Saturday, 5 October 2013

A Conversation with Teresa Grimes of Tintype Gallery

Travis Riley talks with Teresa Grimes co-director of Tintype Gallery about the benefits and the bores of moving a gallery across London.

Morgan Wong's Performance: Filing Down a Steel Bar Until a Needle is Made
at Tintype's new gallery space.

My first visit to Tintype found me wandering the backstreets of Clerkenwell. It took three passes up and down St Cross Street to find the gallery, hidden away in a little upstairs room.

The gallery’s new home, resplendent on Islington’s Essex Road between a taxidermist and a nail salon does not succumb to the same criticism. Before its conversion to gallery the property was a haberdashery shop called ‘Sew Fantastic’ – though in its new guise this is tough to imagine. The gallery’s fa├žade, framed in ornate stonework, has been fitted with a colossal new window, looking in on pristine white walls.

Tintype's previous location, 18 St Cross Street.

The gallery space itself, which you enter through an impressive double-height door, is slightly wider at the front, tapering to the back, a shape echoed by the two rows of strip lights on the ceiling.

At the rear of the gallery is a white desk, and behind it sits Teresa Grimes who, with elegant white blonde hair and exquisite lime green trousers, is the picture of the contemporary gallerist.

Despite appearances, gallery ownership has been a relatively recent departure for Teresa. Talking of herself and her co-director Pat Treasure she says, “we were passionate about contemporary art and finding a place in it and a way of showing work that we really engaged with … so it’s just developed, neither of us worked in art galleries before, so it’s been a complete learning curve.”

It wasn’t a totally new vocation for Teresa though who, before setting up Tintype, worked in film production, an experience she sees as analogous. “To me running an art gallery is very much like producing a film, you need the same skills, because you’ve sort of got an overview situation with the gallery itself, the contemporary art world, how you can try and position yourself in that.”

“It’s about helping others to create the work and then being able to do something with it and get it out into the world and find an audience.” Whilst in film it might be expected that each new project warrants a separate audience, often galleries lean on defining an ‘aesthetic’ in order to draw a following. “It’s one of the very hardest things to define what your aesthetic is,” Teresa says. “It’s more like finding the story, the narrative.”

“If we have a creed it’s to do with finding work or artists that you want to know more about, like beginning a novel and knowing you want to read on.” Though Teresa mostly resists the temptation of a ‘unique selling point’ punch line, she does offer one correlation between the artists Tintype shows, “I don’t think we like very coldly aesthetic work, there has to be a flow to it, a conversation, something that draws you in –  there is a playful element about much of the work shown at the gallery.”

Florence Peake’s exhibition Chorus: Swell the thickening surface of was held at Tintype in March. Peake filled the gallery with a number of brightly coloured figures made from vinyl, packing tape and wood, all chattering through car radios scattered on the floor. The aesthetic of the work was indeed overwhelming playful, but the words being spoken by the car radio voices were personal and compelling.

The producer in Teresa shows itself again when we talk about the logistics of renovating the gallery space – the behind the scenes work that will ultimately benefit the gallery-affiliated artists.

She talks with a surprising mixture of acceptance and pride about the cracks already forming in her concrete screed floor, but it is the magnificent gallery window that seems to have caused the most worry. “I did have a moment of waking up in the middle of the night once the window was in, because it is a big window, and suddenly thinking ‘oh my god, have I done the right thing?’ Because so many contemporary art galleries don’t have windows and so I began to think about why that was.”

But without the window the gallery might have been just as hidden away as it’s Clerkenwell predecessor, an obstacle to finding an audience in a city where “contemporary art is now popular in a lot of ways. When you think of people flooding into Tate Modern and yet some of the smaller galleries are so hidden away, and it’s like this secretive thing that you have to know about.”

The new gallery space was launched with a performance: Morgan Wong’s Filing Down a Steel Bar Until a Needle is Made. “On Saturday he started and it was just fantastic because so many people stopped to watch and that’s when I really thought okay we’ve done the right thing here with the window, and I hadn’t actually thought about it, but I suddenly realised it’s a great performance space.”

My interest in Tintype was first piqued by a very funny and moving performance work by Cian McConn, so I’m drawn to ask Teresa more about their performance program. “Performance is something I’m increasingly learning about and getting into myself, and now I really, really like it.” Talking of Cian’s performance she adds, “I think my favourite performance piece that we’ve done in Tintype is one of Cian’s. He did it with another performer (Eve Vaughan) and it was perfectly judged, very humorous but poignant as well.”

Previously Tintype gallery has subsisted in rented spaces (first in Shoreditch and then Clerkenwell), standard practice for a contemporary gallery space, however Teresa and Pat have purchased this Islington property – a considerable financial outlay considering finance isn’t easily come by in the contemporary art world. “Well, we’re completely broke at the moment because of having to put all our financing into creating the gallery.”

But when renting “you’re at the behest of some sort of landlord or landlady and they don’t usually care that much about the property, so being able to buy somewhere and open it and control it and get it exactly how you want was very appealing.”

Evidently the change has paid off. Teresa tells me that, even in the first week and a half, the new space has brought a lot more people through the door. It’s been four and half years since Pat and Teresa started Tintype, and now “having a space that’s designed to be a gallery, which we never quite had before” she concludes, “it feels like we’ve grown up.”

Travis Riley

Tintype Gallery's new space can be found at: 107 Essex Road, London, N1 2SL. The gallery is open Wed - Sat: 12pm to 6pm.

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