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The shape of now

Devon’s new Velarde gallery is impacting art in the South West with its exceptional schedule of exhibitions.

In the pretty town of Kingsbridge in the South Hams, a short stroll from the town centre brings you to Velarde, a striking new gallery with an all-glass view through the building to an elegant sculpture garden beyond. Velarde is Devon’s newest art gallery, a custom-designed, custom-built space for the exhibition of British and international art. It opened to the public in July 2023 with its flagship first show, A Passionate Nature, which included work by Italian painter Alessandro Twombly, British photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten and internationally recognised sculptor Peter Randall-Page RA. Investment in fine art venues like this are infrequent in the South West, so the buzz around Velarde’s opening was substantial amongst collectors and amongst artists for whom the scale and scope of the space offers huge possibilities.

The gallery includes a 1,400 square foot exhibition area, hosting five exhibitions a year, designed to exhibit Devon’s brightest and most promising talent alongside exceptional painting, sculpture, photography and contemporary craft from across the UK and Europe. Velarde is part of a new trend for the establishment of major rural art venues which aim to support contemporary art outside urban art centres like London. It is also the culmination of a lifelong dream for its owners, Matt and Fi Velarde. Both are professional artists themselves: Matt is a fine art photographer, while Fi is a painter and printmaker. “Matt and I have always had a shared passion for art,” says Fi “and that is why we embarked on this project. We wanted to open a really inspiring, exciting and thought-provoking gallery that would bring the best in fine art to Devon and connect people with new and established talent. Art is so important and can be so uplifting, and we’ve always felt that contributing to the art scene in this way would be incredibly rewarding for us.”

Having searched Kingsbridge for the perfect location, Matt and Fi finally acquired 86 Fore Street, a near derelict three story building which they partially demolished and rebuilt over the following 18 months. The entire project, which involved the commissioning of award-winning South Devon architects Andrew Lethbridge Associates, and construction team KM Developments South West, represents a significant investment in the local economy, and significant faith in the future of Kingsbridge as a destination for the arts. “When Matt and I first started exploring the South Hams we fell in love with Kingsbridge,” says Fi. “It is a beautiful town – one of the few remaining towns with a truly wonderful selection of independent shops – and it has some outstanding restaurants and spectacular countryside. Our vision for the gallery was much smaller in scale at first, but it gained momentum, like a snowball rolling down a mountain, with so many changes along the way. Getting the gallery built and launched has been challenging in the current economic climate, but it has also been incredibly exciting, and we have had such great support from the people of Kingsbridge, and that has really meant a lot to us. Now the gallery is in full swing we are committed to our vision of giving artists an incredible platform for their work right here in South Devon. Kingsbridge attracts lots of wonderful visitors, but we would like Velarde to be a destination in itself, and if it brings more people into Kingsbridge and the South Hams, that’s great.” Matt agrees, saying “We want Velarde to become a hub of contemporary art in the South West, to be a catalyst for expanding the arts here in Devon, and we hope to make a significant contribution to expanding the South West as a centre for British art. We have a wonderfully friendly and welcoming team here at Velarde, an exciting programme of shows in the planning and an incredible list of artists.”

Their list of exhibiting artists so far has been varied and intriguing. Rising and significant British artists such as Sue Williams A’Court, David Hardy, Kinsley Byrne, Jack Paffett and Carrie Jean Goldsmith have been on show, as well as established and highly influential artists such as painter Gareth Edwards RWA, tapestry maker Jo Barker, and sculptors Patricia Volk and Richard Perry. International names have included Swedish ceramicist Gunilla Maria Åkesson and German born mixed media artist Hanna Ten Doornkaat, while works of contemporary craft have included exciting new names such as Takahashi McGil, Susanna Bauer and Shannon Clegg. From 23rd March to 18th May this year Velarde presents The Shape of Now, a collection of works by women artists in paint, wood, plaster and clay that express ideas through dot, line, circle and simplicity of form. It includes paintings by Pollock Krasner Foundation Award winning artist Helen Booth, who uses a simple language of dots and muted colour to explore the molecular wonder of the atmospheric world.

Showing alongside her is Devon-based artist Jilly Sutton, of the Royal Society of Sculptors. She works with locally felled timber, carving exquisite, pared down forms that express the sculptural possibilities of trees, birds, animals and the human figure. Susan Laughton’s background as an architectural technician is reflected in the almost mathematical approach to line used in her paintings. Her restrained and elegant work reflects remembered impressions of rural and urban landscapes, painted in acrylic on wood, or canvases primed with plaster. Rising young artist Hannah Luxton’s work is inspired by Animism, the 19th century Romantic concept that attributes living souls to inanimate objects and natural phenomena. She uses single pigment oil colours, often grinding her own semi-precious colours from minerals such as Malachite and Lapis Lazuli, painting on unprimed linen to signify ideas of a supreme ‘nothingness’ and using simplified shapes and lines to express features of the material universe.

Finally, works of contemporary craft in this show are provided by ceramicist Jane Sheppard. Through a process of hand coiling, smoke firing and burnishing, she creates vessels that reflect humanity’s long history of hand shaping the earth, using resist techniques to add primitive surface details such as dots and circles. This show is just the next in an ambitious programme of exhibitions that has grown from the passions of one couple with a real love for the South Hams, and for contemporary art. “I think the South West is a place where people truly appreciate unique and beautiful things,” says Fi, “perhaps because we live in such a unique and beautiful place. Our aim at Velarde Gallery is to enhance that.” “Every day,” says Matt, “myself, Fi and our team are welcoming new visitors, meeting great new artists, and challenging not just ourselves but each other as the gallery develops. It has been an exciting ride so far, that will, I hope, continue long into the future.”

See The Shape of Now from 23rd March to 18th May at Velarde, 86 Fore Street, Kingsbridge TQ7 1PP


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