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An art gallery in Dartmouth with a local and generational history of championing artists who are both established and emerging, as Coombe Gallery prepares to launch its latest exhibition as part of the Dartmouth Galleries Spring Exhibitions on Friday 24th May at 6pm, we speak to owner Mark Riley to find out more…
What’s the history of the gallery?
The gallery itself has been here since 2004, but the story goes much further back than that. My parents moved down to Devon in 1980 and bought a collection of barns a mile from Dittisham. My father, Paul Riley, is an artist and they set up studios for painting holidays which were known as Coombe Farm Studios and after a while we also opened Coombe Farm Gallery, which we still run today.
It is a great place for exhibitions and we have a really good customer base, but it is a little bit off the beaten track. In 2004 a friend’s father was coming to the end of his career owning a gallery in Dartmouth and so we decided to open here. We opened as Coombe Gallery Dartmouth in 2004 and today I run it with my wife.
What did you do before?
I worked in India for a bit after school in the 1980s, I spent time working in an orphanage and then I travelled about - all in the days before mobile phones and the Internet. After that I started my university career culminating in a Masters in Art History at Aberdeen, but art was really in my blood and I soon came back and joined the family business, which I have been in ever since.
My parents met at art school, my father’s parents were both artists and met at the Slade and on my mother’s side my grandfather was a Czech artist. I have some lovely photos of him with artists like Munch. I am the first one in the family to turn to the dark side and sell art rather than make it, but it still continues the artistic tradition.
What is unique about Coombe Gallery Dartmouth?
Although we show predominantly West Country artists, we are really looking for quality and originality in the work we show. We visit a lot of shows around the country and include recent graduates as well as Royal Academicians amongst our artists.
We tend to do around five themed exhibitions throughout the year as well as a few solo exhibitions on occasion but of course there is work displayed all the time. We also do a number of art fairs around the country including ones in London, one at Cheltenham racecourse and one in September at Ascot.
I think we are unique because we combine the traditional and the avant-garde, but we don’t tend to have the boats and harbours that are traditional to the area. There are lots of people who do that beautifully, so we wanted to bring something a little different to the market.
What kind of artwork do you stock?
We go for quality across the board. I am looking for originality as well as skilled use of an artist’s chosen medium. Beyond that it really is everything to established to emerging artists. In fact we have an annual exhibition called Rising Stars which includes work from the graduate degree shows across the country. It can be a variety of work, but it’s always people who have graduated from a BA or MA that year.
What can people expect from this new exhibition?
It is called ‘Rebirth’ and it’s based on the idea of spring. I asked artists to do their interpretation of that but thinking about nature and our relationship with it at the moment. In tumultuous times nature has always been able to bounce back and reinvent itself. As we dominate our planet this becomes increasingly difficult. We need to find ways to learn from nature and work alongside her. This exhibition aims to highlight, both her beauty, our neglect and hopefully our coexistence.
The exhibition includes a graduate artist from Chelsea College of Art and Design, Royal West of England Academicians, artists we have exhibited before, and artists we are showing for the first time. It’s a real mix of painting, sculpture, living walls and metal sculpture.
A percentage of sales will also be going to the wonderful work of Devon Wildlife Trust. It is part of the Dartmouth Galleries Spring Exhibitions, which includes seven galleries in Dartmouth. It’s a good opportunity to have a glass of wine, a few nibbles and wander through each one on Friday evening discovering something new.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT COOMBE GALLERY AND ITS LATEST EXHIBITIONS
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