths college in the early 1980s, gaining a first-class hons degree. He was a co-founder of the short lived but innovative Scratch Gallery, one of the first pioneering, artist led spaces in London, located in New Cross.

In 1992, after art school and nine years working as a postman, Hedge, along with his business partner Paul Maslin, opened Hales. The gallery produced numerous influential shows in the 1990s with artists including Jake and Dinos Chapman, Mike Nelson, Hew Locke, Sarah Jones, Richard Woods, Hans op de Beeck and Tomoko Takahashi. In 2004 Hales relocated to The Tea Building, a former warehouse space at the heart of in London’s Shoreditch, a site that the gallery occupies till today. In 2016 Hales, opened a gallery space in New York’s Lower East Side, relocating in 2018 to the district of Chelsea.

Today, the gallery represents a wide array of international artists and artists estates and is a regular on the international art fair circuit.

During his time in the art world, Paul Hedge has served on the boards of The Contemporary Art Society and The Society of London Art Dealers. He has lectured extensively and has acted as an advisor to artists and collectors.

Paul Hedge and Paul Maslin, Deptford, London,1996

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

I generally take a very positive approach to anything and everything. Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think”. If I ever had the desire to have a tattoo then this quote would be at the centre of it!

The Specials version of this 1949 classic penned by Herb Magidson with music by Carl Sigman is a tune I have been returning to (among many other things) for a headphone moment over this lockdown. It’s a cheerful number with a simple message.

Of course, I understand that it is not possible to enjoy everything in life, (I too have my dark nights of the soul) but I generally believe that good things can be drawn from seemingly very unpromising moments and this view is supported by my experience. This simple song drives me on. I say to myself, “get on with your mission Paul, and do it with cheer and good grace!”.

I’m currently reading a very eclectic group of books which I’m dipping in and out of. I have been reading  material associated with the curator Lawrence Alloway’s exhibition, Situation which took place at the RBA galleries in 1960.It is quite an important show for those of us interested in the development of abstract painting in Britain.

There is so much to know…it never stops!

My 83-year-old mum sends me a bible verse each day which I look at first thing in the morning. The bible is quite a read!! One day she might send me bloodshed and slaughter and the next day is all peace and love!

Other than that, I’m reading gardening books. I’m currently getting my head around garden designer Nigel Dunnett’s essential guide to naturalistic planting. It’s very engaging! The Sheffield botanists are making all of the big leaps forward.

Rachael Champion, Interstate 495 is a Terminal Moraine, 8 September - 13 October 2018, Photo by JSP Art Photography

What are you working on right now?

I have become aware that there is an audience for what I have to say about my thirty years working as a dealer in the art world. It’s not been a predictable journey and more of a roller-coaster of events than anything else. I think my working-class background makes me a rare beast among art dealers and so as a consequence, I have been writing about my experiences with the aim of encouraging others. A book maybe??

I have also latterly discovered Instagram. I was never very keen on social media but I have inadvertently developed my own idiosyncratic diary style of presenting an image with a related short text each day. It’s a (sort of) analogue approach to the digital world and runs quite separately to Hales social media. I have made it what I want it to be and I am comfortable with that. It’s quite nice to be able to present contemporary art in the context of other things. Cooking, gardening, studio pottery, interiors, in fact anything is fair game I think.

Hew Locke, Where Lies the Land, Hales London, 26 September – 9 November 2019, Photo by Anna Arca

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to the gallery? What do you care about?

Most commercial art galleries are a labour of love and that is how we have always run Hales. I personally care about it! Every detail! All of it!

I talk about Hales in the plural as we are a very tight knit team. There is much more to Hales than me. We like each other and we enjoy working together. Over the course of my career, I have seen the London scene grow from punk-style DIY into a highly competitive capitalist driven marketplace. I often ask myself how somebody with essentially socialist values should behave in the face of that?

Simply expressed, I would sum up my response in this way: Be aspirational, be honest, be efficient and be kind!

Paul Hedge and Trenton Doyle Hancock at Mass MoCA, 2019

How has this last year affected your ideas of what you want your contribution to be in future?

Anyone who says they have breezed through the time of Covid is not being entirely truthful.

The pandemic has put the cat among the pigeons and has posed an existential threat to an art world reliant on travel and gatherings. I have been looking at my personal carbon footprint. It is much bigger than I would like. I am thinking more carefully about how I can do my job in the face of possible catastrophic climate change. It is certainly making me rethink.

This quiet period of reflection has also been good in regard to re-thinking the positioning of the artists and estates that Hales works with. I would like to be able to say that we (at Hales) have shone a light upon artists and placed them within a context that people can understand and enjoy. Part of my job is to shine that light as brightly as possible!

What do you enjoy the most about running a commercial gallery?

When Hales opened in 1992, we had little cash but we decided that above all, we wished to avoid any reliance upon conventional sources of funding. Essentially, we felt that the freedom afforded us by being able to make decisions independently of political interference or dictates from on high would be a preferable route to take.

At the time this meant that we earned our livings from the frothing of cappuccino, the cooking of pasta dishes and the preparation of sandwiches. In essence, we ran a café to fund exhibitions in our gallery. It was extremely hard work but gave us a great deal of autonomy.

The café is no more but it served us well. It gave Hales time to get off the ground and we continue to reap the rewards of that decision made way back then. I am proud about the manner in which we began our venture and I enjoyed my role as chef/curator/dealer for many of those years. However, I am also glad that our success allowed me to focus on the art and I am eternally grateful that I no longer have to rely on my culinary skills in order to run a dynamic gallery.

What do you feel proud of?

The fact that Hales has been an enterprise of resourcefulness and innovation and continues to thrive as a business after thirty years. Often the most artistically adventurous galleries leave the business structures to one side and collapse because of a lack of attention to the fiscal basics. The reverse is also true. I am proud of the balancing act that we have performed and continue to do so. I think that we have changed the course of many artists careers for the better. We may even have contributed to an understanding of art history is some small way. I am personally proud that I was able to progress from my former job as a postman and hold it together sufficiently to develop a vision for Hales which in turn led to where we are today.

Maja Ruznic, Name of the Voice, 10 September - 24 October 2020, Hales London

How do you discover artists and what makes you finally decide you want to work with an artist?

All I can say on the matter is that I have to fall in love and be obsessed with the work initially. I do not see any way to avoid this personally. In reality, myself and the two directors, Sasha Gomeniuk and Stuart Morrison, bring together our discoveries and we think things through together. Decisions are never made lightly.

Paul Hedge with Basil Beattie, Frieze London 2019

How do you gauge which artists and artworks will be interesting to audiences?

Our job as a gallery (at least a very simplified version) is to:

a) get excited about artists ourselves

b) present and contextualise their works along with our findings to others

c) encourage contagion and financial exchange

It sounds straightforward but it really isn’t easy!

Ask yourself, who are the people who make up the audience for the art shown at a commercial gallery? Are they the clients of the gallery?....or does the gallery have a responsibility to whoever decides to walk in on any given day? Or both? Again, ask yourself, are the works on show for the sole purpose of sales? or are commercial galleries a free service provided for the public? In my view, a gallery run for profit (which benefits both the artist and gallery team alike has unknowingly agreed to partaking in an extraordinary feat of dexterity and balance. As my uncle (who worked as an electrician for British rail all his life) once asked me “are you a shop, a showroom or a museum?”

I am still puzzling over that question!

Carolee Schneemann, More Wrong Things, 2017, Hales London

What kind of support or expertise do you offer or provide artists?

I think embarking on a career in art can be likened to leaping from an aircraft without the requisite understanding of how a parachute operates. Artists require that sort of freedom but it certainly has its dangers! Galleries try to provide a means of safe landing. Commercial galleries do much more than enact financial transactions but it is impossible to pin point exactly what will be needed for each career at any given time.

The best relationships between galleries and artists are ones of an unspoken understanding. Having said that, often the most direct support a gallery can provide for the artists is money. Money = freedom...at least in theory!

Paul Hedge and Omar Ba at Omar's Supernova Exhibition, Hales London, 2017

How do you go about building a market for an artist?

This is the area of a gallery’s work I feel most able to contribute something meaningful to.

I think about this night and day…sometimes literally night and day (especially during lockdown)! I can only skim the surface with my answer here. I would like to supply you with a more nuanced reply, but it would run to pages of text…another time maybe?

Here are the basics. It is clear to me that art history has been written from a particular perspective which is not terribly sympathetic to many of the things and the art I care about and hold dear. Artists are often over looked and unjustly forgotten. It really doesn’t matter at what point in their careers that this might take place. Their work is neglected for a reason but it is rarely because it isn’t good or important. Race, gender, class are all issues that Hales has been concerned with since its inception and are often (but not exclusively) reasons for a historical re-assessment, re-analysis and finally re-presentation.

I often ask myself, why has this career been overlooked? What has this artist done that is important? What makes them stand out? Which particular moments are most relevant to a contemporary debate?...and finally, how can we at Hales present this in a dynamic way so that a wider audience can understand its relevance?

Contemporary art dealing is as much about providing an interesting narrative that runs parallel with an understanding of the work itself. Timing is also key. Often younger artists require more direct attention. A helpful word at the right moment can go a long way to progressing a career! In mid-career, artists need to have more control over their output. A gallery can help by assisting the artist to prioritize where their work will be best placed for the longer term.

Omar Ba, Supernova, 2017, Hales, London

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

It seems to me that entering into anything at all from the position of strength is unlikely to be a big risk. If you have pots of money and gamble with 5% of it then the risk is small and the result of losing is not likely to inflict irreparable damage. Not surprisingly, things are often weighted in favour of those with substantial resources to draw upon. What does one do in the face of such competition?

At almost every stage of developing Hales we have had to take some highly risky decisions, but at each juncture I draw upon our togetherness and the resourceful attitude we have developed as we find a way to deal with the problems. Taking risks has led to many successes and it has undoubtedly made us stronger and taken us to new heights.

Virginia Jaramillo, Conflux, 10 September - 31 October, Hales New York, Photo by JSP Art Photography

What new strategies are you trying or considering in the current climate? How will you measure success?

In my lifetime, this has been the first global pandemic that I have faced (thank goodness). It is hard to know what to do in the face of it, except talk with my colleagues and artists regularly and try to put what we come up with into practice.

The art world will inevitably learn to live with Covid but it is likely to trigger a root and branch reassessment of our current business practices and usher in a new way of doing things.

This presents opportunity. I like to think that the Hales team is independently minded enough to be at the forefront of that innovation and also smart enough to recognise the breakthrough’s made by others which can be adopted to improve our own lot.

Sunil Gupta, Christopher Street, 30 April - 1 June 2019, Hales New York, Photo by JSP Art Photography

What insight from your experience in the art world would you like to share to empower others?

It goes full circle to your very first question…and my reply “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think”!

Try and take pleasure in what you do at every stage. Granted, sometimes it isn’t easy. It takes perseverance. Remember to take time to reflect on your achievements whilst simultaneously attempting to shape the future.

I often think to myself, how can I begin to effect change for good with the resources I have available right here right now? This approach has helped me immeasurably throughout my career.

 

 

Follow Paul on Instagram @_paul_hedge_ @halesgallery and visit the gallery website Hales Gallery

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KATHLEEN-SORIANO

Curator interview: KATHLEEN SORIANO

I first met the wonderful Curator and TV presenter Kathleen Soriano on a group excursion to China in 2007. The trip was an international exchange organised by the British Council for UK Curators and Directors to learn and develop new connections and potential partnerships.

It was an extraordinary 10 days, spent with an amazing, inspiring range of leaders, and together we asked our gracious creative hosts curious questions, shared a diverse range of experiences and reflected together. I am delighted that so many of the group remain firm friends to this day.

I was struck by Kathleen's wide ranging knowledge and energy, her sense of humour and keen ability to cut through any nonsense. (I was also thrilled to learn that Kathleen's contribution to a Karaoke night involved performing Flamenco - cementing that she was my kind of woman).

I have thoroughly enjoyed our conversations ever since, finding our exchanges nurturing and enriching. If I was ever in need of an honest take on a creative or leadership challenge, Kathleen would be one of the first people I'd reach out to. I am also in no doubt that I am one of many (particularly women) that would call on her for sage, frank advice.

Kathleen is generous, playful and astute, deeply committed to artists and the power of creativity and culture. She is a creative polymath and able to weave the historical and contemporary together seamlessly, whether through directing, curating, writing, broadcasting or presenting. She is full of light and a real tour de force.

Kathleen Soriano in the Royal Academy of Arts’ Main Galleries, London

Kathleen Soriano began her career at the Royal Academy of Arts over 35 years ago. In 1989 she joined the National Portrait Gallery, where as Director of Exhibitions & Collections she was also responsible for national and international programmes. In 2004 she became one of the first cohort of Clore Leadership Fellows, working at the South Bank Centre and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. In February 2006 she became Director of Compton Verney Art Gallery, Warwickshire. January 2009 saw her appointed Artistic Director at the Royal Academy. In 2014 she set up her own curatorial, artistic advisory and strategic consultancy company. In addition she has recently acted as Interim Director at Firstsite, Colchester and Artistic Director of the Jakober Foundation, Mallorca. As well as curating many successful exhibitions she has lectured and written extensively in her field and her book Madam and Eve on women artists, was published in April 2018. Her broadcast activities include the seven series of Portrait/Landscape Artist of the Year for SkyArts.

She is Chair of the Liverpool Biennial, and a specialist advisor to the National Trust. Previously she has held roles on the strategic committee of the Grand Palais, Paris, the Wellcome Collection exhibition advisory group, chaired the Churches Conservation Trust’s Art Advisory group, was a founder member of Women Leaders in Museums Network and is currently a Trustee of ArtUK, on the advisory council of 2 Temple Place, the editorial board of Apollo and the visual arts committee of St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

What are you doing, reading, watching, or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?

For someone who is most clearly NOT an artist, I’ve come to realise that what I most want and need to be doing is being creative. For me, in this second lockdown, that’s taken the form of cooking and knitting. Returning to knitting after a 30-year gap was somewhat disconcerting but, like the proverbial bicycle, it wasn’t long before the clackety clack of the needles fell into its old, familiar pattern. Having completed my first effort (a sloppy Joe cardigan since you ask), I am now bereft that it’s finished and wondering what to do with my hands as I sit in front of the telly each night. It’s not a cheap hobby…Like everyone else, I’ve exhausted all the box sets but have just spent a delightfully, self-indulgent morning wallowing in the truly appalling, but quite brilliant, musical homage Prom on Netflix. I don’t recommend it, but I do, but I really don’t. Just watch it.

Tai Shan Schierenberg, Kathleen Soriano and Kate Bryan on location at Broadstairs for Landscape Artist of the Year

What are you working on right now?

Making TV from home has kept me extremely busy over the last few months. Setting up a makeshift studio in my box room cum office cum wardrobe, preparing home-made video tapes, getting the lighting and sound right for our Sunday morning Portrait Artist of the Week series, has been the focus of my week. In some ways I’ve enjoyed it more than the Year as it’s just me and my laptop and thousands of artist friends all around the world, logging in to paint-a-long with us every Sunday morning. It’s been a real tonic for the soul, not just for the incredible community of artists it’s built, but also for all of us making it.

In exhibition terms, I’ve been busy shaping my Eileen Cooper RA exhibition for Leicester Museum & Art Gallery for Autumn 2022, a Mario Testino show for Compton Verney in early 2022, the Mikalojus Ciurlionis (Lithuanian late 19th century Symbolist artist) exhibition for Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2023, as well as creating two shows for the English Civic Museums Network that will travel to Japan in 2023 and 2024.

It’s also been a busy time at the Liverpool Biennial, which I chair. Having postponed our July 2020 opening to March 2021, a huge amount of work and re-alignment needed to happen with the programme and in the city and I cannot praise our Guest Curator, Manuela Moscoso, and the team around her, enough for all that they have done and all that they have achieved under difficult circumstances.  We look forward to March 2021 and the opening in the fabulous city of Liverpool – a moment for us all to rejoice in new hopeful dawns … hopefully. Come! Covid-willing.

Kathleen Soriano at the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest - Active Collections Conference, 26-29 April 2018

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to your curatorial work? What do you care about?

I have always suffered from being a perfectionist and being overly conscientious. As a direct consequence, many around me have also suffered – apologies to you all. Those two characteristics can mean that you carry the weight of your role within a major institution with some heaviness. Having done that with pleasure and delight for over 30 years, whilst working in major institutions, I find that now that I work for myself, I am more selfishly driven by the idea of working on projects that give me genuine pleasure – no matter how grand or insignificant the task (I’m a sucker for a good bit of admin). And, generally, my work aims only to bring joy and happiness to those involved be they artists, organisations, audiences, whatever.

Whilst I may have become more pragmatic in my old age, truth, honesty, beauty in all its extreme variants, generosity and kindness remain the values that I care about most in life and in work.

How has this year affected your ideas of what you want your contribution to be in future?

This year has only confused me even more in relation to my contribution, specifically with regards to my sector. I see our museum and gallery directors on the front-line dealing with insurmountable issues and still trying to champion all that we do. That’s not my role any longer but I couldn’t have more respect for their tireless work on this front. I see the world changing, I see need and opportunity changing and wonder how I must alter and adapt to be useful and of service. But ultimately the community of artists that have come together through Portrait Artist of the Week (and PAOTY and LAOTY) show me that there is powerful passion for creativity at all levels, grassroots and all the way to our elevated iconic artists, and it is my job to credit them all, to value their work and to encourage that creativity in the most democratic way I can.

What is one of your personal favourite exhibitions you have curated and why?

That’s like asking me to pick my favourite child. But two shows stand out, for very different reasons. The Anselm Kiefer retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts in 2014 felt like a huge personal achievement – working with one of our greatest living artists, building a pathway through his monumental oeuvre, blowing visitors away with the rhythm and pace of the hang, and installing the works in what are to my mind the most beautiful galleries in Europe. Secondly I would have to mention the big Australian landscape art survey show that I made, again for the RA, in 2012. Sure it had its faults, but it served its purpose in bringing art that people should know but didn’t know to their attention, on one of the world’s most significant stages, spawning Australian art shows across Europe and the US in the years that followed.

Broadening the canon has always been central to my approach and intentions, especially when you have such a platform as indeed I was lucky to have at the RA.

Anselm Kiefer and Kathleen Soriano at the press preview of his retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

Can you describe what you ideally want to achieve when curating an exhibition?

I’m always looking for an elegant rhythm and pace to the hang and to the storytelling that sweeps the viewer along so that they leave with a fully rounded experience in which they might have learnt something or felt something meaningful or just achingly beautiful. For me, whether it’s on the wall or in a book, it starts with the images and I allow them to dictate the story that they want to tell.

What do you offer or provide artists in the curatorial relationship?

I like to think that I provide artists with a fresh pair of eyes. Eyes that understand the art world context that we all operate in and that can help them strategically navigate their way through it. That, and a fabulous eye for hanging…

What was the last artwork you purchased and why?

Just this morning I bought two works from Liorah Tchiprout – one a gift and, as always happens when I’m buying something for someone else…one for myself! Liorah featured on Portrait Artist of the Year and whilst her work was probably not literal enough (in likeness terms) to see her go on to win, I was drawn to the strange, otherworldly nature of it. Her work tends to depict puppets that she has created, posed in a seemingly life-like manner that bring all sorts of narratives to the compositions, some a little bit disturbing and unnerving, but which I rather like. They remind me a bit of Honoré Daumier’s works but her approach is very Paula Rego, but looser and more distinctively Liorah.

Liorah Tchiprout, Princess Study, 2020, Charcoal and oil on gessoed paper, 14.5 x 19 cm

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

My next book How to be an Artist which I’ll be writing with my fellow Judges, Kate Bryan and Tai Shan Schierenberg. Watch this space.

Do you have any advice for people wanting to work in the arts?

If you can, go in at the bottom of a larger organisation and look around you before you make any firm decisions about the role that you most desire. The range of different types of work within the arts is phenomenal and whilst we all know about curators, directors and the like, there are still incredibly invaluable roles be they in fundraising, digital content, press and marketing, learning or whatever. Often these are not apparent from the outside so getting into a larger organisation where you can see these roles at play, and learn more about them, might just help you refine and define your own future pathway in a less obvious and more creative way.

Follow Kathleen on Instagram @kathleen.soriano and Twitter @KclSoriano 

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MARCELLE-JOSEPH-BLOG

Curator and Collector interview: MARCELLE JOSEPH

I was first introduced to Curator and Collector Marcelle Joseph by artist Charlie Billingham, at a preview at the Tate in 2012.

We both exhibited Charlie's work, and our interests and enthusiasms for artists and ideas continue to connect. I have enjoyed following Marcelle's curatorial and collecting initiatives and really appreciate her holistic support of artists, over a longer period of time.

She truly loves and appreciates artists, and is passionate about their work and contribution. She is deeply committed to finding ways to support the arts, in diversifying the landscape and is generous in her wider support and contribution to the arts ecology. She is a patron of artists, galleries, arts charities, education initiatives and commissions and buys new work regularly.

We are both Trustees of Matts Gallery, and I find her sincere determination and passion for ensuring a greater parity in the artworld refreshing and much needed. She is a positive, respectful, considered, calm, and thoughtful contributor and a real pleasure to work with.

Marcelle Joseph, Photo, Gabrielle Cooper

Marcelle Joseph is a London-based American independent curator. In 2011, Joseph founded Marcelle Joseph Projects, a nomadic curatorial platform that has produced 38 exhibitions in the UK and the rest of Europe, featuring the work of over 200 international artists. Joseph's expertise is in early career artists based in the UK, in particular, female-identifying and non-binary artists, and has an academic specialization in feminist art practice after completing an MA in Art History with Distinction from Birkbeck, University of London.

In 2013, she executive edited Korean Art: The Power of Now (Thames & Hudson), a survey of the contemporary art scene in South Korea. Additionally, Joseph is a trustee of Matt’s Gallery, London and served on the jury of the 2017-2019 Max Mara Art Prize for Women, in collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery and Collezione Maramotti, and the Mother Art Prize 2018. She also collects artworks by female-identifying artists under the collecting partnership, GIRLPOWER Collection, as well as more generally as part of the Marcelle Joseph Collection. Throughout 2020, Joseph has acted as Curatorial Consultant for Lychee One, a commercial gallery located in East London.

What are you doing, reading, watching, or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?

I’m a sucker for the here, the now and the new, and I love literary fiction. So I am drawn to the debut novelist just as I am drawn to the early career artist, and two years ago, I vowed to myself that I would only read the prose of women and queer writers and writers of colour. Who wants to read about a world envisioned by a white straight male writer when we are governed for the most part around the world by white straight males for the benefit of the same group of people largely to the exclusion of all ‘others’. Looking at recent reads on my Kindle, these are some of my recommendations for those of you with reading predilections like mine: Catherine Lacey’s Pew, Yaa Gyasi’s first two novels, Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie, Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer, Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage, Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, Kate Elizabeth Russell’s My Dark Vanessa, Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, Jesmyn Ward’s novels and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham.

At the moment, I’ve gone back in time to fill in some holes in my lexicon. I’ve just ordered most of the books written by Octavia E. Butler and Toni Morrison. I had to buy physical copies as I have a feeling they will be heavily annotated and nourish me with inspiration for future exhibitions.

Other than reading, I have been hiking in a forest near my home in Ascot while listening to The Great Women Artists and Talk Art podcasts. Supposedly, ‘forest bathing’ strengthens our immune system, reduces blood pressure, increases energy, boosts our mood and helps us regain and maintain our focus in ways that treeless environments just don't. So London doesn’t have the same allure it once did for me before the lockdown.

I do have a few current guilty pleasures to help me stay positive: Darren Star’s Emily in Paris and Katherine Ryan’s The Duchess – both on Netflix and both featuring strong and funny female protagonists with killer wardrobes. I’m dying for the days pre-pandemic when we had occasions to dress up for.


Installation view of PROUDICK, curated by Marcelle Joseph at Hannah Barry Gallery, London, 2018,
with artworks by Lindsey Mendick and Paloma Proudfoot, Photo: Damian Griffiths

What do you enjoy the most about curating?

For me, it’s everything that happens prior to the opening of the exhibition: the research, the writing of the text and the placement of the artworks in the space, but, most importantly, it is all of the conversations and studio visits with the artists that led me to choosing them to participate in an exhibition I am curating.

How do you develop your curatorial ideas?

It usually starts with a text I am reading or song lyrics I am listening to. Previous thematic group exhibitions have been inspired by the likes of Frank Ocean, Haruki Murakami, J.G. Ballard and Ursula K. Le Guin. Once the theme has been formulated, I start to think about what artists I would like to include, and always ensure that the mix of artists is as diverse as possible across the gender and racial spectrum in order to attract audiences that are equally diverse.

Installation view of Monster/Beauty: An Exploration of the Female/Femme Gaze, curated by Marcelle Joseph at Lychee One, London, 2020,
Artworks left to right: Rafaela de Ascanio (ceramic vase), Chelsea Culprit, Lisa Brice, Cristina BanBan, Hanne Wilke, Sophie Thun and Zanele Muholi. Photo: Corey Bartle Sanderson

How do you discover artists and what factors contribute to your decision to curate an artist’s work?

I am an art addict and see as much art as I physically can, whether it be at degree shows, museums, galleries, project spaces, art fairs around the world or on Instagram or in art magazines. Most of my recent curated exhibitions have been thematic groups shows so I choose the artist’s work that I feel fits the theme the most. If I do not yet know the artist, I will arrange to meet the artist in their studio to learn more about their practice and what drives their creative impulses.

Installation view of Young Monsters, curated by Marcelle Joseph at Lychee One, London, 2019,
Artworks l-r: Glen Pudvine, Gray Wielebinski and Neil Haas, Photo Corey Bartle Sanderson

What do you offer or provide artists in the curatorial relationship?

A friendly ear, a creative eye, a critically engaged outlook and sometimes even a shoulder to cry on. As a curator, I literally want to be a safe space for the artist to realise their full potential. I want to be a sounding board too. I love the exchange of ideas between a curator and an artist. I may recommend to an artist a certain theorist to read or an artist reference to check out and they may recommend other artists’ work to me or texts to read or films to watch.


Installation view of Dancing at the Edge of the World curated by Marcelle Joseph at Z2O Sara Zanin Gallery, Rome, 2020,
with artworks by Saelia Aparicio (wall works), Charlotte Colbert (bed) and Lindsey Mendick (ceramic work on floor), Photo: Sebastiano Luciano

What is one of your personal favourite exhibitions or events you have curated and why?

One of my favourite exhibitions I have curated was Dancing at the Edge of the World, a group exhibition in 2020 at Z2O Sara Zanin Gallery, a large commercial gallery space in Rome, featuring the work of ten female-identifying artists and inspired by my favourite feminist science fiction writer, Ursula K. Le Guin. The featured artists were Saelia Aparicio, Charlotte Colbert, Monika Grabuschnigg, Zsófia Keresztes, Alexi Marshall, Florence Peake, Proudick (Lindsey Mendick and Paloma Proudfoot), Megan Rooney and Eve Stainton. And the exhibition envisioned a feminist or non-binary utopia – a new universalism of sorts, devoid of inequality, domination and exploitation and full of feminine pleasure. So it had many of my favourite things: identity politics, empowered female/femme voices, feminist theory, artists with process-based material-led practices, two commissioned wall paintings and two commissioned performances.

This exhibition also attracted my first ArtForum review and four different mentions in Italian national newspapers, so I was very proud of its reception both in Italy and internationally. I really enjoy curating exhibitions outside of the major art world hub that I live in – London – as there is less competition for viewers’ eyeballs so an exhibition can have greater visibility and promote more important conversations about art and the world outside of the gallery in a smaller city.

Can you describe what you ideally want to achieve when curating an exhibition?

I would like the viewer of an exhibition I have curated to still be thinking about the exhibition the next day, the next week or the next month – either a specific artwork moved them aesthetically, spiritually or intellectually or the dialogue between works by different artists made them think differently or gain new insight about that artist’s work, or the theme of the exhibition made them interrogate or examine the world or their own interiority, in a socially, politically or emotionally engaged manner.

Marcelle Joseph in her drawing room in Ascot with artworks left to right:Laurence Owen (ceramic vases),
Athena Papadopoulos (sculpture), Colden Drystone (painting), Jesse Darling (sculpture) and Brian Griffiths (sculpture on coffee table). Photo: Kâthe Kroma

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to collecting artists’ work? What do you care about?

I care a lot about supporting artists at the point in their career when they need it the most, so I am predominantly buying the work of early career artists. But what I’m most interested in achieving across all my activities – whether it be curating, collecting or patronage – is the representation and support of artists who have been marginalised by the patriarchal canon and the white male dominated art world. It started with my support of female-identifying artists through the curation of all-womxn group shows and the GIRLPOWER Collection, a collecting partnership I founded in 2012 with Kimberly Morris, a Zurich-based friend, that acquires only work by female artists. Slowly, over time, this support has grown to encompassing the queer community of artists and artists of colour as an extension of feminist theory to queer and post-colonial theory.

In 2017, I curated You see me like a UFO in my home in Ascot. It was the first exhibition I curated that featured my own collection. I hung all of my works by female and queer artists and artists of colour in prominent positions and commissioned artists Marie Jacotey and Evan Ifekoya to make a set of curtains for the show, behind which were hung the works in my collection by straight white male artists. It was not an attack on these male artists in my collection but a gesture of letting other artists be ‘seen’ and relish the power normally reserved for the patriarchy – a little like Eddie Murphy in Trading Places (1983) – a role reversal of sorts as well as a forecast of better times to come. As Oprah Winfrey said, ‘There is no discrimination against excellence’. And I am attempting to support excellence that may not be recognised by the broader art market, that is largely led by men for men, whether they be artists or collectors.

Installation view of You see me like a UFO curated by Marcelle Joseph at her home in Ascot, Marcelle Joseph Projects, 2017):
Evan Ifekoya’s commissioned curtains, Where is your Sense of Urgency?, 2017, and other works by Morgan Wills, Colden Drystone, Grant Foster David Micheaud,
Ralph Hunter-Menzies, Robin Seir, Laurence Owen, Brian Griffiths, Matthias Merkel Hess, James Capper and Nikolai Winter. Photo: Jan Krejci

What do you enjoy the most about collecting?

The thing I enjoy the most about collecting is living with the creative expression of so many amazing artists that I have met, written about or worked with over the years. I often call my collection a collection of conversations, as it is very important for me to meet the artist before I collect their work. There are exceptions to that rule but very few. My collection is like living with some of my best friends. And many of my relationships with artists have taken many different guises over time. For example, I may have a studio visit with an artist just after they leave art school, then I invite them to participate in an exhibition I am curating a year later, then I buy their work for the collection a year after that and then two years later I throw a dinner party in their honour for them to meet other collectors and curators, then two years after that I loan their work to a museum exhibition.

Jessie Makinson, Spiral Bound, 2017, Oil and pigment on canvas, 195 x 165 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Marcelle Joseph Collection

Do you have a focus to your collection?

Most definitely, but not from the very start of my collecting in 2010. I have really enjoyed developing my eye over the years, learning what drives my taste and honing the philosophy of my collection. I call myself an activist collector as I largely collect early career women and queer artists who make work that is about the performativity of identity politics and/or is all about materiality and the processes of making.

Chelsea Culprit, High Spirited Chimeras witih Hypnotic Digital Masks II, 2018,, Oil, acrylic, enamel, gouache, graphite,
pastel, fabric on canvas, 150 x 241 cm, Courtesy of the Marcelle Joseph Collection

Can you describe the kinds of artists and works that light your fuse? 

Given that I am attracted to material-led practices, I tend to buy more painting and sculpture than time-based media. I absolutely love ceramic and textile works. I do have photography and video in the collection but it represents a smaller percentage. Although some of the latest works I have added to the collection are in fact photographic works – including two works by Larry Achiampong.

In terms of geography, the collection is predominantly focused on UK-based artists given that I am physically based in London, most of my curatorial activities take place here and I prefer to meet the artists before I collect their work. I also need to keep shipping costs low so that limits my collecting universe. I do reach out to artists and galleries outside of the UK so the collection contains some works by artists from around the world as well. Given my penchant for identity politics, I am partial to figuration and representational styles at this moment in time.


Artworks in Marcelle Joseph’s home in Ascot, l-r: Caterina Silva, Athena Papadopoulos and Liane Lang, Photo: Jan Krejci

What kinds of supporting information & materials do you use to help you make the decision?

I do a lot of research before adding an artist’s work to my collection. I often already know the artist as explained above, but I look at artist and gallery websites and Instagram accounts; I read online press reviews and artist interviews; I subscribe to ArtForum, Art Review, Frieze, Art in America, Kaleidoscope, Mousse, Cura and Elephant; and I parse through the artist’s CV as I value pedigree and an artist’s choices throughout their career in terms of art school, exhibitions, residencies and awards. And if the artist lives outside the UK, sometimes I wait until I am travelling somewhere that I can meet them in person before acquiring the work.

Do you have a maximum budget when collecting (monthly? annually?) Do you stick to it? If not, what kind of work has made you stretch?

Since I am interested in supporting artists in the earlier part of their careers, I do have a maximum budget per artwork and that is currently £7,500. The few times that I have stretched over that amount was because it was a GIRLPOWER Collection acquisition as Kimberly Morris and I are 50/50 partners in that collecting partnership.

Do you have a preferred range of galleries you buy from? What is it about their way or working or roster of artists that you connect with?

I often buy an artist’s work directly from the studio if they are not represented yet or from an exhibition I have curated. But there is definitely a group of galleries that are my go-to galleries as I trust them and their way of working with their roster of artists. Typically, as gallerists, they stage exhibitions that are more curatorial in scope. This is often not the most commercial way to run an art gallery, but I think it is more important to contextualise an artist’s work properly than to focus solely on shifting an artist’s work to the highest bidder. My current favourites are Arcadia Missa, Bosse & Baum, Copperfield, Emalin, Hannah Barry Gallery, Seventeen, Soft Opening and The Sunday Painter in London and Gianni Manhattan and Sophie Tappeiner in Vienna and Queer Thoughts in New York (in alphabetical order of course).

Marcelle Joseph in her cloakroom in Ascot with a permanent commission by Ludovica Gioscia, Photo Kâthe Kroma

Where do you show and store your collection?

Currently, the 250 pieces in the two collections – the GIRLPOWER Collection and my own personal collection - are on display in my homes in London, Ascot (UK) and upstate New York (US). I try to rehang every 6-12 months to get the newer work on the walls and out of my spare bedrooms in Ascot where I store whatever is not on display.

Exhibition view of Electronic Superhighway, MAAT, Lisbon, Portugal, 2017, Including GIRLPOWER Collection’s work on right: Amalia Ulman,
Excellences & Perfections (Instagram Update 19th June 2014), 2014, 150 x 150 x 2.5 cm, unique, Phromogenic print dry mounted on aluminium mounted on black edge frame

Do you loan from your collection? If so, can you give an example of the kinds of requests you receive?

The GIRLPOWER Collection and I both loan works from the two collections. For example, a work by Amalia Ulman that is part of the GIRLPOWER Collection was loaned to Whitechapel Gallery’s Electronic Superhighway exhibition in 2016 where it later toured to MAAT in Lisbon, Portugal. And I have loaned a work by Eileen Cooper RA to her solo show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 2015.

Do you have any advice for artists who engage with collectors IRL and online?

My advice to artists is to make the effort to keep your CV's and websites up to date and post all current developments on your Instagram feed. Network as much as possible at private views and other art world events as you never know who you will meet. And remember that collectors are always eager to meet new artists.

 

Follow Marcelle on Instagram @marcelle.joseph and visit her website www.marcellejoseph.com

 

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darryl-de-prez-blog

Interview: DARRYL DE PREZ

I was first introduced to Darryl de Prez by the wonderful Curator and Collector Marcelle Joseph. We are Trustees of Matts Gallery, London and have been working together supporting Robin Klassnik, Tim Dixon, and the team on the strategy for the new Matts Gallery home, in Nine Elms, London.

Darryl has had an amazing career in the arts to date and has worked with and supported some of the most vital and inspiring artists and arts organisations. He is genuinely passionate about supporting artists and loves meeting and getting to know them and following their careers.

He is a joy to work with as his incredible in-depth knowledge and experience always shine something new on a challenge or opportunity. He appears to have a photographic memory for detail, particularly when it comes to artists’ work. He travels, reads, and researches voraciously and connects people, place, and possibilities.

He is modest and generous, and despite working incredibly hard, always finds time for people and new experiences. With his collecting partner Victoria Thomas, he has amassed a remarkable collection of wonderful work, that they live with and enjoy sharing with others. He is enormous fun and would be my party guest of choice any time.

Darryl de Prez with two works by Jack Burton, Photo Kathë Kroma

Darryl de Prez is Head of Development at Brixton House, London and has collected work by early career artists for nearly fifteen years. along with his collecting partner Victoria Thomas. He is a Patron and supporter of several arts organisations - including the Whitechapel Gallery, New Contemporaries, Matt’s Gallery, Wysing Arts Centre and Artangel – and is a Trustee of Matt’s Gallery and sits on the Development Committee of Artangel.

Darryl studied History of Art and Architecture at the Courtauld Institute of Art and has worked as a fundraiser in the charity and arts sectors for nearly thirty years, including the Royal Academy of Arts, the Whitechapel Gallery, the Serpentine Galleries, English National Opera and the London Symphony Orchestra.  He has lectured and led workshops on development in the arts at the Courtauld Institute, Christie’s Education, the Whitechapel Gallery and London Metropolitan University.  He is also an Alumni Ambassador for the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Larry Achiampong, Glyth (family & van), Glyth (girls on step), 2018, Courtesy of Copperfield

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

I recently read and highly recommend Tell Them I Said No by Martin Herbert, a small collection of essays about artists who stepped away from - or were never part of - the art world. Many of these are among my favourite artists - Agnes Martin, Cady Noland, Charlotte Posenanske, David Hammons, Trisha Donnelly - but until reading this book I’d never really thought about the thread of absence which connects their practices.

I read a lot of poetry - from recent work like Surge by the brilliant young poet Jay Bernard to older generations of writers such as W. B. Yeats, Caroline Knox, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara.

A lot of what I read, watch or listen at the moment seems foreshadow the current situation with COVID-19 in my mind, from Laurie Anderson’s O Superman to Gregory Corso’s America Politica Historia, In Spontaneity, but it’s probably unavoidable to make such connections at the moment.

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to collecting artists work? What do you care about?

I don’t think I’ve ever thought about this question before! I would say that I aim to bring honesty, transparency, sincerity, and intellectual rigour to my collecting - attributes which can often be missing from the art world at large. But always with a sense of adventure and fun.

Rachel Maclean, Over the Rainbow (still), 2013, Courtesy of the artist

What do you enjoy the most about collecting?

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to live surrounded by art, which can in turns be stimulating, reassuring, challenging, but always rewarding. I grew up in a family that collected - or amassed may be a better word - antiques and art from antiquity to the 19th Century. Growing up was a voyage of discovery, foraging through paintings, ceramics, silver, and furniture for hours at home.

I enjoy every aspect of collecting, including the cataloguing, hanging, archiving, etc. It is also hugely rewarding to contribute in some way to the development of artists’ practices by supporting them at early stages of their careers.

How do you discover artists and what factors contribute to your decision to collect an artist’s work?

I discover artists from looking constantly - BA and MA degree shows; exhibitions at commercial galleries and non-profit project spaces; art fairs; online platforms; magazines and publications. I never tire of looking and learning more.

I am also interested to hear what work artists, curators and other collectors are looking at. I’ve discovered several interesting artists through other artists’ recommendations, and I trust their judgement. I’m always interested to hear what other collectors are buying, but generally I would rather go against the herd and tread my own path.

When choosing to collect a certain artist, the decision is based on several factors. Often, Victoria and I will have a visceral reaction to a work, and we will know then and there that we need to own it. There is still a process, however, of learning about the artist, their ideas and vision, their wider body of work and their practice. All these things need to stack up in a way that resonates with us as collectors before we can take a leap. There is also a level of practicality - can we afford it?

I feel that having too much money to spend can lead to ill-conceived or scattergun collections. Having a strict budget entails a lot of careful thought, research, and soul-searching before committing to an acquisition, as we cannot buy everything we see and like, and this is a strength rather than a weakness.


Jesse Darling, Cavalry (Sugar n Stone), 2016, Courtesy of Arcadia Missa

Do you have a focus in your collection?

The focus of the collection is probably that it represents the viewpoints, lives, ideas, and tastes of the two collectors, Victoria and I. Beyond that, we didn’t set out with any preconceived focus or curatorial concept.

Recently we held a Zoom-based online collection visit for the Whitechapel Gallery Patrons. We had recently rehung and I spent quite some time reading up on the various works currently on display. I soon realised that most artists were concerned with an exploration of personal histories, family histories, childhood, and home, and how these histories can reflect or be reflected in wider social histories and global politics. I’d never made these connections before and it was an interesting moment of revelation.

 Jesse Darling, Wounded Door II, 2014, Courtesy of Arcadia Missa; In background, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Fortune Cookie Corner, 2010
and Richard Woods, Leaning Light and Wood Sculpture, 2011, Courtesy of the artists

Can you describe the kinds of work that lights your fuse?

The collection covers pretty much every medium aside from performance and sound (these aren’t deliberate omissions - the opportunity to acquire them just hasn’t arisen yet). We also have works of widely differing scales, some of which are too big to show in the house.

We tend to focus on artists at earlier stages of their careers, partly from a practical budgetary consideration but also because I think that the work can be more exciting and challenging at that stage of an artist’s career. Some artists continue breaking boundaries and pushing their practice throughout their lives. On the other hand, over the years the market can flatten an artist’s work into something safe and expected.

What kinds of information & materials do you request to help you make the decision?

If I become interested in an artist, then I want to know as much as possible about their practice. I try to see as much of their work as I can and read as much as possible about their practice and ideas. I become quite voracious for images and information.

As an example, I first came across Buck Ellison’s work online and quickly became fascinated with the images and his ideas. I read every piece of print I could find about him - interviews, reviews, catalogue essays, exhibition press releases. I finally saw his work at Liste one year and the physical objects lived up to the concepts I had read so much about. When The Sunday Painter announced his first London show later that year, we bought something immediately.

Buck Ellison, Husbands, 2014, Courtesy of The Sunday Painter

Do you have a maximum budget (monthly? annually?) Do you stick to it? If not, what kind of work has made you stretch?

Each month we transfer a fixed amount into an ‘art account’ which we then use for acquisitions. We often end up paying in instalments over a few months and we have a list of artists and works we want to acquire over the year ahead.

Occasionally we will see something and immediately know that we must have it, so it either jumps to the top of the list or we dip into other funds to pay for it immediately. It’s hard to define what kind of works can make this leap - it’s more of a visceral reaction and one which we both must experience.

The works we buy have certainly become more expensive over the years and so we end up acquiring fewer works each year, as our total budget has not expanded in the same way.

Is it important to you to meet the artists you collect? If so, can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

It isn’t essential but it is certainly beneficial and usually very enjoyable. We know most of the artists we collect. Sometimes we know the artists before we acquire their work and sometimes, we meet them after we have bought something. We have become friends with many of them and it is always a pleasure to have artists come over and see their work installed.

When we get together with artist friends we talk about art, of course, but we also talk about literature, history, philosophy, physics, music, theatre, film, mythology, and so on. Our discussions range over so many issues and topics of shared interest and which inform their practices. These conversations are always stimulating and hugely rewarding.

Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, Something for the Boys (still), 2018, Courtesy of Arcadia Missa

What risks have you taken along the way? Any that you would not take again?

I guess collecting art is generally a risky business, in that we are always taking leaps of faith on artists and their works. These are risks we are willing to take, however.

I don’t consider there to be any financial risks to our type of collecting. I never think in terms of investment and I only spend money that I know I can afford to live without, with no expectation of making it back or making a profit. I would think differently if we were investing millions in a tenth- part ownership of a Rudolf Stingel, perhaps, but then if we did that sort of thing, we would be very different collectors and people.

Do you have a preferred range of galleries you buy from? 

Our closest gallery relationship is probably with Arcadia Missa. We bought a Jesse Darling sculpture from them shortly after they made the move from a non-profit project space into a commercial gallery, and since then we have continued to buy works by most of the artists they represent. Other London galleries with whom we have a close affinity include Copperfield, Emalin, Southard Reid and The Sunday Painter, as well as several galleries in other countries. Vitrine is also a very interesting model for a gallery.

What is it about their way or working or roster of artists that you connect with?

I think it boils down to sharing a sensibility, mindset, vision - whatever you want to call it - with certain gallerists. You come to realise that if they find something interesting in an artist, you probably will too. The galleries named above are, on the surface, quite different from one another, but I enjoy or appreciate most of the artists they show and respect the opinions and ideas of the gallerists.

Athena Papadopoulos, Sandstorm at Habromania Hotel, 2014/15, Courtesy of Emalin

Where do you show and store your collection? What environmental factors do you take into consideration and have you had to make any changes to accommodate these considerations?

Everything is in the house - we live with our collection every day. We rehang regularly, which involves a lot of filling, painting, drilling, and fixing. We have turned one of our rooms into a storage room for anything not currently on display, because proper art storage is far too expensive for us. I would love to somehow double the size of the house so we could show more.

We do consider environmental conditions when we hang, including light levels for photography and works on paper, heating, etc., and we frame everything to museum quality. Luckily, our Victorian house has a lot of dark spaces!

Do you loan from your collection? If so, can you give an example of the kinds of requests you receive? What factors help you decide whether to loan or not?

We will always loan from the collection and will also make works accessible if anyone wants to come and see them. When approached for a loan, we will consider the nature and themes of the exhibition, the venue, insurance, and travel arrangements, etc. before committing, just to make sure everything is above board. We don’t get asked very often - I think the last work we loaned was a painting called Adapter by Luke Jackson, which featured in Reality: Modern and Contemporary British Painting at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and then the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

Do you have any advice for artists who engage with collectors IRL and online?

If artists do not have representation then it pays for them to have worked out their pricing, editioning, discounts and all those boring business- related issues that collectors need to know. It they are represented, then the gallerists should always be involved and take the lead on those discussions.

Artists should just be themselves when dealing with collectors. It can be a complex relationship, as it can encompass social elements and elements of exchange. Collectors should always remember that they are dealing with human beings who put a lot of themselves into their work and should not treat artists like insurance salespeople.

Sometimes collectors can feel exploitative of artists’ time or emotional labour, which should be recognised and respected. If I were an artist, I think I would also be quite picky about whom I sold to, based on my feelings about certain collectors and the way they collect. I think this brings me back to Cady Noland and Tell Them I Said No!

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

Although I’ve never bought anything from seeing it on Instagram, I have met several artists whose work I like because they have direct messaged me and invited me to their studios. I think Instagram is a great resource to get a sense of a collector’s taste and then be able to reach out to them directly.

Follow Darryl on Instagram @darryl_de_prez

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connal-orton-blog-home

Interview: CONNAL ORTON

I was introduced to Connal Orton around 2008/2009 by Mark Doyle, who was running the North West Collector Development scheme for Contemporary Art Society. Connal was very supportive of my gallery programme, attended shows, visited artists studios and bought work, including by Matthew Houlding (see below). Connal is an award-winning creative, most recently at the BBC he has produced series 1 and 2 of All At Sea, (twice nominated Best Children's Comedy, BAFTA); Worst Year of My Life, Again and series 1-9 of 4 O'Clock Club (Best Drama, Kidscreen Awards; Best Children's Programme, RTS North; nominated Best Children's Drama, BAFTA).

Connal is an enquiring, creative, funny, and sincere art enthusiast, committed to engaging with artists, and delights in challenging, philosophical, political, and existential conversations. He has an infectious thirst for adventure.

Connal Orton, Photo Lizzie Bayliss

Connal Orton lives in Manchester where he works as an Executive Producer in television, making comedy and drama programmes for children. Prior to this he worked as a theatre director, specialising in first productions of new plays, and has always made his living from being around and working with creative people. He started collecting ten years ago when joined the (sadly defunct) Regional Collector Development Scheme run by The Contemporary Arts Society, which introduced art enthusiasts to curator-guided tours of exhibitions, visiting interesting commercial galleries and studio visits with emerging artists.

Nicky Hirst, Social Distancing 3, 2020, Rubber stamp ink on printed page, 250 x 180 mm, Image c/o the artist, Purchased as part of the Artists Support Pledge initiative

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

I’m lucky enough that a large chunk of my work is with script writers locked away at home, so that can carry on remotely. Having a structure helps enormously. Because my work is always so text-based, reading for pleasure can feel like a bit of a bus-man’s holiday; but as work has gone a bit quieter, I’m attacking novels with gusto. I’m also watching loads of films. I seem to have a collecting bug in several areas, which includes a collection of about 3000 Blu-rays and DVDs. I buy far more than I usually have time to look at, so I’m doing some catching up on those. A group of us also choose a film to watch each week and have a Zoom chat about it. That with a few beers is the closest I’ve come to being down the pub – the thing I think I’m missing most (with family a close second). I’m listening to lots of music too as I work – mainly minimal dance music. ‘Still’ by Night Sea is an excellent discovery.


Eva Koťátková, Untitled, 2012, from the series Educational Model, Mixed media collage, 42x29.5cm, Image c/o the artist and Galerie Hunt Kastner

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to collecting artists work? What do you care about?

The most important thing is that I live with the work I collect, in my house, on my walls; so, I want work I’m going to have a long and interesting relationship with. I’m not driven by investment as such; but of course, the price of art is influenced by so many factors that it’s important one pays for a work an amount that feels right for all parties. I value pieces I’ve acquired at student auctions for £100 as much as something I might have paid significantly more for. I do think the notion of a fair exchange is important to me and I often think about the precarious balance between affordability for modest collectors like myself and the sustainability of a business for the galleries and artists. With emerging artists I’ve always been a bit wary of ‘patronage’ as such. I think there’s something wonderfully uncomplicated about paying an artist for something they have made. During lockdown it has been interesting to see how the Artists Support Pledge initiative has inspired a lot of artists to engage in the democratic dignity of this very simple transaction.

Matthew Houlding, Hotel Oceanic, 2011, mixed media, 62 x 41 x 5.5cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ceri Hand Gallery

What do you enjoy the most about collecting?

The conversations and relationships with artists and gallerists. I’ve been surprised and delighted by the social aspect that sits around an interest in contemporary art. My other passion is live music, but those communal experiences don’t involve direct interaction with anyone else. In contrast, I’ve met loads of artists and gallerists I have quite regular contact with and see the work I’ve collected as a bit of a record of those interactions.

How do you discover artists and what factors contribute to your decision to collect an artist’s work?

Discovering new work is usually the domino effect of some kind of link from someone I already know – an artist or gallery I know then shows someone else, or goes to an art fair and I go there to see them, then trip over other work I didn’t know. I started quite local and regional, exploring across Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds, and was lucky that this opened up to a more national and then international interest. Instagram is also great for encountering new artists. My budget and the increasing lack of space on my walls are the two biggest factors on what I continue to collect.

I try to avoid buying on impulse. I really mull things over. With time, some interests fade but others keep nagging away at me and grow stronger and stronger. That’s tended to be the pattern particularly with the more expensive work I’ve bought, because I know that it’s really got under my skin and I get to a point where I can’t imagine living without it. On a couple of occasions, it’s been two or three years building up to buying someone’s work because the impulse to do so grows stronger and stronger until I can’t ignore it.


Rhys Coren, Cupid Cars, 2017, Spray paint, acrylic, and pencil on board, 22” x 16", Image c/o the artist and Seventeen Gallery, Photo Damian Griffiths

Do you have a focus in your collection?

I didn’t set out with a strategy, but I can see certain themes running through it. I don’t have any rules though. I think limits can help – a strictly limited budget really focuses the mind for example. I think my collection reflects a set of common themes, with some pieces that don’t really fit in, but which caught my interest for some reason. But what I have has emerged organically rather than through sticking to collecting rigidly in set areas.

Laura Lancaster, Untitled, 2018, Acrylic on linen, 50 x 70 cm /19 3/4 x 27 1/2 in., Image c/o the artist and Workplace gallery

Can you describe the kinds of work that lights your fuse?

There are exceptions to all of this…but I have a lot of work with a conceptual element; interest in language, text, or information systems; abstraction, reduction, simplification. That makes it sound much more coherent than it really is!

What kinds of information & materials do you request to help you make the decision?

I do a certain amount of research, but overall, I’m collecting at a price point where engagement with the work is far more important than any kind of investment considerations. I’m ultimately driven by my own personal interest in and engagement with a work, so nothing else is as important as how I respond to the work itself.

Neil Gall, Complex Negotiation, 2017, Pencil, gouache and collage, 24.8 x 19.2 cm, Images c/o the artist and Domobaal Gallery

Do you have a maximum budget (monthly? annually?)

Yes.

Do you stick to it?

No!

Edwin Burdis, 100, 2017, 100 digital Instagram drawings and collages, printed as 100 postcards, box, shelf, Image c/o the artist and Vitrine Gallery

If not, what kind of work has made you stretch?

As with all drugs and addictions, you build up a tolerance as time goes by. You push limits. I pay more now for a single work than I would have done five years ago.

Is it important to you to meet the artists you collect?

It’s not vital, but I’ve met a lot of artists and overall, I really like it. I think a lot of the work I have represents the way the artist sees and engages with the world. I suspect I like the work because I recognise something they have seen and share elements of that world view too. It’s like thinking you’re more likely to be friends with a comedian you find funny than one you don’t, because you come at things from the same perspective. It’s finding people who can surprise you whilst also saying things you recognise and agree with. It’s great when you get that with the artist as well as with their work.

Leo Fitzmaurice,You Don't Say, OO, 2018, Folded plastic bag, 58 × 37 cm, Image c/o the artist and The Sunday Painter

If so, can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

As one example, I really like the work of Leo Fitzmaurice – and I really like Leo too. I’d bought a small work of his in a charity auction before I ever met him. Then I saw his show that he won the Northern Art Prize with. I thought it was brilliant. I just emailed him direct and asked him some questions about it. The show had a series of projected photographs and I asked him if he’d ever considered printing them as limited editions. I think I touched a nerve on something he’d kind of been considering, exploring the photographs as objects, and my interest nudged him into doing it – and we agreed I’d fund the experiment and get some artist’s proofs at a really reduced price. It was a great win-win arrangement that benefited us both, but it also meant we discussed the work a lot and it became clear I liked a lot of his work and he liked that I liked it. That led to meetings and a discovery that we saw the world in a similar way. I love how Leo notices things that it would be easy to miss. His work is incredibly simple really, and often his best work is the work he’s done least too. I think he’s a genius. He also has a lot of humour in his work which I really respond to. So, I’ve ended up collecting quite a lot of Leo’s work over the years, and we cross over quite often for a pint and a chat, which encompasses his work, other artwork, and the world at large.

I know a few artists I met through their work initially whom I now think of absolutely as mates. That’s the exception of course – but it enhances how I feel about the work.

What risks have you taken along the way? Any that you would not take again?

There are a couple of works that I maybe bought too impulsively that I don’t love as much as others. I’ve learnt that I’m better when I take my time.

Where do you show and store your collection? What environmental factors do you take into consideration and have you had to make any changes to accommodate these considerations?

Everything I have is at home. Size is a factor. Also, I have two nosey and clumsy cats and so work hung on the wall is really the order of the day. The lack of wall space has influenced my collecting strategy a bit in the last couple of years – I buy less and so I approach my budget limits for individual works differently. I guess that make me think for even longer and more carefully about buying. It means I’m probably collecting artists at a slightly different stage of their career than I was a few years ago.

Follow Connal on Instagram @connalo

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