How did you get started in the art world?
I worked in financial services, as a fund manager, for 31 years. I had been made redundant and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next when I met Mark Ashley who was renovating the building on the waterfront at Newport where Tatha is now. He asked if I wanted to come and run the gallery with the artist Helen Glassford. We launched in 2014.
When did you fall in love with art?
I’ve always loved art. I come from Broughty Ferry and when I was a teenager going into Dundee with my friends, we would hang about the McManus Galleries. Museums and galleries have always fascinated me. When I worked in finance, I was lucky enough to be in an organisation that bought great pieces of Scottish art for their offices. I could see it made a difference.
How do you decide what to show in the gallery?
We have a stable of artists, and we do a mixture of solo and group shows, sometimes mixing in their work with new artists. What we will never do is put up the same kinds of work just because it’s safe. We always want to be exciting and new. Artists say Tatha is an artists’ gallery. There’s got to be a degree of commerciality because you need to put the lights on, you need to survive, but we’re not frightened to put on a show that isn’t truly commercial just because we love the work.
What’s a normal day like?
We can spend 80 per cent of a day talking to people. We would never sacrifice time that connects with people. Every conversation is fun, even if someone doesn’t like the work. That means that things like social media, updating the website, planning, doing the accounts have to be done at other times.
What are the best parts of the job – and the worst?
My colleague Claire (Mackie) and I do everything in the gallery. We curate the shows, hang the pictures, when a show comes down, we repair the walls. There are bits, like Excel, or doing the accounts, which just have to be done. So just do it and get it right, make it easy because the good bits always outweigh the little bits that annoy you. Sometimes, we just sit here and feel immersed in amazing art.
What happened in lockdown?
When the first lockdown happened we were hanging a show. Nobody saw it! We did videos and walkarounds so people could see the show online and we worked hard to reach out to clients who were sitting at home just like we were. We did more through social media and connected with clients through phone calls and emails. And people found us on the internet, sometimes by chance. Now we have got a really nice international following.
How did the pandemic change the art world?
Access to artists is more readily available now through social media, so more people buy direct from the artist. On a positive note, it’s made the art world more open and people are more comfortable looking at art, but it’s also allowed all sorts of art to be sold through social media, good, bad and indifferent, and I think it has had a slight impact on galleries.
What advice would you give someone who’s buying art for the first time?
Trust your gut. You’ll know when a piece of work resonates with you. Stand in front of the piece and think about how is it making you feel. Don’t match it to the curtains or the wallpaper, look at it in its entirety and spend time with it.
What’s the secret of running a successful gallery?
To love what you do. Make it fun and connect with people. The day I stop feeling passionate is the day I would stop.
What are you most proud of?
We met Norman Gilbert in 2018 when he was 91. He’d been painting for 60 years and had had limited success. His studio was an Aladdin’s cave of paintings. We invited him to have a show with us, and BBC Loop did a programme about him which went viral. He became an overnight sensation. We were able to get him the recognition, at last, that he so deserved.
Has a work of art ever changed your life?
About ten years ago, I went to Florence and saw Michelangelo’s David for the first time. It is at the end of a long room. I stood at the top, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak. I was absolutely blown away by the detail and the size and everything about that piece of work. Sometimes I can’t comprehend how someone can create something so incredibly beautiful.
If you could have have a work of art from any art collection anywhere in the world…
I’d probably have a piece of David Hockney’s, because I’ve read about him, I like his stories, who he is. But tomorrow I’d probably take a Picasso. And then I might just want an Old Master as well. Do you think I could put David in the back garden?
What are you excited about?
Keeping doing what we’re doing. Producing eight amazing shows a year, finding new talent out there and bringing in artists who have been making work for 50 years who just live round the corner. Finding works which make this space come alive and being even more global than we already are.
Tatha is at 1 High Street, Newport-on-Tay, DD6 8AB.