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picture by:- phil gatenby
01/12/2019 text by:- phil gatenby
Phil Gatenby Q and A

CREATIVE FACTORY is an idea. By putting artists and creative thinking at the core of our approach, our factory will make new opportunities for Middlesbrough, where artists are not only welcomed, but listened to, nurtured, developed, supported, and given a much wider perception of success and a broader understanding of what a long term career can be. The Creative Factory Q&A is a short informal look at an artist’s practice and current work.  


1. Where are you based and how long have you been there: Initially in 2013 with Platform Arts Studios in Peterlee, subsequently in 2015 with Navigator North Studios, firstly at Keld House in Thornaby and currently at Riverside House in Middlesbrough since 2016.

2. Where do you work? Studio, home, kitchen table, cafes, elsewhere? Tell us a bit about your workspace / work habits, etc: I have a large, second floor, studio space situated at the corner of the building selected for the bonus of natural light from two sides.  One 12’ x 16’ interior wall is fabricated to allow pin/screw-head fastenings for large scale work. Studio furnishings include six 6’ x 3’ tables for the production of smaller scale works on paper/mdf/aluminium plus an adjacent lockable room with plan-chest storage, office desk and wifi access. My working habit is to be in the studio 4 days per week, typically not before 10.30 or after 17.30 hours on each studio day, studio visits notwithstanding. Work days can vary across the week. Unrestricted access at week-ends is appreciated in this regard.    

3. What does 'success' mean to you? The capacity to sustain my research practice into the legacy of abstract painting, to locate this research outcome in the public realm and thereby invite the challenge of a public gaze.

4. Do you earn a living from making art? If not, or only partially, what else do you do? Partially. From a HMRC and arts practice standpoint I registered ‘Materiality in Painting’ as sole trader status in February 2019 and am currently trading as a loss making enterprise . Whilst I am pleased to have received modest funding from ACE (NE) and bursary funds from Creative Factory these additional awards represent 20% of my annual running costs, 80% being ‘gifted’ from my state and/or private pension.  

5. What makes good art? Paintings that evolve directly from the lived experience of each author/maker that deepen an interrogative research focused intent are the 
most enticing for me. Whether this is ‘art’ or ‘good’ is a matter of personal taste.  

6. What have you been up to recently? Tell us about any recent exhibitions, projects, residencies, etc. Making work, seeing shows locally, hosting studio visits and attending conference/workshops such as the NECP event ‘Shifting the Power’ - memorable for the presentation made by the Unfolding Theatre group. In the past few months have seen shows at the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam, BAK, MA graduate work, in Utrecht, the 59th Venice Biennale, Edinburgh Festival and most recently the Wilson Gallery in Cheltenham to specifically revisit two landscape paintings one titled: ’Dixton Manor’ and another titled ‘Country Around Dixton Manor’ 1715/1716 , both by the same unknown English artist. Two other works shown at Wilson Gallery, one titled ‘Flowers’ 1943 by David Bomberg another titled ‘Fortified Buildings on the Banks of the Canal’ 1845 by Cornelis Springer (Dutch) were unexpected additional treats.  

7. What have you got coming up, exhibitions, residencies, studio etc? I am currently  making painting(s) to be shown in the forthcoming Fiesta Mk2 exhibition in November 2019. That said the thematic identified by the curatorial trio leading Fiesta Mk2 may elect to include a selection of previously resolved works? My sole focus otherwise is to make work for a forthcoming mixed media installation, anchored in painting, at Crown Street Gallery in November 2020.

8. What, if any, are the main barriers you come across? I give close attention to circumventing assumed barriers. Having secure and sustainable access to sufficiently large scale studio space is the issue for me. I am keen to discover a leasehold property/space to facilitate medium term tenure, by which I mean seven to ten years.

9. How do you feel about the current and future state of art in Middlesbrough  Optimistic and hopeful. At this moment the connectivity between key institutions based locally comes across as a progressive agency that could enable artist led initiatives to source a viable non-temporary venue to operate as a designated resource hub for practitioners.  

10. The future of Art in the UK: the momentum to prioritise funding arts activity in towns, cities and regions other than the capital is welcome.  

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