So you guys are based in Portsmouth, and through the Aspex Gallery and your space in the Guildhall you focus on helping support emerging artists. Tell us about the ways you do this and some of the artists who you’ve helped over the last 40 years?
Aspex has a 35-year track record of supporting emerging artists and engaging audiences, through the delivery of a programme of exhibitions, off-site projects and participatory opportunities. Artists such as Mona Hatoum, Richard Wilson and Susan Collis, all internationally acclaimed, received support from Aspex at an early point in their careers. This work has continued with projects including 'Emergency', an open submission biennial exhibition, offering key opportunities for artist exposure and professional development. Since relocating to the waterfront at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth in 2006, we have focused on finding ways to meaningfully engage visitors by facilitating connections with artists and revealing the creative process.
You also run an open submission biennial, which is a really cool way for people to start getting their work out there. How do you go about organising it, and what’s it like trying to decide on just 10 from the hundreds of submissions?
‘Emergency’ is our open submission competition for artists, designers and makers showcasing the work of international emerging artists. Last years open call received over 400 entries. Details will be on our website very soon – so keep an eye out! All of the submissions get put together in a slide show and the panel sit and go through all of the entries - usually in a day! It’s generally down to catching the eye of at least one of the panel, they are looking for work which is exciting and innovative. Collectively, they will put together a shortlist prior to making the final selection. The panel don't always agree too, which is interesting!
Another aspect of your ethos is seen through your AAA (Aspex Artist Associates), tell us some more about the initiative?
Aspex supports the development of artists in the early stages of their career. One of the ways we achieve this is through our AAA scheme! The AAA scheme has been designed to support the development of your ideas, projects and practice, help artists build their network of contacts and ultimately develop their creative career. On top of exclusive access to artist events, AAA members also receive a one-to-one sessions and Crit Groups led by the acclaimed artist Jonathan Parsons.
2017 is now well underway, we’re already in March!! What ways are you looking to continue working, supporting and engaging with new artists this year and in years to come?
In order to provide new opportunities to develop artistic practice, we constructed an Artist’s Studio, a result of our Small Capital Project supported by Arts Council England. This provides a dedicated space for artists to experiment, make new artwork and develop their practice. The studio gives members of the public the opportunity to engage and enjoy contemporary art, revealing the creative process. We recently concluded 35 & Counting, an online auction/exhibition, featuring work kindly donated by artists from the gallery’s history. Proceeds from this will support our future residency programme. Past artist-in-residences have included Alison Carlier (for the Alexandra Reinhardt Memorial Award 2016) and Charlotte Bradley (a result of our ‘Platform’ graduate award/exhibition).
One of the cornerstones of an arts education begins at school, children who engage with arts are stimulated beyond just the works they create. This is something you guys at Aspex are concerned with, what kinds of ways do you work to help get kids interested and involved with the arts?
We connect people with artists, creating opportunities to experience cotemporary visual art in a variety of ways from looking and discussing, to curating and making. Aspex has a lively participation programme starting with our regular Mini Makers workshop for preschool children, progressing on to our schools programme. We also host weekly free drop-in art sessions for the whole family, providing activities relating to our exhibition programme. It is our firm belief that art is for the many, not the few. That’s why many of our participatory events are free. In 2016 we received a Small Capital Grant from Arts Council England, resulting in a new Learning Space with improved resources for workshops and participation. All workshops are led by local artists, supporting emerging creative talent. Aspex is also an Arts Award centre and supporter, offering opportunities for children and young people to gain accredited qualifications in the arts.
Not forgetting aside from all the incredible work you do supporting artists you also run the gallery spaces putting on exhibitions throughout the year! What have been your favourite shows of this year, and what should we come and check out next year?
35 & Counting, our online auction and exhibition, launched in February. It kick-started our new fundraising initiative, supported by Art Council England’s Catalyst: Evolve programme. It was an exciting opportunity to reconnect with artists from the gallery’s past, who subsequently donated artwork for the auction/exhibition. Coming up this year, we have a solo show from the winner of Emergency 2015, Maya Ramsay. Stephen Turner’s Exbury Egg has also arrived, following its national tour. We have a series of events, talks and workshops taking place as part of the exhibition and Stephen will also be taking up residency in our Artist’s Studio!