Interview: Bobby Benjamin | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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For the past five years, Pineapple Black in Middlesbrough has been the people’s gallery, championing exciting up-and-coming and established artists, across a diverse range of backgrounds, from the North-East and beyond. It completely sacked off the stuffy and exclusive standard that many galleries tend to adopt and became a welcoming community space where inspiration, passion and a DIY spirit thrived and made art something for everyone (like it should be).

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and sadly Pineapple Black is not an exception, having recently announced that it is set to close. The gallery will be going out with a bang with its Last Shot exhibition (and a few smaller pop-ups to follow). The main gallery will have over 100 works submitted via an open call, ranging from established artists like Deb Covell and Gordon Dalton to first-time exhibitors. There will also be work by artists as young as 8, a group submission from the Oakland Hub SEN base, alongside submissions from performers, writers and visual artists.

In the Changed Rooms, there will be an immersive solo installation by GRIMEZS, showing as part of the Northern Art Gala and upstairs you can check out the first solo collection by Zerker Heavy Industries. 

The launch event, complete with special guests) takes place on Friday 26th January and will be open to the public from Thursday 1st February for four weeks during usual opening hours (Thursday, Friday and Saturday 11am-4pm).

We catch up with artist/co-founder and curator of Pineapple Black, Bobby Benjamin, to find out more…

How long has Pineapple Black been going and what made you want to run a gallery?
When we opened Pineapple Black we just saw an interesting space and thought we’d inhabit it for a month or two but we had so much fun we just kept doing it! Our last preview this Friday will also mark our 5th birthday and we are both really proud of everything we’ve achieved as a community space.

What have been some of your highlights during that time?
There’s been so many! From our packed-out opening, our controversial Lidia Lidia show making international news and the overwhelming response to our Ukraine collection that completely took over the gallery – there’s such much to look back on. Personally, though it’s the little things; watching artists grow in ambition and confidence as they developed and exhibited with us, seeing groups of teens come in and have their first gallery experience etc. We’ve been a safe space for so many people and I just get a kick out of seeing people be themselves in our gallery.

What was behind the decision to call it a day?
The way we are set up we look after the space on a 30-day notice. So when a big business eventually began looking at the space we decided to draw a line and leave on our own terms rather than hanging around to be moved on unceremoniously at short notice. We see this as a sunrise though, rather than a sunset. 5 years is a long time and we are both looking forward to exploring new projects and refocusing on our own arts practices.

How has the Teesside art & culture evolved over your time at Pineapple Black?
Spaces like our own and The Auxiliary have been crucial not just in showcasing the region’s talent but in providing a tangible route to a career within the arts. Middlesbrough’s creative scene, at grassroots level, is buzzing and there’s so much talent here. Our council is bankrupt, we’re losing a lot of our independent and creative spaces, but the seeds are sewn and I’m convinced that for every venue plucked from our town, many more will shoot up in their place.

What would you say the legacy of Pineapple Black is? 
I think we showed people that the arts can be for everyone. We gave so many artists their first show, so many performers their first gig and so many members of the public their first gallery experience. And we did it our own way too. We never had any funding or support and seldom took a wage. We just loved putting on shows and shouting about art and I don’t think there’s a better reason to do something than that.

Last Shot will be the last big exhibition at Pineapple Black. Can you tell us a little about that?
In the main gallery, we have an open-call exhibition featuring work by over 100 artists from all ages, backgrounds and levels of experience that provides an honest and engaging cross-section of the talent here on Teesside. Alongside our feature exhibition are installations by Grimesz in the Changed Rooms gallery and Zurker Heavy Industries in the Stockroom gallery. There will also be a live spoken word performance from Fog author Michael Lewis. The open event runs 6-9pm with music and bar and is preceded by a ‘quiet launch’ at 5.30 without music. Afterwards, we head to Disgraceland, Baker st to dance the night away at our official aftershow party. Both events are free to attend.

There will be work from over 100 artists across 3 exhibitions. What are some of your highlights?
It’s such an eclectic range of work but my personal highlights are a 1982 Alan Morley painting and a group submission by young people from the Oakland Hub SEN base at Acklam Grange Secondary School.

This is the last big exhibition at Pineapple Black but there will be a couple of small pop-ups after this. What can you tell us about those?
We both work closely with Teesside Uni and MIMA and have been developing projects with their students that we are keen to honour with exhibitions, there’s also a fundraiser for a local young people’s Cheerleading team – so we’re not disappearing just yet. We’ll be kicking around until April so keep an eye on our socials.

What’s next for you after Pineapple Black?
There’s something quite exciting about everything being back on the table – it feels like anything is possible! First up we are going to take a well-earned break. Stephen is working closely with a gallery in Miami which will be his focus in the coming months. I’m currently planning my first international exhibition and a new solo in the region but I’ll certainly be looking at new projects and new spaces – I need somewhere to put all my artwork!

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