LOCAL INTERVIEW: Peg Powler Gallery | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Stockton-based gallery Peg Powler, and its masterminds AJ and Rebecca, have been bringing 100% DIY exhibitions and workshops to Teesside for half a decade. To celebrate, they’re holding a typically quirky two-in-one exhibition launch night and party at Stockton’s ARC, one of the many venues that have supported their ventures over the past five years. Vicky Duffy and Shaun Elliott’s latest exhibition of paintings and sketches are likely to be the centerpiece of the night – ringing in a new era in the gallery’s history – but the duo are also providing oodles more entertainment.

Sheffield-based musician, artist and all-round entertainer Stuart Faulkner is providing the soundtrack to the night on his keyboard – apparently Stu can and will play anything requested to him, so if you fancy a piano-led version of that super-obscure track no-one else knows but you, he’d be up for it (so long as you give him a couple of days warning!) There’s also a chance to see Shaun Elliott’s tactile art objects, including Woody the Piece of Wood, a live creative haircutting experience, a special folder of Duffy’s works that are too obscene for usual public consumption and all the usual Peg Powler paraphernalia (think zines, a drawing table and some little treats on the side). It’s set to be a bizarre night, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Before they begin the celebrations though, I asked AJ and Rebecca a couple of questions about half a decade of Peg Powler, including working within a national community of artists, their favourite moments and their best discoveries.

Congratulations on turning five! How does it feel for the gallery to be half a decade old?

AJ: Thanks! It feels good to have survived and be doing new things. I always envisioned Peg Powler to be the cockroach of art organisations, not because we’re small an no one likes us, but because the cockroach is famous for being extremely resilient – supposedly a creature that would survive a nuclear apocalypse. And we because we always operated and embraced a DIY attitude we have been able to survive the funding apocalypse that has affected smaller arts organisations. And we’re not commercial, so we’re not reliant on sales – it is really down to us.

We’ve done so much yet there’s times when were not super active – maybe just showing a bit from the collection here and there, which is another survival mechanism. But we’re coming into an active phase now…

You’ve presented dozens of exhibitions and residencies over the past five years. What would you say has been the highlight of the last five years, for you personally?

AJ: There’s so many including quirky ones like the world’s first (to our knowledge) exhibition of clip art. I’m so glad we did that one because now Microsoft has discontinued it clip art entirely – and it is as is it has just been wiped from the face of the Earth – and some of it was really good! It looked great on the walls.

Our very first residency was in Stockton in what is now the Green Room and that was exhibition after exhibition, sourcing and supporting unusual artists like Shaun Elliott and creating a relaxed environment to enjoy art, and that’s kind of inspiring this upcoming show. I also love the times we got to put art right along with comedy and rock and roll, such as when Josie Long had us do her comedy club in London, or being part of some class music festivals like Indietracks and Stockton Weekender.

Rebecca: It’s really hard to choose! So many obscure one-off events happened during our time at the old Green Dragon Studios which I will never forget. Each exhibition launch featured a mix of live performance and unusual food stuffs – the firm favourite being Microvwavable cake.

We had a great time taking over an empty shop in Middlesbrough and turning it into a micro publishing house for fanzines, books and comix. It was a great hub for people to come down to make and share fanzines. We had workshops from local fanzine experts and exhibitions of our favourite zine art.

peg powler cover photo

AJ: “I always envisioned Peg Powler to be the cockroach of art organisations, not because we’re small an no one likes us, but because the cockroach is famous for being extremely resilient”

Over the years you’ve worked with numerous other galleries from both near and afar. How does it feel to be part of such a tight artistic community?

AJ: In some ways we formed our own community. When we first started there wasn’t anything quite like us in Teesside. We saw the organisations that did exist as doing something totally different and/or being bodged, and we didn’t want to be like them particularly. We were more inspired by the DIY music scene and created the gallery experience that we ourselves wanted.

To do that Rebecca and me had to work hard and stick to what we believed in. The artists we work with, we choose them carefully and support them as much as we can – we hang and often frame the shows, we write and create the labels, we do our best to promote the show, so the artist can just concentrate on the art. So by the end we feel a close connection with artists we exhibit.

And beyond that there’s the venues that have housed us, organisations that have worked with us and supported us, such as ARC, Tees Music Alliance, The Westgarth in Middlesbrough – they have been fantastic. And there’s certain individuals that are part of the extended family that have helped us out or just been dead encouraging, and they are treasured like emeralds and sapphires.

Are there any artists you’ve discovered over the years that you think our readers should check out?

AJ: Yes, Vicky Duffy and Shaun Elliott and you can check them out at our exhibition! A lot of the artists we like and show are a bit off the radar, which is partly why we show them. Artists we’ve worked with who are bit easier to find include the wonderful Stuart Faulkner of Sheffield, and Gus Hughes of Dublin. In group shows we’ve been able shown little bits of art by Charlotte Mei from London and Bunny Bissoux from Japan and they too are fantastic artists highly worth a look.

Rebecca: Yeah definitely! We’ve also been dead lucky to show work by musicians we love such as anti-folk singer Jeffrery Lewis who draws a great comic called Fuff. Indie game developers, Superbrothers (responsible for Sword & Sworcery EP) have also featured in past group exhibitions who we really have a lot of respect for.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve got planned for your birthday bash at Stockton’s ARC?

AJ: We’re launching the new show, Shaun Elliott and Vicky Duffy, and at the birthday bash there will be a bit of extra art beyond the drawings and paintings of the exhibition. Shaun’s bringing some three dimensional objects he’s painted like a bit of wood and a mannequin head. And we’ll have a special certificate 18 folder of Vicky’s drawings that are too obscene for general exhibition. The multi-talented painter and ex-Pink Grease member Stuart Faulkner is coming over and will be playing his keyboard the entire time, like a human jukebox. He can and will play anything. Plus Vicky, the self proclaimed creator of “crude senseless imagery,” is going to give me a crude senseless haircut live in the exhibition space. There will also be the chance to do some drawing, read some zines, and have a pint.

Finally, what are your plans for the future of Peg Powler?

AJ: Hopefully loads more exhibitions like this one! We’ve got several lined up, some with artists we’ve worked with before and some we haven’t, with art forms including photography, painting, and drawing. Possibly with some strange twists… And some new public workshops are coming, focused on creativity and unusual fun as always. Rebecca and I will also be working together on things that maybe don’t have the Peg Powler name attached, more performance based antics, and we’ve got a project on getting the Peg Powler permanent collection (which includes work by Kingsley Chapman, Alexei Sayle, and Neil Buchanan) out into our favourite venus and shops in Teesside, so watch out for that too!

Rebecca: Over the years we’ve built up a really eclectic and strong permanent collection of art works that now we’re looking forward to finally getting into cool Teesside cafes and shops like Boro Bookworm. We’ll be adding more info on our website about how to find them soon.

Peg Powler’s fifth birthday party takes place at ARC, Stockton on Thursday 9th April. The exhibition is available to view at ARC until Saturday 30th May.

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