9 – 13 July 2014
Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells
ingénue meets the two dynamic artists behind the SEEART Fair in Tunbridge Wells this July.
I have a theory that artists, or put more succinctly, creative beings of any kind, are cut from a slightly different cloth than most of us humans; to me they represent the collective spirit of the planet. They almost always seem somehow different from the ‘average’ person, more alive, more communicative and more imaginative; and yes, even the more introverted ones.
Working on the magazine we meet many artists and it is usually a joy. Meeting with sculptor Guy Portelli and artist Mark Paul Perry, the powers behind the upcoming SEEART Fair at the Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells in July, was another experience altogether. The two are business partners and treated us to a couple of fascinating hours sharing their vision, not only for the fair they are creating but for the future of art in south east England generally, while also regaling us with stories from their colourful pasts. While both are dynamic and visionary, their personalities contrast with each other like polar opposites. Guy seems a relatively softly spoken intelligent thinker, while Mark is a vibrant extrovert, with his passion for what he does brimming over. The two, in their own words, are a yin and yang mixture that somehow works. And it shows in their respect for each other as artists and business partners.
Guy Portelli is probably most known for his remarkable appearance on the TV program Dragons Den, where, after one of the most laid back and entertaining pitches the show had seen, he managed to have four of the Dragons vying to invest in his Pop Icon sculptures series. He even raised more than he originally asked for! We had to start by asking Guy about his experience on the programme.
“I had the idea for a Pop Icons series since college where, while studying interior design, I made a cellist out of a chair – my lecturers said “Guy, you are a sculptor!” and over the years I steered towards that genre. Even working on such things as Blake’s Seven and Dr Who at the BBC I kept my workshop going; I became aware at an early age that artists needed publicity and I thought the Pop Icons theme would capture the interest of the press and so I kept revisiting it. I had some success with the project and one Easter morning a voice came to me – it said ‘Dragons Den’! So I filled in the form, sent it off and in no time at all I was being rushed through the intense selection process and finally onto the show.”
Guy took with him some sculptures to be on his side to face the formidable Dragons, among them his John Lennon, Amy Winehouse and Bob Marley pieces. Not a bad support group!
Guy continues, “The value was in the publicity and the money enabled me to finish the collection and to do a show the way I wanted to do it at the Mall Galleries. I believe one takes one step and then the landscape changes – I trusted if I took the step it would attract publicity and finance and it did, the sculptures sell quicker now and for more money.”
As regards his attitude and feelings towards the idea of appearing in front of the Dragons and millions of TV viewers Guy has this to say; “I had had twenty years’ experience as a professional sculptor and knew all the margins that were involved in the project so I was prepared. Initially you are presenting yourself to them but then the power comes to you and it was then I was fearful I might make a mistake, as then there is something to lose. As I originally asked for £70,000 but was offered £90,000 by Duncan Bannatyne, it seemed appropriate to ask the other three who had already expressed an interest, for £80,000. Only an artist would do that!”
Guy is still in contact with the three Dragons and since his involvement with them his Pop Icons have increased remarkably in value. Originally his John Lennon piece sold for £2,000, the last one sold for £9,000.
A theme that reoccurred during our interview with Guy and Mark is their philosophy of work; do a project right and the money will follow. Mark is particularly vocal about this, frowning on mere money motivation. He is no less interesting a character than Guy and radiates a cheerful and slightly mischievous air.
Although he spent nine years as a professional musician he had always painted from his early school days, back then mainly watercolours and charcoals.
He tells us, “I was in a band called State of Mind for nine years – we toured the UK, made demo tapes and we were signed in the ninth year by an Australian company and a tour was set up with AC/DC to cover Eastern Europe, culminating at the Wembley Arena.”
As is not unusual in the music business, at this critical moment in the band’s evolution something untoward occurred with one of the band members and the music died. So Mark bought a recording studio and a large house and went into music publishing. “This large house had completely bare walls and I started searching for art to adorn the walls, but my taste was quite expensive. My grandmother suggested I should paint the pictures so I started painting and people started buying them! That was twelve years ago”
As if giving an example of his extrovert and confident nature, he tells us that back then he walked into a gallery in London and persuaded the owner to take a painting of his. It was exhibited at 9.30am and by 3.30pm it had sold. That had never happened before at that gallery – work usually took months to sell. As Mark says “The rest is history. In the last 12 years I have done over 150 shows.”
The two met on 1st October 2010, a date Mark remembers well. They had a mutual friend in a group of artists and Guy was invited to join in a show at the Brewhouse Hotel in Tunbridge Wells. Three hundred people were invited and the pair hit it off immediately. They became business partners and started the Art Pull Gallery in Camden Road, Tunbridge Wells. The gallery will have a series of art and craft exhibitions, workshops and lectures. The pair intend to create a hub for collectors, people working in the arts and those who need advice or guidance, within the arts industry or on art as a career.
The SEEART Fair was originally going to be an artists’ fair, but the concept just grew and grew and galleries started showing a strong interest, so it became a Gallery fair, but local artists will represented by the Art Pull Gallery. Mark is keen to point out their vision for this and future events; they are ‘thinking big’ and connecting up with artists, local art trails, businesses, council members et al and want to expand the fair into the future to become a festival of creativity for the South East of England. Hence SEE.
Guy points out they want to add music in future – they are already collaborating with Tonbridge Music Station – and he is keen to point out that an art fair should not just be seen in terms of paintings on a plinth. He espouses “An art fair should be more of a festival, art should be a lifestyle and cover the whole breadth of culture, a festival of the arts and in the next few years we will evolve SEEART to incorporate music, arts, crafts and all aspects of culture; the local council are very into the idea and it will grow into something really celebrating culture in the South East.”
Guy and Mark are not ‘just artists’ and do not think that way. They are also entrepreneurs and want to help other artists and feel even their administrative work is all part of the creative process – their days are incredibly varied and it makes life very interesting.
We talked on into the afternoon, about their vision, about their work with local schools, about attitudes to art, about modern art, about £69 per person per annum being spent in London on art while in the provinces the figure is just £4.80 per person, about Guy’s research for his Pop Icons work, about Mark’s music business experiences and we were even treated to a humorous story about some sculpture Guy had to supply to Ringo Starr. But all good things must come to an end and the two took their leave of us as the sun was setting, and even discreetly paid for the tea we drank at the very hospitable Hotel du Vin!
Visit www.seeartfair.co.uk for latest news, images and to read about their great launch night that occurred in March.