Lucy Bell – promoting fine art photography
We speak to Lucy Bell, founder of the Lucy Bell Gallery, about her space and the latest exhibition to be featured – Closer to Home by Emily Allchurch.
Lucy Bell first opened her gallery in a former brewery in Battle, East Sussex, in 2001.
Originally used as a darkroom for her husband, Robin Bell, Lucy wanted to transform the space into a gallery showcasing new talent alongside established fine-art photographers.
“The aim was to bring in some well-known photographers, such as Terry O’Neill and Brian Duffy, and have them alongside the newer artists such as Roger Hopgood,” says Lucy.
“There was a good mixture of both established and contemporary artists that were working in different forms, as well as the traditional analogue photography.”
Moving to St Leonards
Originally called The Independent Photographers Gallery, Lucy moved the gallery to St Leonards-on-Sea in 2009.
“A friend said ‘come and look at the space’ and it was in Norman Road, which was full of junk shops and hardware shops,” says Lucy.
“It had bars on the window because, at the time, St Leonards didn’t have a particularly good reputation.
“We took the bars off the window and tried to make it a bit more welcoming.
“I think my first big show there was with Ken Russell and his pictures of the Teddy Girls which weren’t that well known at the time.”
Known as ‘the Portobello Road of the south’, Norman Road is now home to several more galleries and art spaces.
The Lucy Bell Gallery, as it is now known, has also gone from strength-to-strength with exhibitions featuring the work of Lee Miller, Geoff MacCormack and Jill Furmanovsky.
In 2017, Lucy worked with Marilyn Stafford on her Stories in Pictures exhibition.
“I went over to see Marilyn and she had this little pamphlet from Shoreham book fair,” says Lucy.
“I took it home and showed Robin and we were like, ‘Oh my God, these are amazing’.
“We said ‘Marilyn you need to do a show’ and Robin agreed to sponsor her but she couldn’t find her negatives.
“They were all under her bed in boxes and she’d lost some of them so we had to remaster them.
“But it was fantastic because she was 92 at the time and she went on and had huge show at the Brighton Museum.”
Emily Allchurch, Closer to Home
This week a new exhibition opens at the gallery – the first local exhibition of Emily Allchurch’s series Closer to Home.
Originally trained as a sculptor before transitioning to photography during her MA, Allchurch has lived and worked in Hastings since 2015.
Allchurch uses photography and digital collage to reconstruct Old Master paintings and prints as contemporary narratives.
Closer to Home (2021) is her response to being largely restricted to her Hastings home during the Coronavirus pandemic.
It consists of 12 digitally-collaged photographic landscapes of East Sussex, each representing a month of the year.
The series is not only a celebration of the natural world, but also a reminder of its fragility.
In her trademark referencing to Old Master prints and paintings, she has adopted the portrait format and near/far composition techniques used by Hiroshige in One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.
However, in a departure from recent work, the compositions are her own.
The resulting images form a tender portrait of the East Sussex landscape.
“I love her work,” says Lucy. “Her digital artworks are again influenced here by Japanese wood blocks but in a much more immediate environment.
“She points out little things like barbed wire and plastic bottle tops and cones which get left on the side of the road.
“It is all pointing to symbols that we all recognise every day.
“The images are quite environmental but very beautiful at the same time.”
While some scenes capture more obviously aesthetic vistas, like the South Downs, others find beauty in the everyday, such as blossom flowering on an urban estate.
There are also references to old masters.
For example, Allchurch’s composition for May, Fairlight, captures the same view immortalised in William Holman Hunt’s painting, Our English Coasts (‘Strayed Sheep’).
Lucy Bell Gallery
The Lucy Bell Gallery is open Thursday to Sunday or by appointment.
Emily Allchurch, Closer to Home, is on show until March 18.
A selection of works from her Tokyo Story series will also be on display.
The gallery sells prints from all previous exhibitions.
Find out more at lucy-bell.com.