Journey Into Artier Space
By Nick Pelling
West Street, in Old Town, has always been somewhat eclipsed by its popular, parallel partner, George Street. But, nestled in at 31a West Street, is the fabulous Dirty Old Gallery with its distinctive dog logo. The curator, artist and all-round art missionary behind the gallery is one Megan Donfrancesco Reddy.
Megan, 29, is dedicated to giving Hastings not just a gallery but also studio space, an art shop, life drawing classes and an ever changing carousel of exhibitions. The d.o.g. has put on all manner of shows: charity exhibitions, gallery exchanges and even multi-artist events with a single theme to hold it together, such as the distinctly off-beat ‘Cat’ show. The gallery also offers occasional workshops and an art club open to all. Megan is very clear, however, that she is an artist rather than a business woman and, as she says, “I will only show work that I really believe in.” Curiously, she also believes that she has to respect and like the artist as a person before giving them wall space. Evidently she has a clear negative answer to the old question ‘Can bad people be good artists?’.
Talking to her recently, it became clear that she has no intention of chasing what she calls “art fads” but instead is seeking primarily to give space to practitioners who need the promotional oxygen in order to survive or just get going as artists. Daisy Chitty Williams, for example, was given a show just after leaving art college; an opportunity most young artists struggle to find. She is keen to help all manner of creatives: painters, photographers, printmakers, potters, film-makers, local and international artists, collectives, quirky loners and even purist heavy pencil-heads. Above all, she says “I want anyone to feel they could exhibit: a gallery should not be an intimidating place.”
Artists that Megan chooses to deal with are also given studio time to create a body of work before exhibiting, although Megan always insists on being in control of curating exhibitions. Megan’s early life, however, was very far from a tale of control. She is a local girl, but her schooling was distinctly patchy, given a parental split, a messy custody battle and ever changing addresses. The result was that she bounced around and struggled to find a clear way forward as a teenager. At one point she was working as a cleaner in the same sixth form college she was attending, but the establishment, in Brighton, proved itself spectacularly unsupportive and Megan left abruptly. Impressively, she then talked her way into making film costumes but decided, again abruptly, to fly off on a tangent to a quasi-hippy existence on a German island in the Baltic. This alternative idyll came apart suddenly when her Greenpeace activist-partner left her all alone in Munich. Like most artists, Megan has not drawn a straight line with her life.
But, somehow, with the support of a handful of Hastings people, particularly her Aunt Tara, but also Adam Dando, Joe Fawcett at the gallery and Patrick Jones of Project 78 in St Leonards, she fought her way into a foundation course and discovered her passion for ceramic creations. Perhaps, as the result of these personal struggles, she is now determined to give others
similar help and opportunity.
I want anyone to feel they could exhibit: a gallery should not be an intimidating place
Megan has been running the gallery with the help of Adam and Joe since 2018, but, for various personal reasons, the men are stepping away now and she is increasingly running the whole show. She does not mind this responsibility. Indeed, she seems to embrace it. She is very grateful to the people who have helped her on her journey, but she now seems to be very much captain of her ship.
Megan is one of those rare breeds of people who can be both dreamers and fixers: idealist
but tough-minded with it. People who do sweat the small stuff. Ultimately though, it is the dream that guides her. She doesn’t really care for money. She doesn’t rent out the display space. She simply takes a small commission on sold work. The passion behind Megan’s commitment to the Hastings art scene comes through strongly even in her softly spoken conversation. She puts it succinctly: “I just simply want to show work I love, and work alongside people I love.” This is, of course, entirely not simple at all. But, somehow, Megan is succeeding.
The current exhibition of delicate floral studies, ‘Paper Dolls,’ by Adam Dando is showing until 26th September.
• Further details of upcoming exhibitions can be found at www.thedirtyoldgallery.com
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