GIANT– an artist-led gallery in Bournemouth
We talk to Stuart Semple, founder of the exciting new gallery space GIANT, in Bournemouth.
A new gallery space is creating a hub for artistic expression and celebration in Bournemouth. We talk to GIANT founder Stuart Semple about returning to his hometown and discovering a new community of visual artists.
Semple was born in Bournemouth but moved to London to pursue art.
“There really wasn’t a visual culture here,” he says. “I’ve always found that art and creativity is really important. I don’t want to over-egg it but it kind of saved my life.
“And I know how powerful that is. So I always wanted to bring really good visual contemporary art to my hometown.”
Seven years ago Semple moved back to his hometown.
A year ago, he achieved his goal of celebrating visual art in Bournemouth by opening GIANT.
The gallery space now resides in what used to be Debenhams.
“I had no idea whether it would work, or whether it was just weird, if anyone would come. But it did. And people really like it.”
‘I’ve been waiting 52 years for this’
GIANT opened at a time when many venues were unsure what the long-term impacts of COVID-19 would be.
“It felt like madness. Debenhams left the building. So it was like if Debenhams have gone bust, what hope have we got as artists?
“The first shows we did were quite Avant Garde really, they were quite out there. They weren’t classic people-pleaser shows.
“I thought ‘four people will come’ but it seems to have worked weirdly.”
It ‘worked weirdly’ may be an understatement with the opening of the gallery creating huge excitement in Bournemouth.
“I couldn’t believe it on the opening night. They were queued all the way outside, around the corner, hundreds of them.
“I thought maybe there was a free pint at Wetherspoons or something. I honestly thought it was the pub.
“They were actually the queuing up for art. One lady in the queue said ‘I’ve been waiting 52 years for this, another 20 minutes is not going to matter’.”
A beacon for artists
Plans are now well underway for an exciting two-year programme at the gallery.
GIANT is also receiving support from the Arts Council and the local council in Bournemouth.
A steering group, initially made up of artists, now includes members of the community.
Semple says the people of Bournemouth have been ‘overwhelmingly supportive’.
“It’s really changed, because initially, it was, ‘wow, we’ve waited forever for something like this’.
“It was almost like gratitude. But really not so much of a connection with the work.
“Slowly over the year that’s kind of shifted. Now they’re really connecting to the ideas in the work and what the artists are making and the shows themselves.”
Having moved away from Bournemouth because of a lack of visual arts culture, Semple is now discovering a new community.
“It’s a bit of a beacon, I think. A lot of people are attracted to it.
“It’s just fascinating how many people perhaps were here the whole time, but just didn’t really have anywhere to go.”
Just one year after opening, GIANT has undergone a refurbishment with new facilities and increased gallery space.
It offers two separate spaces – the main gallery and the project space.
Until June 26, the main gallery features Life’s A Beach by Martin Parr.
Semple describes the project space as featuring ‘more challenging’ pieces of work.
To find out more about what is happening at GIANT visit giant.space.