Interview with Harry Beer, Tom Cole and Will Jarvis, founder of the gallery The Sunday Painter in London
When Harry Beer, Tom Cole and Will Jarvis were in art school together, they were called the “Sunday Painters” by one of their tutors. Later the three founders of The Sunday Painter ran studios alongside the gallery. That was ten years ago. Last year The Sunday Painter moved to a new and bigger space that was designed to fullfill the special needs of the gallery.
In 2017 your gallery moved to Vauxhall district. What kind of space have you chosen? Why have you chosen this location?
We moved into a space that was previously occupied by an off license in one unit and a chicken shop in the other. The gallery consists of a double height exhibition space with office and viewing rooms; we took it over in shell condition as a fire destroyed the premises during the previous tenancy so we were able to design it from scratch, specifically for our needs with some fantastic architects called Sanchez Benton.
All previous incarnations of the gallery had been very much in the spirit of make and make do, taking over spaces left by other businesses and trying to shape them into working for the gallery.
That’s fine for a kind of DIY model, but it’s an amazing privilege to be able to present some of our attitudes and philosophies in the very structure we operate from. The location is almost a blank canvas in terms of the London art scene, and that appealed more than moving to an existing art neighborhood. More importantly, it’s 15 minutes in a taxi from Mayfair.
Tell us about the origins of your gallery. What inspired you to open a gallery?
We originally opened as an artist-led Gallery space in 2008, inspired by spaces like City Racing and various provincial spaces like Outpost or The Royal Standard. We ran studios alongside the gallery which helped cover some of the costs, there was a real sense of community at The Sunday Painter and in wider Peckham at that time.
Where does the name of your gallery come from?
It was given to us as an insult whilst we were studying, feeling frustrated at being forced out of our studio time and made to do a live project (instead of a dissertation). We carried a negative attitude into our first meeting with the tutors and were called “Sunday Painters” by one of them; when we finally returned to the class we had built a small gallery space in the function room of a pub and gleefully called it “The Sunday Painter.”
How would you characterize the artists you work with? What connects the artists you represent?
We look for an eclectic mix of artists, we are not interested in cultivating a gallery aesthetic. However, there are clearly connections between our artists which can be loosely summarised as an engagement with the stuff and noise of everyday life.
How do you decide to add a new artist?
This is something we take our time with, we don’t rush into decisions. Obviously, studio visits play an important part in this, but we don’t have any rules as such. All three of us have to be in agreement, and we carefully consider how an artist might fit into and complement our existing programme.
How do you see the role of a gallery today?
The same as it’s always been, it’s an agency, the good galleries at least. We are here to shape and make artists career’s, to share the burden, to insulate artists from the corrosive qualities of the system we all live in. We’re an emotional support and all manner of organisational aid, we’re an archive.
There is a lot of talk about hard times of small and mid-sized galleries. What is your opinion? And your strategies?
Of course, it’s a difficult industry to be in, predominantly because the model we’ve inherited has not evolved in the face of the shifts within the art market, the reliance on art fairs and the associated costs, and the subsequent impact on profit margins for young galleries.
However, in a way that can be quite cleansing, you have to be in it for the right reasons if you want to stay in it for the long term. Having said that, it is a shame that such a number of very decent galleries have been forced to close. Hopefully, we can stay mobile and pragmatic in the face of an ever-changing landscape.
What about institutional support? How do you seek their attention for the gallery?
Maintaining relationships with institutions is one of the key functions of the gallery. It can be a long game with young artists but we continually keep the relevant institutions updated with our program and happenings in our artists’ careers and encourage a lot of visits to the gallery and studios when appropriate. This entire industry boils down to the maintenance of personal relationships.
And finally, how do you see your gallery in a decade?
We have a ten-year lease, so on one hand, in the same place, on the other hand,-hopefully with our artists gaining further institutional and international recognition.
117-119 South Lambeth Road