I recently visited Jack House Gallery, Portsmouth’s newest gallery located in Old Portsmouth, to see the progress before the opening day tomorrow (4th April) and to catch up with Rebecca Crow and Anna Burdick, co-curators of the gallery. With the opening exhibition Amartey Golding: Drawings (a series of striking, large drawings with Ruby Tandoh as the muse) launching the gallery tomorrow, it was a great chance to find out more about this new gallery in the city. We’ll also have an exclusive interview with artist Amartey Golding next week.
Hi Rebecca, can you let us know the history behind Jack House Gallery?
I did my fine art degree in Portsmouth many, many years ago so I knew the place. Subsequently worked in London, my first job was the Fine Art Society and then worked for several other London galleries. Then I went to live in the Middle East, I worked in Bahrain,Muscat (Oman) and Dubai. I came back to London and I’ve just finished working for a gallery in Dubai where I met Amartey Golding.
In the mean time my husband (who comes from Portsmouth) and I bought Jack House in Old Portsmouth in 2009 and we were coming back every 2 to 3 weeks and then this shop next-door came up for sale. We were “Wow we’ve got to have it” because I’ve always wanted to own my own gallery. I’ve always worked for other people and sometimes sold work I haven’t particularly liked. If you’re lucky you work with a gallery owner that has a similar mind set to you or allows you to run with some ideas but it can be frustrating working with someone else’s ideas and tastes. So this was an opportunity, we’re close to the Cathedral, why not have a gallery in Portsmouth. There are people here who are interested in art which isn’t just seaside themed, the sort of art that you can see in places like London, Brighton or Bath. There are people who want to look at good contemporary art in a contemporary gallery. Not sky high prices too.
I love Portsmouth, I have got a thing about Portsmouth, it is an ideal city size, by the sea, close to London…Portsmouth has got everything I like about a city. Our opening day is 4th April and we’re working towards that.
How has the first exhibition come together?
Amartey, who I worked together with in Dubai at another gallery, we’ve remained in contact and friends. He fantastically agreed to exhibit for the first (solo) show. It is a big thing for an artist to commit to doing, in a completely unknown gallery. Gratifyingly we (myself and Anna Burdick, the gallery’s co-curator) have been in contact with a lot of artists and have been amazed at how good the response has been. Artists who are happy to show outside London, in a new space, all based on our ethos, ideas and website.
What sort of art do you like?
I like art that tells stories, that you don’t necessarily know what is going on, but you ask questions.
That draws you in?
Yeah, it draws you in, and you can put your own interpretation on it. It has to be well made too, that is a very important thing. Art is about feeling good.
How do you see Jack House Gallery fitting in to the city’s art & cultural scene?
We are a commercial gallery, we will be exhibiting art but also have to be a business. My ideal situation would be that this area becomes more interesting for art, with things like the ARTches project down the road and hopefully that will be best for everybody if there was more to see. Ordinarily in a cathedral area you get that kind of hub of creative businesses, such as Bath, Canterbury or many other cathedral cities. I think Old Portsmouth is lacking in commercial businesses too, there is not enough going on over here and there is a danger of it becoming too residential.
This could be a place where more people feel they should come and visit. You can walk anywhere in Portsmouth, that is one of the great things about it. It would be lovely if people come to this area to go to the ARTches and then maybe come to Jack House Gallery and then we can send people down to them. It is all about working together. Aspex Gallery too, would be good to work together somehow.
Have you had anyone come by during the building process and comment on the new gallery opening?
Yes, while the work has been going on there has been so much curiosity. Feedback has been great!
Is there anyone in particular the gallery might be aimed at?
It is so important to get people in to the gallery, to get through the door, to break that spell, “Am I allowed in?”, which I hope we can. Working in a gallery you hear people ask “Can I come in?” and I don’t want that to happen, that forbidding white space, people hiding behind their desk, their computer…talking on the phone…no eye contact. I really don’t want that to happen, anyone can walk in, everyone is welcome. It would be great if younger people could walk in too (from the schools near by).
Will the gallery be doing anything more than exhibitions?
I would love it if we could something in the gallery space in the way of classes. That would be a temporary thing (relating to particular exhibitions) but it would be great to get local people in. This is something that is going to develop, definitely. Something I also really want to do at a certain point is to take exhibitions outside of Jack House Gallery to other exhibiting spaces. Not necessarily gallery spaces, but empty spaces. Maybe in other parts of the country.
What other exhibitions might you have lined up?
One of the things we are going to do is is have quite a broad range of work. The next exhibition is going to be entirely different to Amartey’s paintings, a massive group show of printmakers, the Greenwich Printmakers from London. A massive variety of work all really well made. Etchings, Linocuts, Lithos, priced with something for everybody. Everything fine art made.
There is always a question with a gallery, is there a balance of should a gallery represent artwork from the local area or should they be a means of bringing artwork in to a city that would not normally be available to it? How do you see Jack House Gallery working?
I would not call Jack House Gallery a ‘local art’ gallery because the (upcoming exhibitions) aren’t from here, but if the work is good and it comes from Portsmouth it could have its place in the gallery, for sure. I am not prepared to compromise on quality, because it is local. I’ve worked with artists in the Middle East, Syrians, Iranians, I would love to bring them over… primarily it is quality, art I enjoy, artists I enjoy working with… which is very important. I am a great believer in the gallery and artist relationship being a collaboration. Working with artists that perhaps enjoy developing something for the gallery.
Anna and I go out and about looking [for artists] as often as possible. Looking for artists and contacting them. So far all (for all the exhibitions) the artists are people we have contacted. We do have an open submission policy at the gallery, so anybody will be able to send us work to be looked at and considered.
The gallery will change every time. I want to surprise people, I hope I will surprise people and I hope that when people come to the first show and the next show people go, “oh, okay”, maybe they are unsure for the first or they may go, “this is more comfortable” for the next. The next show will be different again and again and again.
A creative journey?
Preparations for hanging the artwork at Jack House Gallery.
You’re a collector of art yourself, is that right?
Art is a luxury. A sofa for say £2000 and you can justify it by saying you can sit on it, etc. If things become tight financially, you think ‘I’m still going to buy my sofa, my washing machine, etc’ but a picture? It is a luxury. My feeling about art is you buy a picture this year you’ve still got it in 10 years, in 20 years, 30 years. It has still got its value. I don’t talk about investment art as it isn’t something that interests me but art keeps its value and your sofa doesn’t. The art also keeps giving. This is a big joke with my husband, he can see it when I see something I like. My heart starts racing. That is how much art excites me…and if you can communicate a bit of that to somebody…
Thanks Rebecca. Hi Anna, so how did you and Rebecca meet?
Well I met Rebecca about 10 years ago when we both worked at a little, commercial gallery but we had very touristy stuff and very commercial. We spent many hours spent thinking what better art we could exhibit and sell. We used to talk to each other and say “We aren’t going to sell this and that in our gallery in the future”, so we basically had these dream gallery. We got on really well and have been friends ever since. We’ve always talked about about the gallery and it has become more and more real over the years and now here it is.
So as co-curator, what is your role at Jack House Gallery?
I’m Rebecca’s creative partner with the gallery, I help with the branding, the website and I am involved in the selection of artists. Because I’m based in London I go and see the artist, check the work, etc. It is a real partnership, I do all the geek stuff!
What are your thoughts on the exhibition as you are just about to open?
Oh, I just think with the scale of the actual drawings is just beautiful, really beautiful. His lines are so precise, clear, confident. Even without the fact that it is someone familiar from the TV’s face, they are really beautiful pieces.
What are your thought on the future of the gallery from this open weekend?
We’re going to carry on after this exhibition to do a different show every 5-6 weeks, lots of variety, sometimes group shows, sometimes solo like this one. Then we’re also going to develop exhibitions off site, take the shows and put them in pop-up spaces in London and maybe up North. Plus maybe some gallery collaborations too. I am very excited about the future of Jack House Gallery, it is going to be really fun!
Anna outside Jack House Gallery.