JLife’s Evangeline Spachis spoke to Headrow Gallery’s Maxwell Roberts about the gallery and framing company, his favourite artists and his career.
How did you get into the art world?
I began my journey in the photographic industry at the end of the 1960s, starting at Leeds College of Technology (formerly Kitson College) and working in the family photographic company, Roberts Photographers which was established in 1900. Over a long career, I have photographed everyone from royalty, pop stars and politicians to architectural work, Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, and new borns! I bought Headrow Gallery about 30 years ago.
What makes Leeds a good place for celebrating art?
The great city of Leeds has some wonderful galleries and has been the home to some of the best-known contemporary artists. Indeed, Damien Hurst had the honour of being a pupil at my old school, Allerton Grange! What’s more, I can tell you that when it comes to the popular decorative sector of the market for art, many of the top UK publishers have sourced their artists in the area between Leeds and Huddersfield.
What do you look for when choosing artwork or artists to feature?
I’m constantly asked to look at the work and offer advice to artists. I can tell at a glance if the artist has what it takes to make a successful career in the industry. I’m looking for something different, something fitting in with my gallery style, and someone I feel I can work with over a longer period. It’s a lot to ask from one glance admittedly, and perhaps I’ve over simplified the answer, but there’s also an awful lot of instinct involved in my decisions.
Which artists or exhibitions have stood out recently?
I was an art director for a national publishing company and headhunting artists in the UK and abroad was one of my remits. Really unique art only crops up occasionally and one of my current artists, David Questa, fits the bill. He’s a young art teacher and my recent exhibition featuring some of his work was a great success and exciting to host.
How was your time as master of the Fine Art Trade Guild?
I had a 26-year active relationship with the UK Art Trade Association, which ultimately saw me heading the Fine Art Trade Guild for three years. My role as master of the Guild was basically as the chair of the board of directors. I chaired many meetings where many of the standards for picture framing were set, and I was privileged to meet and remain friends with many of the art industry’s best-known names. I travelled around the UK and some other countries on behalf of the Guild, including China.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I’ve done many things in my career and there are many achievements I’m proud of, but the most important thing to me by a long way, is that I have gained respect in my industry from my peers. I also have a very faithful client base that has supported me and valued my services over many years.
What are the mistakes that people usually make when displaying pieces?
We have framed everything from a shark’s jawbone and a Japanese kimono to a 2012 Olympic torch, Jessica Ennis’s javelin, and a Tour De France bicycle wheel, but there is a very important word in the art world. It is the ‘s’ word: subjective. Everyone has their own taste in art and the frame that goes around that art. Some people buy expensive paintings and put a cheap ill-fitting frame around it. In my opinion, that’s a big mistake. There is no one definitive way to display art, but as I often say the 60p poster framed beautifully in a £60 frame makes the picture worth £150.
What’s in the pipeline for Headrow Gallery in 2017?
A big year for Headrow Gallery is planned this coming year. I’m looking at radical changes, concentrating on the promotion of some of my most popular artists, and also bringing in some new exciting art in the coming months. Watch out!