"Having set up Castor alone, it was very much a role I was able to throw myself into and follow my instinct all the way."
Our interview with founder and Director of Castor: Andy Wicks
Could you talk about your background? What made you become a gallery owner, is it something you have always wanted to do?
I studied BA Fine Art at Middlesex University graduating in 2006. I spent the best part of a decade as a practising artist, keeping up a regular studio practice, whilst being proactive with showing and doing a couple of solo shows and residencies along the way. During this period I curated and instigated a number of exhibitions which was something I always had an appetite for, but as most people will know (especially with London as it is now), the biggest difficulty is finding a space. My switch to running a gallery wasn’t a conscious thing of putting down one hat to pick up another. In 2014 I put on a show in a West End gallery’s space during their summer close and came up with the Castor moniker, at the time I saw this as being a way of putting on shows under a gallery ‘brand’ without being the named curator, I suppose I was aware of not wanting to be an artist/curator, but rather to work in both spheres.
The gallery came about through conversations with a new business owner who had a disused basement space below a café by Goldsmiths, South East London. Rather than show my own work I saw it as an opportunity to programme a series of shows. Having come from the fabrication / gallery technician world I had a certain idea of how I wanted the gallery to physically look and be branded, it came at a time when I wasn’t making work and as such I had no issue in seeing it as a young commercial space, rather than an artist run venture. Having set up Castor alone, it was very much a role I was able to throw myself into and follow my instinct all the way. In the first year (2016) we some how managed to have 10 solo exhibitions as well as taking part in the Manchester Contemporary Art fair.
Could you talk about your new space in Deptford (London) and the journey that got you there?
The first year of Castor gave me a chance to get my head round playing gallerist and being at peace with not making work. Some may think it strange but I haven’t made a single work since a run of shows in early 2015 and I actually don’t miss it. Whatever I work on, I have to commit myself fully and I now get my creative kicks from being hands on in helping each artist realize the best exhibition possible. I can’t imagine there are many gallerists who have built and plastered their own spaces… but I know I would struggle to watch someone else do it not quite right and I’ve still got to feed that desire to create after all!
After 12 months I had to move from the original space and within a few weeks of putting feelers out, the new Deptford space became available. Whilst the first 6 weeks of 2017 were manic with building the space and preparing the programme, from the outside it was probably a rather seamless switching from one space to the next.
It feels like a great time to move to Deptford as a commercial space, perhaps I’m an early recent adopter (being more known for artist run spaces) but all you need to do is look at Peckham to see how quickly areas / scenes can change for better or worse. Having previously lived on Deptford High Street it’s an area I have a deep affection with and feel very comfortable in. The new gallery enables us to present more expansive shows, not least because we’ve swapped a ceiling a few inches above head height for one at nearly 4 metres. Having ground floor frontage is already proving invaluable for getting people through the door and not being seen as an ‘alternative’ space due to our previous basement home. I’m extremely proud of each show we presented last year however this feels like the step up needed for the space to align more with how I want Castor to operate.
What has been your biggest obstacle and greatest achievement as a gallery owner?
I’m someone who just gets on with things rather than waiting for the ‘right time’ (sometimes I’m not sure whether that’s a good or bad thing). It’s probably too early to really answer this however I’m delighted at how well Castor has been received in a short space of time.
There have been some memorable exhibitions from year one: agreeing to let Derek Mainella paint the gallery black and install UV lights for a painting show + edible bananas for visitors (the very first show in our old space). Kate McMillan’s museum quality show of delicate plaster sculptures and bronzes installed on sleek shelves with a sage green hint on the walls. Then there was Ben Jamie's stunning ‘hanging’ diptych which spanned the height and width of the old space connected together as a right angle, somehow floating inches from floor and ceiling.
I’m lucky to have many supportive mentor figures who I’ve met over my time as an artist and also as an arts professional in various paid positions. Whilst relatively new to this side of things I have had a long standing fascination in the ‘market’, this along with having people to answer the occasional odd questions has given Castor a good grounding and starting point as a new kid on the block.
How do you feel the art world is changing? Do you think art fairs are becoming the life blood for most galleries?
It’s a constantly shifting force and I can see why people are talking about the need for a new models for artists / galleries to operate in. My time as a practitioner gives me a slightly different perspective than say that of a gallery owner who’s experienced boom and maybe bust times. I’ve got no golden age to pine for, however what I do have is a desire to sustain and grow the gallery in a way that feels right and can offer something to the artists we work with. This is a similar mix of caution and big ambition I see in artists.
We’re seeing many medium scale galleries shut down at the moment, unable to cope with the pressure of high out goings and cash flow. It seems Art fairs are in part the problem whilst also being presented as the solution. It’s a high-risk game and one that I am cautious about. We took part in the Manchester Contemporary last year, which was a great success for us and off the back of that we’ve been invited to apply for numerous fairs. I’m sure we’ll do some more in the future but I think each needs to be weighed up for its merits rather than deciding to take part in X amount per year. Right now I’m happy focusing on the new space and forthcoming programme.
What do you look for in an artist?
I’ve always struggled to articulate this. I’m aware there is a Castor type of artists but to be honest its simply work which resonates with me. I was recently speaking with colleagues about how taste changes over time, this is probably best seen through works I’ve collected over the years. There are certain artist’s work which I love to live with however they perhaps wouldn’t be a good fit for the gallery. The fact the gallery name isn’t eponymous offers me a healthy distance, allowing Castor to develop its own programme and style.
What advice can you give to young artists?
Make work, absorb everything, embrace the mistakes and try to enjoy it. As much as it can be a tough existence, it is also a very rewarding one. I wasn’t the best student, nor the best artist but I developed a hunger early on to contribute in any which way I could.
Put on shows with your friends, invite other artists to take part - more often than not the artists you are afraid to ask, welcome the opportunity of a new audience and context for their work.
How do you differentiate yourself from other galleries?
Castor’s first basement gallery space meant I challenged myself to select artists who were willing to work with the space and be more generous with the way the shows were installed. With such a low ceiling any thoughts of installing works at a standard height goes out the window. Outside of our initial west end pop up, Castor has always stuck to solo exhibitions. I enjoy this directness and ability to offer artists a chance to present the type of show that not every gallery would consider.
My favourite galleries are the ones where you can walk into each show and not know what to expect. Often this comes from having the biggest budget, of course its easy for the Hauser’s of this world to build a wall or change the feeling of a space through painting the walls or different lighting, but there are also the benefit of having a modestly sized space. You can do all these things and seemingly take this risks just because it’ll add more to the show in question. For me it goes back to having a generosity as a gallery to the work and to the viewing public.
What's the future for Castor? Any exciting new shows lined up?
I’m very excited by what we have coming up this year. Having launched the new space with an exhibition of superb Barry Reigate airbrush works, we have a debut solo exhibition by young Slade Graduate Jack West up next. Jack’s work stood out from the crowd at last year’s degree shows so I was delighted that he’s showing at Castor. I was particularly struck by his CGI video works so the show heavily leans on this part of his practice.
After Jack we have shows by Lotti V Closs, a sculptor from Nottingham who has a strong sense of material, making small intricate objects.
Later in the year Derek Mainella (who inaugurated our first space) will be returning for a second exhibition, Derek’s also has a solo show coming up at a great new space in his home town of Toronto. Beyond that there are a couple of artists I’m excited to be working with but will keep those quiet for the time being.
Lastly we will be launching our first edition, a beautiful object by Alan Magee, which I sense will strike a cord with many people (Alan showed with us in October 2016).
All images are courtesy of Castor
Banner image: Kate McMillan, Stones for Dancing, Stones for Dying
Published date: 5/4/17