Design, Art and Nature
After a pretty exhausting and somehow stressful week, with PAD and Paris Showroom dates colliding, I decided to spend a peaceful day by myself, I decided to take a train from Waterloo station to Grateley, where a taxi picked me up. I wanted to experience my friend Alexandra Jefford’s jewellery installation at The New Art Centre in Roche Court. This was my best decision last week.
I spent the most gorgeous afternoon, being welcomed and guided by its founder Madeleine Bessborough and her great Dane..
The New Art Centre at Roche Court celebrates its 60th anniversary. The House is one of three exhibition spaces in the contemporary sculpture park and was imagined as a home for visiting artists.
I was almost instantly blown away. It is set in a rather rural location and you can hardly get mobile phone signal here for love nor cash – but it’s an incredibly special place.
“The gallery was originally founded in London in 1958 by Madeleine Bessborough to support contemporary young artists. It moved out to Roche Court in the early 1990s and became one of the first sculpture parks of its kind in the UK. Stephen Feeke is the other Director here and plans the program in the main gallery, Artists House and the sculpture park as a whole.
“The site is a working farm so there are sculptures all over the grounds with cattle grazing around major pieces by Anthony Caro, Barry Flanagan and Christopher Le Brun.
“Originally the house was intended for artist residencies. The sofa turns into a bed, there are chairs and carpets, a credenza that conceals a cooker and a sink, a hidden bathroom – it is very much a domestic space that feels like a home.
Visitors of the New Art Centre get a chance to see art and design in a relaxed and informal environment.
“Art can be intimidating in a traditional gallery or museum context. This is a way to show what it can be like to actually live with contemporary painting and sculpture. It’s a very a different experience to the ‘white cube’. It encourages a quieter, more personal connection with the work, and often with quite difficult work such as Phyllida Barlow Pom Poms, wooden structures by Joseph Walsh and vessels by Edmund de Waal.
“The house was designed by the architect Stephen Marshall. He first worked with Madeleine in 1998 when he designed the Gallery that links the main Georgian house and the Regency Orangery. He was a young architecture student at the time, just starting out, but the design was awarded the RIBA Stephen Lawrence Prize for the small project of the year. Building on its success, Madeleine was confident that she could do other contemporary architectural projects with Stephen that harmonised with the site, and she commissioned Artists House two years later.
“Stephen has now designed three very modern elements that are interwoven with Roche Court. The main house is listed but the contemporary projects work in harmony with the surrounding buildings. They enhance the setting and the natural landscape. In the context of the Gallery, the floating roof mirrors the pitch of the main house while the giant timber doors reference the columns that can be seen in the Orangery. They also act as the key structural supports and allow access out to the garden.
“The buildings developed out of the vocabulary of the existing architecture and work functionally as well as aesthetically. The expanses of glass fill the spaces with light and the oak is soft and warm. The buildings have a connection to the landscape that allows the works to breathe and converse with the natural environment and changing seasons.
“The Artists House has shown a lot of artists work over the years, but I understand that one of the new focuses is to show more design alongside sculpture, painting and photography. The house lends itself to displaying art and design that works in dialogue together. The New Art Centre, I learnt is a commercial gallery so all of the work is for sale, but the plan is also to use the space to show more work to more people.”
Aside of Alexandra’s latest body of work “compressed lines”, I think my favourite works were the beautiful ceramic mobile by Daniel Reynolds, The Keyhole sculpture untitled “Secret Affair” by Jim Lambie and the Gravity/Levity sculpture by Nigel Hall. I also really loved the table and chairs by Matthew Hilton.
I spent such an inspiring afternoon that ended with a nice cup of tea and a piece of cake with my truly incredible host, the lady of the House, Madeleine Bessborough, who showed me a neckpiece she bought 20 years ago from Art jewellery gallerist, Didier Haspelagh. She confessed to me how much she cherishes this piece of jewellery and wears it on important occasions. I understood that for Madeleine, when it comes to Design, less is more and one must take the time to appreciate the work. Thank you, Madeleine and your dedicated team for showing me with such grace and warmth your beautiful space. I am spreading the word now and will surely be back soon!