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

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Image by Nick Wesson

“It’s like Sons of Anarchy with drawing instead of bikes.” Says AJ Garrett who, alongside cohort Rebecca Little, runs Teesside DIY arts gang Peg Powler. To compare a couple of indie artists to a motorcycle posse may seem a little extreme, but it’s the community aspect of Peg Powler’s collective of outsiders that AJ’s really driving at. “The art is always very individual because we work with artists who aren’t trying to be someone else or fit in with a trend when they paint or draw.” Rebecca states.

Having come together back in 2010 after studying arts courses, AJ and Rebecca became frustrated with the lack of exhibitions which showcased the sort of visual art they wanted to see, as AJ explains. “We had an opportunity to do a run of exhibitions at what is now The Green Room in Stockton. It wasn’t just about the art on the walls, it was about the atmosphere and the whole attitude.”

Together as Peg Powler (named for a witch from Teesside folklore), AJ and Rebecca began to carve a niche for themselves and the ragtag collection of artists who had inspired them. “We were inspired by the DIY culture of the Teesside music scene.” Rebecca says. “We set about combining music and art, sort of like an informal club night which could be easily accessed by anyone off the street. Activities and increasingly weird events soon became part of what we did too.”

This individuality is what sets the duo apart; the gallery’s artistic forays have ranged from their debut Bad Art Show, pop-up ‘zine workshops, exhibitions of clip art or MS Paint artworks and an exhibition in a former Greggs bakery to bizarre events, which have included painter Vicky Duffy cutting Rebecca’s hair in the gallery while Pink Grease musician Stuart Faulkner sings songs about hair, through to more ‘serious’ showcases of artists including Vicky Duffy, Shaun Elliott and Nuala C Murphy, all of whom AJ believes to be foremost in their fields. “It’s figurative expressionism, if you want to be technical. We used to shy away from saying the art we show is ‘good’ or the ‘best’, because art is so subjective – but when I think of those shows I’m very proud.”

It’s clear that AJ and Rebecca’s attitude to art and creativity is to continually seek to try something new and different. “We’re into ‘trying’.” Says AJ. “If you try and do something even if it goes wonky or comes out disturbing, it might be cool to see.

“In a lot of contemporary art there isn’t any trying – except trying to sound intellectual – and that’s why it’s boring.”

Supporting a ‘scene’ in the region is foremost in Peg Powler’s plans, and the duo are emphatic about showcasing work by artists who aren’t always considered by larger galleries. “There’s a certain common quality to the artists’ personalities even though they are really different people.” Says AJ. “We tend to support the more ‘analogue’ side of arts, as in paintings, drawings, collages, even Nuala Murphy’s pizza sculptures coloured in with nail varnish. It’s part of the lo-fi approach.”

“Over the years it has become like a gang really,” Rebecca adds, using their club mentality as an example of the most creative way to work. “We work with the same people, who as club presidents we feel loyal to because they fit in and bring something, and occasionally we initiate new members.”

With the lack of arts funding keenly felt in the region – and with the future filled with uncertainty – the attitude of organisations like Peg Powler are refreshing and so incredibly important. “Peg Powler is our way of doing something positive about the art we care about, and what it can do for people.” AJ enthuses, with Rebecca adding: “That’s why we support artists that just wouldn’t be exhibiting otherwise.”

The duo feel a sense of freedom in not being tied to a particular gallery or space, although they do have some of their permanent collection on display at The Green Room and Westgarth Social Club in Middlesbrough. Stockton’s ARC is increasingly becoming their ‘go-to’ space, and the ability to interact with a wide variety of people is another plus point. “In the early times the typical audience was the kind of DIY music scene that inspired us, but when we do shows at ARC the audience is everyone.” Says AJ. Their new exhibition features work by AJ and Rebecca themselves, entitled Show Offs, and on display throughout August. “It’s animals and clowns having a good time,” Rebecca explains. “I’m doing animals because we like them. AJ and I had a visit to the Cement Menagerie, which is a tiny village in Northumberland in someone’s back garden. A man built dozens and dozens of cement animals to amuse his disabled son in the 1960s and they’re all still there. It is a beautiful, wonky, wonderful place, and totally inspiring.”

AJ’s contribution is clown art, which he believes is a rather maligned genre of modern art. “In the past we’ve mainly been showing other artists, but as the ‘gang leaders’ we’re trying to step up. I’m too inspired by the artists we’ve worked with not to have a go.”

This is one gang you don’t need to pass an initiation to be a part of – there’s no pressure to ‘get’ it or have any knowledge, just a willingness to open your mind, be positive and have fun.

Peg Powler, we wanna be in your gang.

AJ Garrett and Rebecca Little’s Show Offs exhibition is at ARC, Stockton from Thursday 4th until Wednesday 31st August.

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