Gallery 3 at Barton Marina, Staffordshire
PUBLISHED: 15:01 21 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:14 20 February 2013
Although it opened only three years ago, the waterside gallery at Barton Marina has proved a phenomenal success. Ashley Franklin reports
A visit to Gallery 3 at Barton Marina often elicits the query: Where are Galleries 1 and 2? Proprietor Robin Whitehouse doesnt mind: he is simply delighted to see so many visitors, all coming to browse and buy a range of collectable limited editions and original work from leading figures in the contemporary art world.
Despite the reason for the gallerys name being somewhat prosaic its address is Unit 3 at the Marina Gallery 3s success story is poetic, and quite remarkable.
Robin is no artist himself, hailing from a background in structural engineering, but his fervent passion for art brought him to see the bigger picture when espying the potential at Bartons newly-proposed retail site. He took the plunge, opening the gallery at the end of 2007, and now has a client base numbering an impressive 3,000, making Gallery 3 one of the leading independent galleries in the UK.
Gallery 3 was also named the UKs Art Retailer of the Year 2009 at the Fine Art Trade Guild awards, which are bestowed on galleries which show impressive trading figures but also score highly on presentation, notably customer service and knowledge of staff. The key to Gallery 3s eminence in this rarefied retail world is evident even before entering its doors: Barton Marina, only a quarter of a mile off the A38, is a tastefully tailored beauty spot housing quality specialist outlets on a canalside promenade, giving Gallery 3 a distinct advantage over urban galleries, according to Robin: We are a leisure destination, very accessible and with free parking, which means our customers are in a relaxed frame of mind when they walk in. They also walk in to the friendliest of welcomes. Our customers are offered freshly-brewed coffee or even champagne and then invited to wander round what is a wonderfully light and airy space on two floors. We have ambient music, soft furnishings and mood lighting; it means that everything has been arranged to make the art-buying experience an intrinsically pleasurable one.
What clients come to view is a broad range of contemporary art nothing too ultra-modern, nothing too traditional; just diverse, eclectic and excellent artwork, all from internationally acclaimed artists, affirms Robin. Those artists include: Doug Hyde, the UKs most loved artist, famed for his smiley round-faced character creations; Rebecca Lardner, renowned for her quirky, vibrant depictions of harbour life; Fabin Prez, an Argentinean painter of captivating, romantic Latin figures; Sherree Valentine Daines, described as the Face of Modern British Impressionism as well as one of the UKs leading portraitists; and Rolf Harris, who recently polled first position in a survey to name the UKs most popular artist.
Gallery 3s website lists over 70 featured artists and sells work ranging from 80 to 80,000. Robin reveals that Gallery 3 has sold several artworks in the tens of thousands and that when the recession kicked in, less than a year after opening, business increased substantially.
Our clients are of the view that they would rather have their money on their walls than in the bank, remarks Robin, and we have been able to make our mark by offering a portfolio that is always fresh, cutting edge and exciting and covers all areas of artistic enterprise.
Robin is particularly pleased to have captured the attention of many new customers who have discovered the pleasure of building their own personal art collection, sometimes based on the interior decor of their home. We pride ourselves at Gallery 3 on knowing about current interior trends, Robin points out. We often get customers coming in with a swatch of fabric so that they can buy an artwork that matches their sofa or wall. Alternatively, we also have clients who style their room around a single, special painting theyve bought from us. We specialise in going to customers homes and viewing their spaces so that we can advise them on the right art to buy.
We also advise our clients on all aspects of collecting art, including hanging and framing, adds Robin. I like to think we go the extra mile with our customer service, and deliver even more than the client expects. For instance, a client may like a specific kind of art. We go out and source artwork based on those very specifics.
Robin confirms that many clients have come to know that special feeling of owning an original piece of work: A painting you love is one that you can embrace; one you can sit and gaze on and enjoy constantly. That painting also becomes a talking point when friends gather for dinner parties. It can really make a difference to your life.
Running a gallery has certainly made a difference to Robins life. Gallery 3 recently became a company group and, towards the end of last year, it opened another Gallery 3 in the Cheshire town of Knutsford. This whole venture has surpassed my expectations, admits Robin. Although Ive been pleasantly surprised, so have our clientele at discovering how buying art can be such a relaxing and enjoyable experience.
Gallery 3s current featured artist is Duncan Macgregor and the first to have a local connection: he hails from Alrewas. The irony of Duncans upbringing in this centrally landlocked part of England is that he has become one of the countrys most sought-after seascape painters. Fifteen years ago, Duncan and his wife both keen sailors took the bold step of resigning from their jobs, selling their house and buying a 34-foot yacht, setting sail across the Atlantic. Duncan created a pictorial diary of their voyage using a watercolour set his wife gave him as a present for the trip, and this was the start of his career.
Duncans marine landscapes uniquely capture the sea, and especially sailing vessels, in a brightly coloured and seemingly spontaneous style which is neither traditional nor abstract but swims beautifully in between. His paintings also stand out for the rich, thick application of acrylic paint. One art critic spoke of the sensual way he brings life and movement to the water.
The ocean inspires and moves me to capture the energy and joy of what I see, remarks Duncan. Although I am painting actual scenes, I see what I do as interpretative rather than literal. I paint around a subject and I hope that the energy and vibrancy of each image is far more alive to the viewer than the rather more prosaic reality!