Meet Jo and Ben, the artist – photographer duo behind Newquay’s freshly launched creative sanctuary, North Coast Asylum.
Previously based in the big smoke, the pair pooled years of experience working in London’s creative industries and relocated south to promote emerging and established artists.
Whilst Cornwall’s association with the creative arts go way back, NCA’s contemporary ethos of fairness and simplicity for mutual benefit may well revitalize Newquay’s art scene. Their official online platform went live in November, dedicated to showcasing the artists, photographers and the ocean-based lifestyles that inspire them and the pair is now repurposing a church in the centre of town to become the physical arts space.
We met the surfing duo looking to modernise the ways and means of creative exhibition in Newquay.
Tell me a little about yourselves, do you have a background in art?
Jo: Yes, I am an artist and grew up in a very artistic family so its always been in my blood, I also worked at Christie’s Auction House in London for 8 years so this gave me a deep understanding of art business and the commercial art world. Ben, who has been working as a management consultant for the last 7 years, is also a trained graphic designer and photographer so creativity is something that is very much in the forefront of life for us both.
What were your motivations for starting North Coast Asylum in Cornwall?
Ben: Having an understanding of the art world, a real appreciation for artistic beauty and the desire to make the art market a fairer place. Being a self represented artist Jo was aware of the pitfalls of working with galleries – often including huge gallery charges, they take on average 45 – 65% of the purchase price of a work and unrealistic deadlines.
So this was something we were keen to tackle, and wanted to create more of a collaborative relationship between the artists and us. We take very low commission and do our best to support and promote the lovely guys and girls we have on board. Stress is not conducive to creativity so we aim to make it as relaxed as possible. Also we had both been advising friends on up and coming artists we’d seen for a while. So the natural path seemed to be for us to set something up showcasing and supporting emerging artists and photographers.
So you guys are currently renovating a church space in the centre of Newquay, why did you choose that to be your gallery / exhibition space?
Jo: Funnily enough, when we set up the gallery we thought it would stay as an online platform for a while and then when the time came we would look for a physical home. However we came across the church by chance, went to look round and totally fell in love with the space. It was built in the late 1800’s and has got so much character. The beautiful wooden floor, high ceilings and plethora of light just made it perfect for a gallery space. It certainly needs a fair amount of TLC but we are looking forward to welcoming everyone when we open our doors next summer.
Do you have wider visions for the space alongside using it as a gallery?
We want it to become a real part of the community. When the space is complete we want to offer not just an addition to Newquay’s amazing burgeoning creative scene but also as a space for yoga classes, film nights, gigs etc.
What’s your timeline for the space to be developed and finished?
As with most building projects we have an idea, but the reality might be slightly different! Our aim is next summer.
Have any unexpected issues cropped up and thrown spanners in the works or has it been mainly plain sailing?
Jo: So as a listed building we have to get through various issues with the conservation team, so we are still working through a few of those. One of the biggest unexpected issues though was some lodgers, some meaning almost 100.
Ben: We discovered about 70 pigeons flying around in the roof just after we’d bought the building, it took lots of loud bangs, flashing lights, and coercing to get them all out. We were then left with the rather unpleasant job of clearing up what had been left behind by almost 100 pigeons living in a roof space for what must have been a good few decades!
How did you select the artists whose work you’re currently featuring?
Jo: Having worked in art, and both us having a strong aesthetic, we knew what sort of artists and photographers we wanted on board. We discovered the majority through Instagram, and sat down and wrote a wish list of the top 10 artists we’d love to work with. We were lucky enough that those guys all said yes and here we are today!
Do you both have a relationship with surfing? If so, has it influenced your lifestyle or professional choices?
Jo: This has been a huge factor in both our professional and lifestyle choices. Ben has surfed for the last decade and when not doing it he is dreaming about it. I have taken it up slightly more recently but windsurfed for most of my life. So we are both serious water lovers. There has been a constant urge to be near the ocean and having worked all over and mostly in London we realised the pull to the ocean was too strong so we needed to move back to Cornwall whilst we are still young enough to wake up at the crack of dawn, grab wetsuits, boards and head down to the surf. Our aesthetic with the business has followed suit, and we are heavily ocean inspired. All but one of our artists is Cornwall based, so the majority of the works on the site have in some way been influenced by surfing and the ocean.
What are some of your favourite pieces being featured at the moment?
Jo: Its difficult to single out any works because we have both handpicked all the artists and photographers because we adore their work, and favourites change on a daily basis. However if I had to narrow it down today I would pick Void Burst by Mimi Robson, I have been mesmerised by Mimi’s works since the get-go.
Ben: I adore Nina Brooke’s aerial inspired art, but as a photographer I have a real affinity for Jack Hopkins’ Summer Series. At only 19 years of age Jack is has a serious talent for shooting his home coastline!
Where do you see yourselves and NCA in 5 years time?
Jo: We’d love to be opening another beautiful space for NCA, perhaps in Falmouth or Bath. We would also like to still be working with the amazing artists we have on board with perhaps a few new faces. We value long term relationships, the better you know an artist the more well equipped you are to sell their work. We also hope that this fresh approach to the traditional gallery – artist relationship has spread, and more galleries are looking after their artists, and encouraging these creatives to flourish and grow.
Cover photo NCA represented photographer Nick Pumphrey