Interview with Becca Pelly-Fry, Director of Griffin Gallery

Interview with Becca Pelly-Fry, Director of Griffin Gallery

Becca Pelly-Fry is Director of Griffin Gallery and Global Artist Outreach Programme Manager for ColArt. Based in London, Griffin Gallery supports emerging artists through its diverse programme of exhibitions and its annual art prize, Griffin Art Prize. Above the gallery space are two fully equipped artists’ studios available for short and long term residencies, and adjoining the studios is the Innovation and Development Laboratory where new artists’ materials are developed for Winsor & Newton, Liquitex, Conté á Paris and more. Pelly-Fry speaks to Aesthetica about her interest in new artists and the hurdles they have to overcome to succeed.

A: Are there any emerging artists we should be looking out for that you think are going to be hugely influential?
Yes, lots! I think we’re entering a really exciting time for contemporary art right now, where we’re seeing the meeting of high-end conceptual work and traditional craft-based practice. I plan to keep a close eye on a couple of artists we have had on display at Griffin Gallery recently, for example, Dale Adcock is definitely one to watch. He makes monumental, tightly controlled oil paintings, loaded with art historical and mythological references. Lee Edwards and Jemma Appleby are also extraordinarily talented and they are starting to make some impact, albeit in a modest, quiet way. I am a huge fan of Adeline de Monseignat’s work – seductively tactile sculptures and loose, bodily drawings – and her profile is developing both in the UK and internationally. In terms of other interesting painters, I would pick out Vivien Zhang (just graduated from the RCA), Sasha Bowles (graduated from Wimbledon MA last year) and Susan Sluglett (Jerwood Painting Fellow 2013)…. I could go on! As a gallery that supports emerging artists through our exhibitions programme and our annual Griffin Art Prize, it’s a subject I feel particularly passionate about.

A: When choosing your artists what do you look for?
BPF: I always look for a level of commitment in an artist’s practice. I guess that’s quite hard to define, and “commitment” has different connotations, but for me it’s being able to see a clear line of thought, and a unifying thread across their work that indicates the artist is constantly searching and pushing themselves. I am also interested in that perfect meeting place of technical skill and conceptual rigour. For me, that is where really interesting things happen.

A: Winsor & Newton work with us for the Aesthetica Art Prize – can you explain a little about your work with them?
Winsor & Newton are one of seven art materials brands owned by our parent company, ColArt (the other six being Liquitex, Conte a Paris, Lefranc & Bourgeois, Reeves, Letraset and Snazaroo). In many ways Winsor & Newton is our flagship brand, being the longest established and covering the widest range of categories, and we are proud to be connected with such a long history of colour-making. At Griffin Gallery we try to make the most of that connection, by focusing our programme on materials and materiality in contemporary art, making connections to our history through the extensive archive of materials we have here, and referencing the continuing innovation that also takes place in our development laboratories in the building by Latimer Road, West London.

A: What upcoming projects are you working on at the gallery?
BPF: The next exhibition is a solo show by our two Griffin Art Prize 2013 winners; Luke George and Elizabeth Rose. They took up residence in our studio, next to the laboratories, back in March and have been working on a very exciting new body of abstract work for their show which takes the history of Rose Madder production (closely connected to Winsor & Newton) as the central theme. They have explored the rich history of the pigment, and worked with archive materials to create a contemporary response to the colour. For the last two years we have collaborated with Charlie Smith London on a group show of the best emerging artists from London art schools, called Young Gods, and we’re working together again in January 2015. It’s always an exciting exhibition; Zavier Ellis, the director and curator, has a very particular aesthetic, which is very different to mine, so the show is a nice counterpoint to the rest of the Griffin programme. We have also been working closely with the École des Beaux Arts in Paris over the last six months. I’ve made several visits to see the students and help them to prepare for a group show at Griffin Gallery in March/April 2015. There are some really great artists coming out of the school, so it should be an exciting show. Finally, we are working on an Open Exhibition for summer next year, to allow a wider range of artists to engage with the Gallery, which we’re really excited about.

A: What would you say are the major hurdles emerging artists have to overcome in the contemporary art scene?
BPF: The biggest hurdle I think is always financial, particularly for artists living in a global metropolis like London. Life is very expensive, and there is an awful lot of competition so finding the right balance of earning versus creating is difficult, which is why we created the Griffin Art Prize, to alleviate some of these pressures. Universities have seen a real increase in the number of applications, and creative courses are ever increasing too, meaning that more and more art students are coming through the system. Whilst that doesn’t necessarily mean they will go on to become professional artists, it does mean the market is becoming more saturated. The gradual erasure of arts funding is having a very visible impact on the art scene in general, but I think it has created a much more diverse and flexible way of working. Those students that approach their work with both commitment and a shrewd understanding of the art world will always find a way to make it work. To be slightly controversial about it, challenges and hurdles tend to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Find out more about Griffin Gallery here:

1. Circular Stories, Alayrac Pink, courtesy of the artist and Griffin Gallery.