Words by Hannah Tapping
A progressive art gallery in the heart of Cornwall, where curation meets authenticity.
Cornwall is famed for its plethora of galleries, but there is one that is taking something of a different approach. Tregony Gallery, found in the heart of the village was taken over seven years ago by Brian and Judi Green. With backgrounds in design and advertising they set up their own design consultancy, The Green House, in the early 80s working with such prestigious brands as Disney, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer to name just a few, before holding positions as Design Director and Creative Director respectively at an international branding company. Judi went on to be Creative Director at the publishing house Dorling Kindersley, before taking the brave decision in 2001 to relinquish her corporate career to focus on her own painting, with a scholarship to study for a full time MA at the Royal Drawing School in Shoreditch.
“We made a decision to move down to Cornwall 17 years ago,” says Judi. “At the time, there wasn’t a plan to open the gallery. In the early years, I was represented by several galleries in London and the West Country and so when the opportunity came up to take over the gallery, it just seemed like a fantastic idea as with my working background it meant that I knew a lot of artists, worked with a lot of artists, and had been taught by a lot of artists.
“We approached many people we knew to begin with and then, as our reputation grew, we were inundated with artists that wanted to show with us. I know what it’s like reaching out to galleries or institutions when you don’t get a response, it can be disheartening. We try to answer every enquiry we receive. If we can’t represent an artist because we’re oversubscribed in terms of the numbers we are able represent at one time, we will try and steer them in the direction of a gallery that we think might be right for them – we are always as supportive as possible.
“There is a language now that’s developing in our gallery, a style of work, and therefore it is attracting like-minded artists who very much want to be in the gallery amongst other artists that they respect and revere. It’s become very exciting because we’re representing artists that we have admired for some time, before we ever thought about having a gallery. A fair proportion of artists are based in the West Country but we also have an international range of artists on the roster now.”
Visitors to Tregony Gallery may be surprised at the quality and the range of work that is exhibited in what is a relatively small space and that is very much down to the careful and considered approach that Brian and Judi take to the artists they choose. For them, running the gallery has always been about being a partner in the gallery/artist relationship and they invest in each artist for the long term. Judi goes on to explain: “I think what makes it work is our personal taste. There’s nothing in the gallery that we wouldn’t have in our own home, and that’s the number one criterion. Our background in design and advertising certainly helps in terms of art direction. We have a very strong eye for what we think will work in the gallery, and it’s always a joint decision.
“In terms of deciding on artists and work, we’re very much unanimous. We’re at a place now with our collectors in that they know when they come to our gallery, there’s going to be something they’re going to like. The heart of everything that we show in the gallery is observational painting. For a lot of galleries, and certainly commercial galleries in London, observational painting isn’t very fashionable, they tend to look for contemporary art that is more suited to museums or art institutions. As such, the kind of art we show is much more approachable and ‘liveable with’. We also keep our artists’ work for quite a long time, which is another thing that sets us apart.
Historically, an artist would be approached by a gallery and it would all be very flattering; they might invite them to be in a show, which they’re in for a couple of weeks and then whatever sells, great; if not, you have to come and pick up all your work again. We operate in a completely different way in that we retain the work after an exhibition has finished, and even though we have a programme of solo exhibitions, we feel it gives the work more of a life. Some collectors, come in and have an immediate response to a piece, but a lot need to go home and think about it and we are committed to giving them that opportunity.”
Being in a rural village where passing footfall is low has not deterred Brian and Judi and it has become very much of a destination gallery. Their unique approach works well, and as an artist-run gallery, the emphasis is very much on the artist, whilst being fluid during recent challenging times. Visitors come from far afield to view the work and, in fact, as Judi explains, “this week, we had a visit from a London-based couple who were staying in Devon and drove all the way to see a specific artist, one of our Cornish painters Mark Dunford and they bought his painting.” The gallery’s reach is impressive, with work sold to Hong Kong, Australia, Iceland, as well as a lot of activity in America.
Another example of the couple’s nimble approach is their work with private homes: “Through a recommendation, a client rang us to say that she was interested in some of the artists we represent. We were invited to view an amazing property on the north coast where there were several areas in the house that the client wanted us to curate. We took a body of work with us which we hung in the house and, in the end, she bought nine paintings. This was a unique opportunity for a collector to be able to see what the artworks looked like in situ.”
Judi and Brian make a lot of studio visits, selecting all of the work personally, culminating in their annual London show in the early part of each year. Held during an historically quiet time of year in Cornwall, this has proved to be a real boost for both the gallery and their artists. Their approach, once again, is innovative. Depending on which London gallery they rent, Brian makes a physical model. He then scales down all the work, before it is curated and hung within the model. They then photograph the model, before loading all the work up and driving it to London. On arrival, Judi and Brian then know exactly how the show should be hung. The London exhibition is an exciting opportunity for out-of-county collectors to see Tregony Gallery’s work first-hand – giving their artists more London exposure if they haven’t already – while bringing together London, West Country and international artists together in a very cosmopolitan environment. “This year’s exhibition, Assemble*22, will maintain the powerful creative bridge between Cornwall and the capital by introducing our impressive contemporary artists to a new audience and sharing our distinctive vision and approach to curating and collecting art,” adds Judi.
The gallery’s artists are divergent in style, but share a common awareness and sensitivity in their work that directly engages the viewer with the subject matter and the intangible influences that lead to its creation. Brian and Judi seek to celebrate distinctive observational painting and artists who possess something different in the way they see and interpret the world: “we have abstract and figurative artists, and we have some sculptures so it’s a very interesting mix; but it does all work together. If you’re a collector, you might have quite a lot of things that you are interested in, and the gallery shows that it can work together – you don’t have to just focus on one particular type of art.”
With regard to the artists, Mark Dunford, who lives locally, studied at the Slade School of Fine Art under the painter Euan Uglow. Mark had his first solo exhibition at Tregony Gallery in 2021, to accompany the exhibition Brian and Judi helped Mark publish his first monograph, ‘Mark Dunford: Into The Light’. The exhibition and monograph have been a catalyst for him to really fly with his work, giving him opportunities to exhibit and sell globally. In juxtaposition, abstract painter Virginia Bound’s work focusses on the rugged landscape of west Cornwall; a very interesting painter as she paints with expressive brushwork, very reminiscent of David Bomberg.
Abstract painter David Moore, has been working out of his studio in the heart of St Ives since the 1960s. “There is something about David that really appealed to us from the minute we met him. His paintings, although appearing very abstract, always start from a very specific place. Drawing back into the wet paint is an integral part of David’s process and this is evident in the wonderful textured surfaces in all his paintings.”
Dot Wade’s work is very decorative and a lot of collectors are interested in her paintings. She paints with a sense of the great St Ives modernists and yet moves their language into her own unique sphere. After several years living and working in the Rocky Mountains of America, Dot now lives on Bodmin Moor and her work is both sculptural and reflective.
Tregony Gallery is part of the Own Art scheme. Supported by the Arts Council, the scheme gives collectors access to £2,500, interest free, over ten months. It is specifically intended to encourage collectors to buy work from living British artists. “Own Art is a scheme supported by the Arts Council Of England. It allows you to buy art and spread the payments, interest free, over ten months,” adds Brian.
Brian and Judi also offer educational support, creating the Tregony Gallery art prize in association with Truro and Penwith College. “We initially intended to award just one prize, but the students are so talented we ended up giving two! Along with a cash prize, we also gave the winners the opportunity to have their work in the gallery, right through the summer, alongside some of our amazing artists. We then continue to give them mentoring support and advice, with the opportunity to show back with us in the future.”
The roster of over 30 artists at Tregony Gallery represents a diverse range of work that includes painting, ceramics, sculpture and printmaking and the gallery expertly showcases their individual approaches and energies.
Winter opening hours at Tregony Gallery, 58 Fore Street, Tregony TR2 5RW are Thursday to Saturday, 11am to 4pm.
Tregony Gallery Presents Assemble*22 at 230 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London W11 1LJ from 8th to 20th February 2022.