Mary Blindflowers interviews Bernard Barnes©
What’s the aim of the St. John’s Hall Gallery? And how was it born?
The aim is for the gallery to be a centre for the creative and enquiring mind. 7 years ago Reyna Rushton and I held an exhibition in the hall. At that time I asked the then owner if we could use the space for 2 weeks. He suggested that I continue using the space as a tenant until he could find a buyer. Harold Gassner, who is a long term friend, visited and fell in love with the building and he bought it. Harold is closely connected with the project. Even though he lives in Germany for most of the year, he visits regularly and feeds his ideas into the running of the gallery and also generously funds the restoration work.
I have noticed that this Gallery is quite eclectic and always active through a dynamic-creative movement, avoiding the usual stereotypes of those posh galleries which is often prevalent matter. So is this time the case of the art like creative need rather than business? Do you not feel as “black swans” or “whiteflies” sometimes?
Certainly the gallery is not working on the basis of being a profitable business. It is definitely not driven by the desire for profit, only to break even. There is no attempt to have a corporate style or an anti-corporate style. We are not doing anything deliberately, we are just being as we are. It is our experience that being creative in this space is attractive to people who themselves feel they do not belong in the formal art world. It has become a focal place for creative people with art, music, poetry and philosophy, for people who want to share the energy.
You can both manage this Gallery and moreover you are both artists. What would you say to describe your experiences as artists?
I don’t know how to answer that question. If you are asking about the conflict of time between being an artist and running the gallery, well it is like anything we have to juggle demands on our time. But most days we can produce our art and interact with visitors and do the things required to manage the gallery. Over the winter we have more time for making art. We do have help from Karen and other friends who help with publicity and organising events. We don’t have fixed planning we react to assistance of people who come along and offer it.
Two words to describe St. John’s Hall Gallery, please.
How do you currently choose the artists to exhibit for free into your gallery? What kind of criteria do you use to make your choices?
We have advertised twice as an open call for proposals for exhibitions with a deadline. We have a panel of people who are friends of the gallery who have looked at all of the images and some of the information provided by the artists that has been added to a private website for that purpose. The panel members are not all in the same place. We have not had rigid selection criteria, but are selecting on the basis of whether it feels that the art and the artist will fit with the other art in the gallery and our way of doing things. We have selected on the basis of art that has something interesting and a bit unusual about it, that has some distinct voice and is confidently and competently produced. That is how we have selected so far anyway. Before this we just had people that we happened to know who exhibited, so advertising has brought new artists and people to the gallery.
Few essential good reasons to come to Barmouth and to visit your Gallery.
Barmouth is a lovely seaside town with a relaxed feel. It has a great combination of sandy beach, hilltop walks and stunning landscape views. The houses tucked away on the Rock are a treasure of historic character. The town has the connection with the Victorian art critic John Ruskin’s social experiment. There is some information about that here: http://www.utopia-britannica.org.uk/pages/Ruskinland.htm
It is unlikely that you will see anything like St John’s Hall Gallery elsewhere in the area, possibly in Wales. It is worth a visit just to see the large mural ‘Captives of the Cosmic Web’ (by Bernard Barnes). There is an ever changing display of work by the resident artists, Reyna Rushton and I, plus monthly exhibitions by guest artists over the summer, live folk music on a Monday, evening philosophy talks and poetry.
What do you think about those artists that pay to exhibit their artworks, always increasing by number, into this era of extreme exposure through the media?
It depends how you see art. If you see it as a business, then it is common for businesses to pay to advertise their products. As a gallery we have a lot of expenses for advertising and publicity to promote the gallery and our work. If artists are paying to have their work in galleries, they are sharing some of the costs that the gallery has in that business, but it is not really something that we are experienced in. It doesn’t seem right to have to pay to enter a competition, but there are a lot of those about. But it is also just how things are. There are so many people calling themselves artists now. How do you filter those that really have the drive to become successful and that have something good to show?