Donatien Grau: You became a gallerist mainly for artists.
Hannah Barry: I opened the gallery out of a sense of responsibility of course to the artists, but more importantly to the art they were making at that time, which I felt had a power beyond the immediate moment. That’s why, at the end of the cycle of Lyndhust Way, we decided to open a gallery to continue the work that this exhibition project had begun.
DG: What was this exhibition project?
HB: It was called “Lyndhurst Way.” At 78 Lyndhust Way, in Peckham, there was a house, where some of the artists lived, a very large house, about ten rooms. Three months or so after I started visiting them, they asked me if I would help them make an exhibition of their work. I said, “Well, why don’t you give a room over, or half a room, so that we can show the art in-depth rather than just one piece of a survey of what was going on?” That was the first exhibition, which was called “Ten rooms and a sculpture garden” — we’ve always had sculpture as well. When the exhibition was over, the artists said, “Why don’t we do another exhibition?” And I said, “Why don’t we do a whole program of exhibitions?” That’s why the exhibitions always aimed to show the work in-depth. We always showed the same artists over a month, dealing with different subjects. The exhibitions were, broadly speaking, group shows. But underneath the umbrella of the group show there were these individual presentations in each manifestation.
DG: How did you get in touch with these artists, at the beginning?
HB: I used to visit a small gallery at Chelsea College, called Chelsea Space. And at one of the private views, I met Shaun McDowell, and he said, “Why don’t you come and visit my show in Peckham?” So I came to the show and then he said, “Would you like to come and visit this house where I live with these other artists?” So I followed him.
DG: Who were these artists?
HB: There was Shaun McDowell, Bobby Dowler, who was sort of the caretaker of the house, James Balmforth, the video-maker, Oliver Griffin, Christopher Green, James Capper and Nathan Cash Davidson, who was around 16 then.
DG: How did you manage to build this exhibition program?
HB: I did it in my spare time. In the evening, I’d leave the office, at like, 6:00, 7:00 or 8:00, and then go to Peckham, and leave Peckham at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning.
DG: What was so special about these artists?
HB: It was the quiet confidence of the work. That was it. It wasn’t necessarily what you could see; it was what you could feel. It wasn’t to do with seeing, as such. Of course, a number of the things we showed, if you got them out today, would of course look interesting, but, more importantly, their feeling would still be as powerful. Particularly certain works of James Balmforth that we showed still are very good pieces, in terms of his trajectory, the same with James Capper. There were some very good paintings we showed by Shaun McDowell, but he had a very different kind of development, because his subject changed quite recently. Bobby Dowler is still in transition. The works are now maturing, dealing with more complicated, more worldly points of view. They are gaining more and more complexity. But where it began was very different. Even Oliver Eales, who was one of the most outspoken critical commentators, his early drawings, his early painting on furniture, which was much more “patterned,” were dealing with his dream of Japan, rather than police and control mechanisms. Marcus Kleinfeld is always dealing with the darker side of things; as his experiences in the world have carried out, in the last six, seven years, his work has become much darker, much colder.
DG: You show these very young artists, and you also have the patronage of elderly more senior figures, who have visited the gallery, such as Ed Ruscha or Anselm Kiefer. Is there a connection between the 60-year-old people and the 20-somethings?
HB: I think that the people who come to the gallery like its spirit. People want to be part of it, from different generations and different parts of the world. This idea of involving people, beyond just being a visitor, is all informed by the idea of creating possibilities. And at the heart of it is the artist. Artists are so great at putting people together. The idea on which the gallery is based has to do with a belief in people and their great gifts; how they can give it to others. The gifts they have themselves and how they can transmit it to other people.
DG: It’s quite something to make the decision to show art that is demanding for the viewer — and for the gallerist…
HB: People who have come to the gallery over the last three years remember clearly, not necessarily the name of the artist, but the object. And this has to do with exhibition making, placement of objects, and most importantly the power of the object itself to communicate its special message. You can fulfill the artist by making the show, making the work, making a beautiful display. The other side of the artist’s fulfillment is being able to live. Sven Mündner and I have been doing it for long enough now that we have a much better grasp of how to deal with a very difficult object, that has no reputation, and be realistic about it. That pressure is on the gallery for more or less a third of the artists. And they’re also people who are so involved in the making of art that they don’t believe in distractions or other occupations… Actually, there isn’t a medium that we haven’t touched, in terms of the arts. For instance, we supported Flore Wesley and her dance company when it started. This is all to do with belief and generosity, and it has to do with feeling. I’m not saying it is to do with emotion, because I’m not very emotionally involved in the community that surrounds the gallery, but it has to with emotional investment, which is feeling through the object or the product — the dance, what it generates when it happens. Unlike anything else…
The “Gallerist’s Page” is part of a series of interviews with gallerists that Donatien Grau conducts for Flash Art.