Profile - art scene in North Yorkshire booming

An exhibition by Ripon-based charity New Light.
An exhibition by Ripon-based charity New Light.

By Graham Chalmers

It’s a common perception that the art world in our district lives in the shadow of Leeds or York, just as the art world in Leeds or York lives in the shadow of London.

But sometimes perceptions can be wrong.

Thanks, largely but not exclusively, to the activity of a growing number of independent-minded art lovers, the ‘scene’ across North Yorkshire had rarely been healthier.

But don’t take my word for it, listen to what Annette Petchey, chief executive of Ripon-based art charity New Light, has to say.

“North Yorkshire doesn’t have a wealth of public galleries, though we are incredibly lucky to have the Mercer Gallery in Harrogate.

“But what we do have is a plethora of wonderful, independent galleries and pop-up shows offering truly inspiring art at every price point.

“Two of my personal favourites are 108 Fine Art in Harrogate and Hornsey’s in Ripon. It’s clear they love the work of the artists they show.”

Since founding New Light five years ago in an effort to support contemporary arts in the north of England, the charity has progressed rapidly.

The early focus was on its popular biennial open exhibition for up-coming local artists and its associated awards with prizes totaling £15,000.

Today Annette and her like-minded colleagues are also developing a permanent New Light Collection available to borrow outside traditional gallery spaces.

And their Art for All arm attempts to make art more accessible through workshops, talks and guided viewings.

The ultimate aim, Annette, says, is to foster a northern art scene to rival London’s.

“We like to support all the artists include in the exhibition for years after. A number of them have gone onto great things such as Josie Jenkins, Jonathan Ashworth and Chloe Holt.”

A clear commitment to promoting Yorkshire artists is also on show at Harrogate’s long-standing Walker Galleries in the Montpellier Quarter.

Set up more than 30 years ago, gallery manager Balbinder Broadbent is proud of its role in encouraging local artists.

“We believe firmly in showcasing the talents of Yorkshire-based artists. Over the years we’ve discovered some great painters who are based locally such as Katherine Holmes and Selina Thorp. We’re delighted to have a solo show coming up next month by acclaimed Yorkshire painter Piers Browne who is now internationally recognised.”

From Zillah Bell gallery in Thirsk to The McTague gallery in Harrogate, the local art scene seems to have emerged relatively unscathed from the recent recession.

Two of the most important ones are also two of its most contemporary.

The youthful rock n roll vibrancy of RedHouse Originals on Cheltenham Mount in Harrogate has attracted personal visits by figures such as Pop Art legend Sir Peter Blake.

Co-owner Richard McTague said: “There always seems to be something good happening these days and we’re seeing more and more great artists being attracted here. We also get a lot of younger students visiting the gallery.”

108 Fine Art’s owner Andrew Stewart, who is currently planning a major exhibition of very rare works by the late Alan Davie, a British titan of modern art , believes there’s a broad renaissance going on.

He said: “We’re seeing a definite rise in the diversity of work produced by regional artists, from film makers and sculptors to painters and animators. Galleries in our district are also gaining a growing national and international presence at major art fairs, spreading their reputation.”

But there’s no room for complacency, argue Andy and Elaine Grinter who own the cosy Art in the Mill in Green Dragon Yard in Knaresborough.

“Like all aspects of retail, the high street is under pressure but we’ve enjoyed increased patronage by visitors since we opened in 2007. We work hard all year round to be a ‘go to’ gallery for customers and artists.”

Pateley Bridge artist and owner of Zeitgeist gallery Alastair Colley says local art lovers, gallery owners and artists themselves have never had it so good.

“The art scene across North Yorkshire just keeps growing in strength. When myself and my wife Claire set Zeitgeist in 2008 we feared the global recession would be our undoing but it had the opposite effect. People have looked elsewhere to invest their money rather than banks or bricks and mortar and what better way than in art.”

Whether it’s the quiet grandeur of 108 Fine Art on Cold Bath Road where you often find work by the sort of big name modern artists you’d normally read about in The Times or the bright functionality of Pateley Bridge artist Alastair Colley’s Zeitgeist studio, the one thing which links these like-minded spirits is a loyalty to the local combined with a wide vision.

Art in the Mill’s Elaine Grinter, who is also coordinator for the town’s annual arts festival Feva, says her approach to exhibiting is to treat the whole of Yorkshire as “local.”

Zeitgeist’s Alastair Colley, who has just been nominated for the sixth successive year as Best Selling UK Published Artist, says the key to success nurturing the young and the new.

“In Harrogate alone two of my gallery’s newcomers have emerged from the same school.

“We encourage all of our artists to dare to be different and in North Yorkshire that is where we are the most healthy because there is a wealth of originality and talent.”

Entries for this year’s New Light open exhibition open shortly.

The New Light annual exhibition will take place at Swinton Park from June 21-July 31.

For more information on either event, email info@newlight.org.uk