Monday, 23 September 2019

Shoe shop to gallery

Shoe shop to gallery

A SHOP unit in Henley which has been vacant for more than a decade is to reopen as an art gallery.

.informality, which is moving into the former Hearn of Henley shoe shop in Market Place, hopes to launch its first exhibition towards the end of next month.

The Grade II listed building is undergoing structural repairs and refurbishment to make it useable after years of neglect and this work should finish within the next few weeks. Gallery director Frederick McDonald, who moved to Henley with his partner in October, said he was delighted to have secured the lease on the premises.

He said: “We looked at a number of other places but this is in the centre and near the town hall so we’re very happy to be here.”

Mr McDonald, 27, grew up in Suffolk and developed a love of art as a child as his mother was an antiques dealer.

When he was 19, she put him in touch with a contact who ran an art gallery in London and he was appointed manager.

He then took charge of another in Bath and from there was offered a similar position at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney.

He spent four-and-a-half years in Australia, during which time he managed private and public collections and represented the museum at international conferences.

He returned to Britain about a year ago and served as leading advisor to the Gazelli art house in Mayfair for several months before starting preparations for his first solo venture.

Mr McDonald said he wanted his own gallery because he felt much of the London art market was “elite” and there was an opportunity to create something more accessible outside the capital.

He plans to showcase artists from around the world, particularly those whose works have an ecological theme, and already has bookings into the middle of next year. 

Initial exhibitors will include Anthony White, an Australian painter whose work explores how different groups of people can live together peacefully, and Jamie North, whose sculptures are influenced by both natural and man-made environments.

.informality will also display the work of Eiko Soga, an academic, poet, videographer and photographer from Oxford who has been living among the indigenous Ainu people of Japan’s forests.

Mr McDonald said: “I did my research on the arts in Henley and was impressed by things like the Bohun Gallery, whose owner Patricia Jordan Evans contributed so much to the artistic community before it closed, and the Tiny Gallery in Friday Street.

“There’s definitely an appetite for contemporary culture in this area as the Old Fire Station gallery is fully booked a year in advance while events like the Henley Literary Festival always seem to sell incredibly well.

“I think the artistic side of things is becoming more sophisticated and accessible. We strongly feel we can add to that.

“We can bring something completely different to the area and our longer view is to bring more people to the Thames Valley rather than to London.

Henley is amazing because it sits on the edge of the Chilterns. It’s kind of a stopping point and has this whole landscape which artists can be inspired by.”

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