How do solo exhibitions in small art galleries work?
Having recently finished hosting our first solo exhibition, our first blog is a reflection on how 'The Layers of the Estuary' exhibition worked for us.
How did the idea for a solo exhibition start?
Whilst viewing artist Jayne Farleigh's latest semi abstract paintings of Lympstone something wonderful happened. Instead of each painting being seen on its own they became one magnificent piece of work. The vibrant colours and eclectic shapes led my eyes from painting to painting as they travelled from Lympstone harbour to the Exe foreshore and back again, in a beautiful semi-abstract way. I knew they needed to be seen together. It was at this point the idea of a solo exhibition first surfaced in my mind.
To exhibit or not exhibit became the question
Would we have the space; the knowledge and the drive to make this happen and be successful? The answer to all three questions became a resounding 'yes'. The Layers of the Estuary exhibition project started to emerge, although at this point it didn’t have a name. That came later, after a lot of hard work. I was focused on the planning whilst Jayne painted ’a connection of energy between the sky, water and earth’.
What does a solo exhibition need?
Luckily, the Seaglass Gallery with its light and airy space is perfect. Its location in the centre of Lympstone Village and on the Exe Estuary Trail between Exeter and Exmouth is ideal. The Avocet Line's Lympstone Village Station is also just moments from our door.
Publicity and people to view the exhibition
This soon became a priority. However wonderful an exhibition is it means nothing if there is no one there to see it. This is where Sophie Pierce, writer of several published wild swimming books, offered us invaluable guidance on press releases and how to let people know about our event. It felt as if I had stepped into yet another new world as I started emailing local news agencies with our press release. It turns out, obvious in hindsight, that press releases need news and so for our exhibition to be news worthy it needed a slant. The slant came in the fact that we are a new art gallery and that this would be our first solo exhibition and would involve a plein air workshop on the foreshore of the Exe Estuary. With the exhibition entering the media we became one step closer to getting our visitors.
We used social media a lot in the build up to the exhibition and felt a growing community of people anticipating its opening. This took time, but posts became quicker to write as our exhibition found its voice.
Should we have an open or an invitation only preview?
We decided on an open preview hoping that it would provide a bit of a buzz. Not knowing how many visitors to expect was tricky and we hoped we had enough refreshments.
Luckily, it all worked perfectly as a steady flow of art lovers came into the Seaglass Gallery. The exhibition preview was a success, as was its impromptu after party. We were bathed in early evening sunlight as we chatted, connected and admired Jayne Farleigh's inspiring work.
Everyone had a favourite painting, the one that calls us, the one that we keep returning to. Part of the evening’s joy was hearing the comments and thoughts of people as they responded to the work. Why we connect to a certain piece is so interesting. One of my favourites is ‘Moon Rising’. The palette of deep blues take me to the waters of Lympstone harbour and memories of silent moonlit nights. The curved, tactile horizon added a bit of magic and other worldliness which swept my mind along connecting me from the painting to the water. Peters' Tower anchors the sense of place and yet the sweeping waters challenge this. As often happens,the more you look at the different layers, the more you see.
What happened on Exhibition Day?
Empty, white walls surrounded us. The first paintings to find their place were semi abstract panoramas of the foreshore, with its iconic red cliffs and holm oaks keeping watch from above. The energy coming from these paintings surged and the layers of the estuary emerged as painting after painting was hung.
Hours later, we stood back and looked. We had an exhibition and not only that, we had an exhibition that allowed the energy from all the layers of the estuary to really reveal themselves.
Why was the exhibition called The Layers of the Estuary?
For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Devon's Exe estuary is a very special place. Its big skies, with ever changing light, above the rising and falling tides have a life of their own. The mud breathes at low tide as the wading birds feed in the silver grey distance. Birds flying overhead, often in silhouette, add to the orchestra of nature’s sounds and it is this which feeds the energy, often calm but sometimes turbulent.
In Jayne's words:
‘It is important to me that I don’t just put everything I see in a painting. I also put everything I feel. When I paint, I am looking for something that I consider ordinary, that I take for granted everyday. There are moments when this ordinary is at its most wonderful. There is a magic every day. That is what I would like people to stop and see.’ Jayne wants people to' feel the estuary and get a sense of the energy and power running through its layers'.
I believe that people felt this magic in the exhibition. They saw the layers.
Did our solo art exhibition achieve its aim?
We wanted to create something that was inclusive. We wanted an exhibition that would speak to and welcome those people who perhaps thought art galleries and exhibitions are not for them. To lose yourself in a piece of art; to feel that response whether positive or not when you look at a painting is something wonderful. To notice the colour, the layers, the texture, the composition and to reflect on the name of the piece all help us to connect with the artwork we observe and hopefully feel something. It did feel inclusive.
Was the solo exhibition a success?
There are so many different measures of success. Jayne is a true professional and working with her was great. Several of her paintings found new homes and her name and style have become familiar to even more people now. People loved the exhibition and we had many first time visitors to the Seaglass Gallery, increasing our reach. So, was it a success? Yes, absolutely it was.
Although the exhibition has ended, the paintings can be viewed online here.
We also have some of Jayne Farleigh’s originals on show in the Seaglass Gallery. A warm welcome awaits anyone who steps through our door.
The answer to our question , 'How do solo exhibitions in small art galleries work?' is they work brilliantly.
Our next question is not will we host another exhibition but when? Watch this space…
Thanks go to these people for their help and encouragement:
Sophie Pierce www.sophiepierce.co.uk
If you would like to find out more about the Seaglass Gallery or sign up to our mailing list then do email us.