A Welcome Gallery Addition to Cheltenham
The Longer Read Chapel Arts was just a few weeks old on our visit. What we have here is a handsome conversion of a building that, I think, has been both a Mormon, er, thing and a Baptist chapel in its time. It is now a space for arts and events, split over two levels. At the core, Chapel Arts is a selling-exhibition gallery space.
With the improvements to, what was a pretty dreadful pub nearby (now the happening Bottle of Sauce), this corner of Cheltenham is waking up a bit.
First impression is of a high quality spec. on the conversion. Plenty of space and light. And there’s a nice welcome from the woman on reception, with not a trace of the posho froideur that can sometimes hit you at snootier galleries. So: it’s a nice space to come and look at, perhaps buy, some art. Prices are at the level where you certainly need a few quid in the bank, but you might just be tempted. I’d say the prices were not excessive, bearing in mind the quality of what’s on offer.
The exhibition (at the time of our visit) was called Contemporary Royal Academicians. Not an especially zippy title, but it safely factually summarised what was on offer. The Academicians included Norman Ackroyd, Eileen Cooper, Michael Craig-Martin, Kenneth Draper, Antony Gormley, Albert Irvin, Christopher Le Brun, Chris Orr and Cathie Pilkington. Those names will either mean something to you or they won’t, but the overall impression is of quality work and an attractive range that embraces some up front and colourful Craig-Martin Seven Deadly Sin screen prints, to a beautifully restrained Gormley mono print.
As I’m fond of saying, I know a lot about art but I don’t know what I like. In the case of this gallery and this particular exhibition, in the event of a fire I would probably exit with Little Skellig, an etching by Norman Ackroyd under one arm and one of Chris Orr’s witty text based lithographs, probably Rust Bucket – a Hymn to the Lightship under the other.
My visit was enhanced by the arrival of a dream combo of visitors. Eavesdropping is, of course, one of the great pleasures of gallery visiting:
Daughter: “Papa (she wasn’t French) I’ve found a nice ship for you”
Father: “I’m looking at this (abstract work) can’t make it out. It’s called ‘Untitled’ I should think so too”
Daughter: (Marie Antoinette-like) “This lamb is £6,000, you could buy a whole flock for that…it would be cheaper to have a lamb taxidermied”
Mother: “I find this Gormley a bit tiring to look at.”
Thus is the Gallery verb conjugated:
I/You/We Exchange insights.
You/They Exchange banalities.
Through the back, there’s a coffee shop called Coffee ‘n’ Cake. Which is what it sells. Another warm greeting (they really have got some very nice people working here). The coffee is very good. The last time I was offered a brownie this small, it was by a man wearing a jester’s hat in a field at Glastonbury. To be fair though, the very small cake is beautifully made and does the job. As did the one at Glastonbury.
Since typing the above, the cafe has changed to become run by O’Hara’s Coffee House. The average brownie size has increased too. Meanwhile, Chapel Arts has continued to impress with some great little selling exhibitions in unpretentious, unpressurised surroundings.
Coffee ‘n’ Cake is a perfectly good coffee shop in its own right, better add it to your list.
I was very impressed by Chapel Arts. The owners have a good eye and I left vowing to keep up to date with their exhibitions – there’s a mailing list on their website.