Q&A with Steve Swallow | Living North

Q&A with Steve Swallow


Tree with yellow Sky - Jess Pigott
We spoke to Steve Swallow of Castlegate House Gallery ahead of the launch of their latest exhibition, New Talent - Works by Jess Pigott and Alex Hain.
‘We only represent artists who we feel truly enthusiastic about’

What kind of art do you specialise in at Castlegate House Gallery?
We specialise in 20th century British and contemporary art as well as studio ceramics. In our gallery land and seascapes vie for space with works from some of the best-known Northern artists such as Norman Cornish, Joan Eardley, Barbara Rae and Sheila Fell.

What have been highlights in your gallery in recent years?
Looking back over the last two years or so, I'd say three things come to mind. Firstly, our Sheila Fell exhibition. Sheila was one of the most important and influential landscape artists of the 20th century. We saw over 3,000 people pass through our doors in three weeks, which made it the best-selling exhibition of her works since before her death in 1979. Secondly, our two sell-out exhibitions for Lancashire artist, Ian Norris. Ian’s use of paint and colour is astounding. He has become a nationally collected and known artist since and we’re proud to have been, and continue to be, his advocate. Thirdly, our fifty-year retrospective for Cumbrian artist Michael Bennett. Widely collected in the UK, Michael is not always known for his abstract works of the 1960s which saw him exhibit alongside Freud and Hockney. It was wonderful to see a change in perception for one of the North's most talented painters.

In March you have a new exhibition New Talent coming to the gallery. Have you been actively searching for new artistic talent?
We have many artists approach us each year, but we also spend a considerable amount of time visiting graduation shows at art colleges and following up leads and tip-offs about artists. As a contemporary gallery, you have to keep things fresh by bringing new artists and new works to show. It is what keeps you interested as an owner and interesting as a gallery.

How important do you think it is to showcase work by new artists?
Very, although they need to have both talent and something unique. Getting involved in new and evolving talent is exciting for everyone. It is nice to feel like you’re making a difference to someone’s life and supporting them at the start of what could be a lifelong journey. But it also good to build a reputation as a gallery that doesn’t just play it safe.

The exhibition will feature work by Jess Pigott and Alex Hain. What made these two artists stand out to you?
With Jess it was an instant hit. I turned a corner at the Wimbledon College of Art 2014 graduation show and saw a painting with such use of colour and light/dark that it literally stopped me in my tracks. She had no idea how good she was. We got a tip-off about Alex and found him in a studio that he shares with his father in Selkirk on the Scottish Borders. His works is like nothing that I’ve seen for a very long time. People feature in all his works, either as family groups or single-person studies. His style is unique and contemporary. He has a tremendous ability in the use of texture and colour which is just wonderful.

Jess Pigott has already had some success at your gallery with her large woodland canvases. What stands out about her artwork?
Yes, we sold five of her large paintings in a matter of minutes. It is the bold use of colour, without being brash, mated with clever composition which makes her stand out from the crowd. To have that amount of talent and confidence with paint at 22 is really unusual.

Will this exhibition also feature woodland paintings by Jess?
Yes there is a whole series of works from Jess on this subject. The forms, colours, light and shade that can be found within woodland settings are what Jess has been exploring for this exhibition.

Alex Hain had a very different route to art than Jess. What makes his art so unique?
Painting is what drives Alex forward every day, with a real intensity. He came to it after a very serious road accident and painting became his effective self medication. You get the feeling of that intensity through his paintings. He has a unique style and uses texture in much of his work with paint. He's hugely talented. 

What kind of things can we expect from him in this exhibition?
Alex has produced a body of work which focuses on the study of friends and family. Not particularly his, just the concept of family and friends, for example a child’s birthday party, a painting of a mother and child and also a grandparent and grandchild. It is effectively a study of the ordinary, but done in an extraordinary manner.

What makes the Castlegate House stand out from other galleries in the region?
I think what makes us different is our passion for what we do. We only represent artists who we feel truly enthusiastic about. We’re also not afraid to take risks. We search for new talent and buy works from modern 20th century artists to bring to the gallery and to find new homes for. A gallery needs to evolve and be interesting, otherwise what is the point?

New Talent - Works by Jess Pigott and Alex Hain 28 March – 18 April

Castlegate House Gallery
Cockermouth, Cumbria
01900 822149

Published in: March 2015

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