Horace Blue Gallery is on Lower Goat Lane (which also happens to be my favourite street in all of Norwich) and I can remember passing by a few times first semester and wondering what might be hidden behind all the funky graffiti and funny cartoon faces. In December I got my first chance. Unfortunately, the owner was not around. But I was able to browse the two tiny rooms of the gallery, which was filled with contemporary art from floor to ceiling. The first thing I noticed about the art was the incredible variety. This place had everything from painting to pottery, and all sorts of crazy mixed media pieces on display in a cabinet at the back of the first room. After obtaining a business card from the woman who was looking after the gallery in the owner’s absence, I was able to get in touch with Mr. Keith Webber. Keith is an architect who also happens to run the Horace Blue Gallery. He is currently in Jersey working on a project, so all of my correspondence with him was by email. After a the first few emails back and forth I sent Keith a questionnaire about the way he runs his gallery, the kinds of clients he markets for and other market related topics. I was hoping to receive more of an up beat response after the last word I had heard from him about the Norwich art market (see my previous post for more details). Horace Blue Gallery is more avant-garde than the other establishments I have been in contact with, so I wasn’t too surprised by his answers (just a little disappointed in Norwich). The work in his gallery is mostly by friends of his, or artists he has met through his network of friends. Currently he has about fifty artists that have shown at the gallery. Like the other owners I have interviewed, Keith tended to go for the ‘nice guy’ approach when it concerns potential buyers. He claims he is not willing to cultivate a false relationship just to make a sale, especially if that client becomes a collector… “if I don’t like someone I’m not going to have any sort of relationship with them, so the few collectors I know, I have become friends with.” From my research into the world of the art gallery, this sort of statement is commonplace for small gallery owners who would rather be your friend that your supplier of fine art. Hopefully…eventually that friendship will blossom into a regular sale for the gallery. Unfortunately for Keith, it seems he made the wrong sort of friends (financially, that is). In his own words,
“I show work I like. Maybe that’s why it hasn’t been a financial success. So the people I attract were people who shared my tastes…which is great, because you immediately have something in common with people who come in. I’ve made so many friends by having the gallery. I would have liked it if the people that came in had the money to buy what I was showing. I think the people who have money in Norfolk are older more traditional people, so their taste didn’t match mine.”
As much as Norwich is a city full of young culture and arts, with the UEA Sainsbury Centre, the Contemporary Arts Festival and the Norwich University College of the Arts it seems the gallery could not survive on support alone. As far as my research extends, most of the wealthier art buyers have more traditional taste and Horace Blue has become a victim of this statistic. I think that’s a real shame, because the artists at this gallery are from all over the UK and don’t seem to play into the generally fetishized market that emanates from London and also does not want to conform to the norm for provincial Norfolk. So I am left with the fact that this great little gallery will probably go under and Keith has once again managed to make me question what the art market is all about… how can the people of Norwich let this hip, young and quirky little gallery close up? SAVE HORACE BLUE!