By Gareth Stevens

It will come as no surprise that The blackShed Gallery is closed during these times of ‘lockdown’ – but for those of you who know the gallery’s irrepressible owner and director Kenton Lowe, this inevitable hiatus in the physical exhibition schedule has not dampened his enthusiasm nor his determination.

Robert Sample in Studio

While the gallery is closed, he wants to continue to serve his loyal supporters and to provide ways of endorsing the artists that have previously exhibited at blackShed by staying ‘open’ in other ways. The blackShed is very proud to have been a voice for art and artists for over 10 years and over the coming weeks Kenton plans to revisit and share some of blackShed’s favourite exhibitions with you. Entitled “Virtual Spaces” the gallery will be featuring highlights, videos and interviews with some of the artists who have worked with blackShed over the last decade.

On Monday 6th April blackShed will launch its first online exhibition “A Return To Order” by an artist you all know and love, Robert Sample. I managed to catch up with Robert, who has exhibited at blackShed on three different occasions over the gallery’s history. We discussed his partnership with Kenton and the gallery, and also I got to hear what the conditions necessitated by the current pandemic have meant for his creative practice.

The Paint and the Painted by Robert Sample, Oil on Board

Sample has nothing but admiration for the work of The blackShed. Kenton and he have known each other since college days and it is fair to say that Robert was a key supportive figure at the gallery’s inception. I asked him what made Kenton so different amongst gallery owners. “His spirit and positivity reassures you that you are in good hands with him – he works so hard for every artist on his books”. It is true that The blackShed Gallery sees its responsibilities going far beyond that of a commercial gallery. It tirelessly pursues partnerships with other galleries and Arts organizations, works with schools and, perhaps most importantly, it endeavours to have ongoing and supportive relationships with all the Artists for whom the gallery hosts shows.

The last of Robert’s shows in the Summer of 2018 at blackShed was entitled ‘Shrouds’. A hugely popular and successful exhibition, it mainly featured large paintings that fused references to religious iconography with alienated male figures. For those of you who do not know his work, Robert is a highly skilled painter of the human figure – there are only a few who can create such convincing renditions of the human face and torso. For more on this show please read this piece I wrote at the time.

After Limewood II by Robert Sample, Oil on Board

Of the current lockdown regime, Robert tells me that in many ways it is business as usual for him. For him and many of his peers, days and days of self imposed isolation is not only necessary for their creative process, but is also desirable. The current cessation of his ongoing schedule of obligations – all the exhibitions he was due to contribute to this Spring and Summer have either been cancelled or postponed – has allowed him to focus on a more exploratory way of working that doesn’t necessarily need to culminate in exhibitable outcomes. He is doubling down on improving technique and has taken time to define a kind of manifesto that he hopes will give direction to his future work. A set of simple statements, this guiding statement is an example of how Robert has turned this period of uncertainty into a fertile void. It is clear that whilst life in the pandemic has brought challenges for artists, it has at the same time allowed a respite from some external pressures and a chance to shift emphasis and to think differently.

Like The blackShed, many are turning to social media to formulate mutually supportive means by which the Art community can still enrich people’s lives in lockdown and that can provide a financial safety net. Robert tells me about the Artist Support Pledge on Instagram which was started by the artist Matthew Burrows since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

We end our conversation by reflecting on what the ‘new normal’ be like once the intense period gives way. “Hopefully this time of social distancing might ground people a little bit and help them to see more value in human connection and interdependence” Robert tells me. He goes on to say emphatically that these times have definitely shown us who the true heroes are. Not the CEOs or politicians, but the people who look after the most vulnerable, empty our bins and teach our children.

I couldn’t agree more, but it also needs to be said that my own personal isolation would have been unbearable without Art and Literature and so lets not forget those who forfeit the security of steady jobs and risk financial instability to produce soul-sustaining Art.

Please check out The blackShed’s ‘Virtual Spaces’ online exhibitions over the next few months.

Visit ‘Virtual Spaces’ here on Instagram and here on Facebook

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