By Clive Jennings

Map of late night galleries.
Galleries open late in Fitzrovia on last Thursday of every month.

Fitzrovia Lates is a recent initiative that offers art lovers the opportunity to engage in a little late night perusing and purchasing at local participating galleries, to 9pm on the last Thursday of each month. Over 25 galleries are now involved, with the idea gathering momentum since its launch in June.

Elizabeth Flanagan of Haunch of Venison Gallery, which initiated and administers the project, reports a very positive response from both visitors and galleries. In addition to late opening, there will be a programme of talks by artists, performances and curator tours. 

Fitzrovia Lates is a collaborative effort that echoes successful late gallery opening schemes in other parts of London, and can be seen as a first step in uniting our local art houses. More information, including listings, maps and special event details can be found at Entering into the spirit of Fitzrovia Lates, on Thursday 26 July, T J Boulting on Riding House Street presented a performance by Ian Giles that involved participants scaling a very scary climbing wall in the gallery’s cavernous main room, accompanied by an inspired and improvised, live backing from a raucous combo on electric guitar and drums.

Music of a more soothing variety was on offer at Libby Sellers in Berners Street, when Andrew Matthews-Owen performed “Middlegame” a new composition for piano by Hannah Kendall, specially commissioned to reflect and interpret the exhibition “Games”, a selection of ingenious and exquisitely crafted chess sets by invited artists, inspired by a 1944 exhibition in New York, organised by chess enthusiasts Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst and accompanied by a special score by John Cage.

The summer months have seen several Fitzrovia galleries pushing out the boundaries, during this traditionally quiet period. At the end of July, Gallery Vela in Langham Street hosted Festivela: an ambitious and exhausting schedule of ten exhibitions by ten artists over ten days. Content included painters, performance and installation artists and filmmakers.

Nancy Victor Gallery in Charlotte Place turned their gallery into a cardboard courgette production line for a month with a 3D Print Installation by Helen Murgatroyd that consisted of 2800 cardboard toilet roll centres being transformed in courgettes by a series of five “painting stations” worthy of the great Heath Robinson.

Curwen & New Academy in Windmill Street, Fitzrovia’s longest established gallery, reacted robustly to the possibility of closure or a move, due to increased property overheads, by organising a very successful live and online auction, that has secured their position for now.

Escalating commercial rents in Fitzrovia are a constant problem for the art community. While Diemar Noble, Twist and Yannick galleries have all closed recently, it is easy to see why galleries chose to move here from the East End, as rents are still attractive for such a central location.

A report by property company Cushman & Wakefield in 2011 showed retail rents in the City fringes area at £42.50 per square foot, very adjacent to the £47.50 quoted for Fitzrovia, and a quick check of agents’ details revealed shops being let for up to £100 per sq ft in Spitalfields. While Modern Art, who are often credited with starting the current gallery boom when they moved here in 2008 from Vyner Street in Bethnal Green, are to move to Clerkenwell later in the year, bemoaning the proliferation of galleries in Artcastle Street, Fred Gallery are moving in from their current Vyner Street location, bemoaning the property prices there – so take your choice!

This edition’s quick fire gallerist interviews, below, feature two established galleries who have chosen to move to Fitzrovia from other areas of London associated with art: Art First, previously in Cork Street and England & Co. previously in Westbourne Grove.

Benjamin Rhodes, Art First, 21 Eastcastle Street

FN: How long has the gallery been open?

BR: Art First had been in 1st floor premises in Cork Street since 1994, and moved to Fitzrovia in 2009.

FN: What attracted you to Fitzrovia?

BR: Our search concentrated on Fitzrovia as an environment conducive to our business, a “creative quarter” and geographically convenient for our existing clientele, who would only find a small radius around the Bond Street area safe and simple to find. Eastcastle Street is perfect in this respect.

FN: Who are the directors and what are their backgrounds?

BR: Clare Cooper, who started this business, has a background in art history and in promoting living artists. Benjamin Rhodes began life on Cork Street after postgraduate research in art history. He has had his own gallery businesses before joining this business in 2005. Matt Incledon has a recent degree in Fine Art from Guildhall and has exhibited his work.

FN: What is your policy on choice of artists?

BR: Our artists form an eclectic group that has evolved out of personal tastes and relationships. We are confident that artists exhibiting with the gallery meet our rigorous criteria in terms of sincerity, intellectual integrity and artistic honesty.

FN: Any forthcoming highlights of interest?

BR: Two upcoming shows in particular highlight our strengths: Jill Mason shows her newly large-scale paintings in the main space in October/November. In November we show new work by Louis Khehla Maqhubela, a South African who exiled himself in the 70’s, having grown up sharing a school desk with Hugh Masekela.

FN: Around 10% of London galleries are now in Fitzrovia, do you see it increasing and becoming an internationally famous art gallery area?

BR: It’s nice for Fitzrovia to fill up, but it will only continue whilst landlords are reasonable in their demands. It takes a relatively few minutes to walk from Great Portland Street station to St. James’s Park. That encompasses several “gallery” worlds, and that is as it should be.

FN: Any information of interest about the building?

BR: There remains a completely unnecessary and redundant ‘protection zone’ for the fashion wholesale industry (who no longer need these premises in most cases) in this area, as part of Westminster’s planning regulations. This meant that we were originally rejected for ‘change of use’ and very nearly gave up, but finally found the help of local councillor Frixos Tombolis who supported our appeal at committee.

Jane England, England & Co, 90-94 Great Portland Street

FN: How long has the gallery been open?

JE: The gallery first opened in late 1987 in Notting Hill, moved to a larger space in Westbourne Grove in 1999 and then to Fitzrovia, in April this year.

FN: What attracted you to Fitzrovia?

JE: We decided that it was time to move the gallery to the centre of London, and Fitzrovia appealed to us as being very central yet having its own individual character and history – a real neighbourhood in the midst of the city.

FN: Who are the directors and what are their backgrounds?

JE: Jane England is the director/curator. An Australian expatriate who has lived in London for many years, she is an art historian who has also practised and exhibited as a photographer. Her co-director is her husband, Peter Gordon-Stables who has a background in photography.

FN: What is your policy on choice of artists?

JE: We have an independent and individual identity that reflects our eclectic, historically aware, research-based curatorial approach. There is no specific stylistic or generational specialisation and from the beginning, the gallery programme has alternated between contemporary art and explorations of relatively recent art history.

FN: Any forthcoming highlights?

JE: Our autumn programme starts at the end of September with an exhibition of video, film, photography and performance: ‘Screen Practice’. In November we will be showing the work of the pioneering British abstract artist Paule Vézelay, who worked in Paris in the 1930s and later back in England, culminating with a major retrospective at the Tate in 1983.

Full listing of galleries on back page of our latest print edition.