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How the Art of Protest Gallery Plan to Change the York Art Scene

By Dami Ayo-Vaughan | 2nd August 2017

Art of Protest Gallery York, What's On York

Art of Protest Gallery York

Nestled amongst the independent retailers, bars and eateries that fill The Quarter sits The Art of Protest Gallery. With its aqua coloured walls, it stands out among old brown brick stone wall that surrounds it. It is here Jeff Clark – one-half of the founding duo of The Art of Protest – is patiently waiting for me alone. He’s dressed casually – tweed blazer, black V-neck top, grey jeans and black sneakers – as he welcomes me warmly, apologizing for Craig Humble’s absence. He’s holding a painting of an explosive with Donald Trump’s face placed inside. It piques my interest. Noticing this, he explains the piece, ““This is actually by one of our artists, Steven Spazuk, who uses fire to paint,” he says excitedly, “It was in reaction to the Paris climate talks and the threat he {Donald Trump} poses to our environment.”

Despite the nature of the piece in his hand, Jeff is keen to make it clear that The Art of Protest is about more than offering politicized work. “The relevance of picking the name ‘The Art of Protest” for Craig and I was around the areas that we wanted people to stop and think. Now, obviously, it allows people to ultimately just jump straight to the conclusion that this is really politicized; {but} it’s not about it being overly politicized, it’s about stopping and thinking,” he says as he places the artwork in the drawer beneath him. “It’s not about being left or right wing. It’s about making people think and be a bit more considerate of the world around them.”

Jeff Clark holding Image by Steven Spazuk, Art of Protest Gallery, York

Jeff Clark holding Image by Steven Spazuk

Jeff, a practicing photographer, is full of praise for his partner, Craig Humble, describing him as being someone he considered “a mentor” in his early years in business. Both met at Washington Green, one of Europe’s largest fine art publishers, where Craig served as the Northern director, and Jeff sought advice on how to commercialize his work. They would end up losing touch as Jeff moved to the US and worked with artists such as Hoerle Guggenheim, Defer, and Retna. Whilst consulting for Moniker, they established their connection. It was at this time that they began to nurse thoughts of establishing The Art of Protest Gallery: “For different reasons, we both came back and were consulting for this art fair for which we looked at what was going on in the North of England. Thousands of people migrate from the North of England to the South to buy art, which has a cultural relevance. We had to ask ourselves these questions of why. Why are they migrating? The culture is here. So, we looked at all the different areas and we thought let’s do something. We asked ourselves how do we want to do it? Do we just want a gallery? Do we just want to sell art work? No. It has to be more than that. And so was born the Art of the Protest.”

Art of Protest Gallery, York, York Culture, What's On York

Art of Protest Gallery

Does he worry about the risks involved in running a new business? “It’s not easy establishing a new business. It’s never going to be, whatever you trade in. So, what we’ve got to do is make sure that we are culturally and visually relevant, from the day we open and create enough things to generate energy and excitement and keep people coming back and looking at us.” The arrangement of the artwork creates a spacious walkway out of the walls of the gallery, diffusing the potential threat of claustrophobia the size of the gallery poses. The pieces in the gallery carry with them and urban feel and look as if they would look just as good on the walls of York, as they would in the homes of potential buyers.

Having been an artist himself, Jeff is at pains to pass across his view on gallerists who cheat their artists: “If you find there is a gallerist out there ripping off {young} artists because they spend hours creating something and they get a very low percentage of the actual mark up. That is wrong,” he says earnestly, “It’s inherently wrong and they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.” For Jeff, “it’s the responsibility of the gallerist to make sure the artists are looked after” otherwise things don’t work: “There is no point in the gallery getting fat and the artist getting skinny, and vice versa. It has to be mutually advantageous for everybody otherwise it doesn’t work.”

Artworks in Art of Protest Gallery, Culture York York, What's On York

Artworks in Art of Protest Gallery

The table between Jeff and I is covered in rough sketches of a calligraphic design of sorts, which bears resemblance to the huge mural on the wall opposite the gallery. This mural was created by two of the world’s biggest urban artists, Defer and Big Sleeps, to run with the opening of the gallery.

“They were absolutely amazed by the actual architecture of York and felt very inspired to work with it,” Jeff tells me, as his eyes light up. He brings out from his drawer, a sheet containing different symbols and adds, “The wall itself was set upon and they included up to 21 significant York words, dates, times within it. If you look closely in it, the actual formation of the language, they weaved in certain words, Jorvik, Richard the 3rd and allow people of York who love the history and the modernism to enjoy it together.”

Defer and Big Sleeps, Street Art mural, York

Defer and Big Sleeps, Street Art mural

For Jeff, this encapsulates what the Art of Protest hopes to achieve in York – the fusion of York’s history and urban art. This is what he and Craig believe York and its art scene needs. “York has a wonderful art culture. We’ve got history in abundance in this city. The architecture speaks for itself; we’ve got these beautiful medieval walls. Yet, if we consider it is the most walled city in the U.K, it doesn’t have any street art. These are things which have been the visual culture of the last 30/40 years. Now the first, or I think second ever mural festival in the U.K was actually in York. Goldie was here. All the big celebs of the street art world. That’s just disappeared. Where’s that gone? So, street art is actually a really important part of York’s history as York is in the actual street art movement. A little bit of revisiting that, I think, is really important for us and then we can play with this beautiful historic town and make it as visually inspiring as we can for everyone that comes through.”

Jeff’s words come out with a measured excitement. It is clear he and Craig look forward to taking the York art scene to where they think it needs to be. “The thing which we want to focus on is the 100-mile radius of people, and let them know that they are here, let them know there is an oasis of urban culture for them to come be part of. We know we’re going to supply the best artwork that this city has ever seen, that’s exciting.”

Jeff Clark, Art of Protest Gallery

Jeff Clark

As I begin my descent home I wonder if Jeff and Craig plans for York will bear fruit. In the corner of my eye, I see a family of four stop in front of the gallery for a few seconds and ponder Steven Spazuk’s work. It’s a powerful moment, and it gives gravitas to Jeff’s earlier words. I realize it is too soon to tell if Jeff and Craig will be successful with their plans. In that moment, it doesn’t matter. They had managed to get all five of us to stop and think.

Art of Protest Gallery Website
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