Ahead of Vic Reeves’ upcoming art exhibition at Contemporary Six, JLife speaks to the city centre gallery’s founder Alex Reuben on celebrating over a decade in the business.
During his Fine Arts degree at Leeds Metropolitan University, it became apparent to Manchester gallery owner Alex Reuben fairly quickly that he simply wasn’t very good. When he left university unable to get a job in the art world, he sold suits at Moss Bros. Yet with a keen interest in the art scene and a head for business, he spent the next two years dreaming of opening a gallery, and after receiving a loan, signed a lease in The Royal Exchange: “I remember getting the keys to the gallery and thinking, what have I done? It was incredibly daunting. I was very young looking, even for a 24 year-old, so trying to sell a painting for thousands of pounds wasn’t easy. I’d sold suits, but I had no idea how to sell art. I very quickly realised all the research I’d done counted for nothing.”
When he opened the gallery back in 2010, Alex worked the first 56 days in a row to make things happen: “Looking back at the figures, we were selling one painting a fortnight, it was awful! I sat there on my own every day pretty much. I didn’t think I’d make it to the end of my first six-month lease. It was just a few good weeks towards the end that gave me the confidence to stick at it. I could have closed the business a couple of times, but I kept going, and November will mark our 11-year anniversary.
“This holds true in any industry, but the art world is especially competitive, and if you are not 100% committed, you slip backwards very quickly. I probably care too much at times, and with that comes a lot of stress, but I’m passionate about what I do, and that’s what gets me through.”
Over the past decade, Alex’s approach to exhibiting has developed in a way that has seen his gallery become more a reflection of personal taste than an appeal to trends: “You get more confident I suppose. I’m always trying to be forward thinking and not rest on my laurels so that the gallery is always evolving. Frankly, there is always easier work I could sell. “When I first started, I saw works in other galleries that sold really well, and I have to admit, I took on artists I didn’t really believe in. I’ve since learned to be comfortable with what I sell, because if I don’t like it, it just it feels wrong having it on the wall.”
Alex has always exhibited original works with a nod to local artists, but over the years the gallery has moved towards representing a wider range of artists and styles from around the country: “We deal with artists who are just starting out, all the way up to legends like the late Terry Frost who has exhibited in the Tate, to Peter Brown, one of the nation’s leading plein air painters. There is a real variety of style, and that’s what we wanted to showcase with our upcoming Jim Moir show.”
Jim Moir, better known by the stage name Vic Reeves, has been producing paintings, drawings and prints since the early 1980s alongside his comedy and acting work. In November, he is set to exhibit 60 paintings and drawings at Alex’s Princess Street gallery: “The event was supposed to take place during lockdown last year. I thought we had missed the opportunity, but luckily, Jim was still keen to do it. I’m a huge fan of his comedy, so having the chance to work with him is an honour. Like his comedy, he will simply improvise – he sits down and paints what whatever comes to mind, so it’s quite spontaneous and exciting.
“There’s a real mix of work on show, from delicate paintings of birds (because he’s really into his ornithology), to just really bizarre, unusual things. Our last show in the gallery was called from Manchester to New York, and his show is called The Return of the Gas Miser – case in point why it’s completely different to what we usually do. But it’s a real celebration and wonderful to do a show that creates a new energy and gets fresh faces into the gallery.”
Asked if his own painting skills have improved over the years, the Whitefield shul member admits he still sits down in front of the canvas from time to time, although not as much as he would like: “I still do a bit of painting where I can, but with two young children, I don’t get much free time!”
The Return of the Gas Miser runs from 13th to 27th November. To find out more, visit Contemporarysix.co.uk