Zimmer Stewart Gallery marks 10 years All posts

In May 2003 when we first opened our doors I had no idea what to expect from opening a contemporary gallery in a small market town, with a population of less than 4,000. I am sure some people thought I was mad.

Having been an accountant for the previous 20 years or so, I felt that I would be able fall back on this if need be part-time until the gallery got going (if at all). As it turned out I never had to. Our first exhibition included Crosses by Keith Milow, whose seminal work in the late 60’s earned his place alongside Derek Jarman and others in “Young Contemporaries” at the Lisson Gallery. This set us apart from other nearby galleries and got us noticed.

AGeorges Sands by Kate Boxers with many decisions I have made, this was a lucky accident: Through working with Bryan Montgomery on his Sculpture Trust in the early 1990’s I had got to know the work of Keith Milow, this also provided me an early lesson in working with artists and curators alongside Ken Newlan of the Trust.

Being relatively new to Arundel as well, I had not fully appreciated how “arty” it was. In fact in the two to three months before opening we had the shop front painted with “Zimmer Stewart Gallery” and had just placed some of our own paintings in the window to fill the space. I later discovered that this had created a bit of a stir within the local artists and collectors, so even before opening there was a buzz about us, and consequently expectations on opening were high.

In the first year I was playing catch up all the time, trying to find artists for exhibitions with virtually no contacts. Then came another fortuitous moment: In our visitors book from May 2003, I noticed a signature which looked familiar, it was Richard Walker, whose work I had bought in the 1980’s whilst working in London. I looked him up and contacted him, asking if it was the same person. It was. Further, it seems that my opening the Zimmer Stewart Gallery coincided with the closing of the White Gallery in Brighton, where he had shown before (along with the Curwen Gallery, London). I asked if he would show with me, expecting a negative response but the answer was yes, and he showed in October 2003 with Michael Frith in an exhibition of “Seascapes and Landscapes”.

Armed with confidence from adding Richard Walker to our list, I thought of contacting another artist I had met and bought from in the 80’s – Felix Anaut. He was living in France, prolific, exhibiting in France, Italy, Ireland and Spain but not as yet the UK. So with luck on my side again, he said yes; and we showed his “Renaissance Forms and other works” in October 2003. Later that year in December, Felix Anaut would win the “Lorenzo Il Magnifico” award for his career and work to date. Also in our inaugural year we showed Barbara Macfarlane with Eric James Mellon, Duggie Fields during the Festival and Ann Sutton’s textile works. The latter exhibition coincided with the artist’s 50 year Retrospective at the Crafts Council.

Quite a first year, and it owed much to the very generous support I had from artists living in Arundel, without whose advice we would not have made it past year one. 2004 was a year of consolidation for me and also for making and correcting mistakes.In our limited space I thought we could sell books, cards and other smaller items. This ended up being a distraction, which made selling the much higher priced art on the walls a little bit harder. As with all businesses the old adage “stick to the knitting” held true for galleries!

Nick BodimeadeIn 2004 we added Matt and Nick Bodimeade to our growing list of artists. The former showed abstract sculpture, the latter the start of his on going series of beach paintings. Lilia Umana Clarke joined the list with her personified ceramic sculptures, reminiscent of pre-Colombian art. Paul Amey and Giles Penny also showed their sculptures in this year, others exhibiting included painters Yankel Feather & Jo Lamb; ceramicist Nicholas Arroyave-Portela; and photographers Susie Jenkins, Christian Doyle and Bill Philip.

The most important exhibition for me that year was “A Celebration of Love”: paintings and ceramics by Derek Davis. He was one of the most important artists living in Arundel, he came to the gallery a lot and we discussed many things and he was also one of our first customers. This exhibition proved to be a renaissance for him and set the Zimmer Stewart Gallery on its way with more recognition locally.

2005 saw exhibitions with Tom Hammick, Nicholas Wriglesworth as well as returns by those who would later become regulars. Two exhibitions stand out for me in this year: “Solanum Tuberosum” a show of sculpture by recent RCA post graduates and our collaboration in August with Alan Cristea Gallery, London showing “Print Masterworks” by Patrick Caulfield, Peter Blake and Howard Hodgkin.

The first was a lesson for me in that it was the first, and last time, I would give control over the content of an exhibition to someone else. It is not that the work was bad or wrong, it showed me that if I was to sit with a body of work for the four weeks of an exhibition, and “sell” it to visitors, I needed to properly curate the gallery and choose works myself.

The next one taught me that however “famous” an artist is, if visitors to the gallery do not know who he/she is then the work must stand up on its own. Despite the fame of these three artists, many visitors during the Festival that year did not know who they were and so could only judge them by what they saw on the walls.

In 2006 we added Gary Goodman, Piers Ottey and Andrea Schulewitz to our list. Other artists showing that year included Christopher Marvell, Christopher Baker, Jonathan Joubert, Kitty Shepherd and Jim Partridge. The year also saw a joint exhibition of work by Derek Davis and his son Josse Davis and returns from Barbara Macfarlane, Nicholas Wriglesworth and Felix Anaut.

Katharine Le Hardy Katharine Le Hardy, Anthony Frost and Phil Tyler were shown for the first time in 2007 as was potter John Leach. And by 2008 we had started to get into the current cycle of showing our regular artists every 12-24 months, with the addition of “guest” artists to interest visitors.

These included Kaori Tatebayashi, with her very fine ceramic sculptures, often based on clothing; Matthew Blakely and his sculptural/functional minimalist ceramics; Carole Windham and her “icons of the world” ceramic sculptures recalling the Staffordshire figures from the 19th Century; and Jonathan Wade and his stunning Japanese inspired celadon pots.

At around this time I realised that the exhibitions we showed were important both for our artists and collectors, so that the former could create a new body of work and the latter could see how the former was developing (hopefully with the requisite increases in value as well as reputation). So I stopped trying to show 3-D work (ceramics and sculpture) alongside each exhibition on the wall, and instead tried to build up a permanent collection of ceramicists and sculptors whose work would always be available at the gallery. The growing list of ceramicists now included Chris Keenan and Karen Bunting, both professional members of the Craft Potters Association.

Consequently 2009 saw more solo shows by our artists, which that year included Andrea Schulewitz for the first time. Also, at this time we made the conscious decision to make a feature of original prints. Many of the artists we worked with were also accomplished printmakers and some like Nick Bodimeade were just starting to create woodcuts and etchings. This allowed us to promote works by artists whose paintings were starting to fetch higher prices, and so prints became the route to make their work more accessible. We try to show prints in small editions, but this is not always possible as with works by Tracey Emin, Patrick Caulfield etc.

The year also saw us take part in our first Art Fair, in Brighton. This went well, and to build on our editions business we took part in the 2010 London Print Fair at the Royal Academy. From this we added new clients based in London, some of whom would later come to visit future exhibitions in Arundel.

In September 2010, we rented the Fairfax Gallery for an exhibition of “Visual Music” paintings and ceramics by Felix Anaut. The exhibition was also to launch a new book on his life and work to date. I introduced Dame Diana Rigg, who kindly opened the exhibition for us. The private view spilled out onto the street and I ended up having to take bottles of wine from people at the end to regain some sense of order at the event!

By now we were in the depths of the recession, we retreated into “safe” exhibitions by artists who we knew clients liked and took fewer risks on introducing new ones. An exception to this was in March 2010 when we showed animations, monoprints and drawings by Betsy Dadd a former pupil of Tom Hammick’s and someone who would later go on to an MA at the RCA. We will no doubt see more of her in the future.

In 2009, I was invited to be a judge with Gavin Turk and others in the National Open Art Competition. This was a great experience for me, to sit alongside such peers and review hundreds of submitted works by a broad range artists from across the country. As a curator I always look on artists’ biographies to see what competitions and awards they have received, this is a good indicator of how they are viewed by contemporaries and critics. Then in 2012 I was on the NOAC panel discussing that years exhibition in front of an audience, I found myself defending conceptual art against opposing views promoting traditional representational works.

Piers Ottey’s “London Seen” exhibition of March 2011 was one of the highlights of that year along with “Out of Drawing” a small group show with Tom Hammick, Betsy Dadd and Laura Carlin; the whole back wall of the gallery was filled with over 100 unframed small drawings on paper, people loved coming in and taking them all in. It was an education in the artistic process.

In 2012 we had a further show out of Arundel, this time in Battersea with Jose Waldie at the Joze Show. We were one of six galleries taking part in a wonderfully restored 1930’s Library space. We showed some of our regular artists and introduced Kate Boxer who would also have her first solo show with us in May of that year.

Another highlight of 2012 was the return to the gallery of Matt Bodimeade with a series of oil pastel and mixed media works on paper featuring the South Downs, and in particular the fields and river Arun around Offham and South Stoke.

This brings us almost up to date and leaves me just enough room to thank all the artists, clients and visitors to the gallery from the last ten years. Here’s to the next decade!


About the Author: James Stewart is the Proprietor of Zimmer Stewart Gallery in Arundel, West Sussex


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