I bought a painting by Tom Mallin a little while ago and was lucky enough to be able to track down his son to ask about his father, as I hadn’t been able to find anything out in the standard sources. I wouldn’t usually go to such lengths, but he still had some of his father’s paintings left from his studio and I was curious to see them. So there was quite a long drive on a wintry day, but I arrived eventually at a very cold, empty factory that had become an artists’ collective. As he showed me his father’s remaining paintings, I was able to ask him about Tom’s life. Born in 1927 he became a picture restorer working mainly on 17th and 18th century paintings before starting to paint for himself in the 1950’s. Because he was used to working on paintings in particular styles, many of his own betray the influence of those he was restoring at the time, but the paintings that stood out for me were those of corners of his home and studio in Suffolk. It is as though his emotional response to his own surroundings freed him from the stylistic restraints of constantly working in the guise of other artists, allowing his own talent to take over. I particularly like this long painting titled ‘Studio Clutter’ (a detail of which is shown here), I always love anything to do with workshops and studios: it has something to do with the working space and the clutter of things that people use, whether tools or brushes… It is as though you can look at the tools and know the person.
Since I have changed the shop to become less of an antique shop and more a space selling a mix of things that I like, I have been on the lookout for some pottery to sell. Then in September I happened to be in a village in Dorset (having a cream tea I have to confess), when I found some work on sale there by Jonathan Garratt. So I phoned and asked if I could visit him and was amazed by what I found. He lives in an eighteenth century house which, with its barns, encloses a paved courtyard full of plants, colourful garden pots and decorations of varying shapes and sizes. Beyond lies the garden where he keeps his chickens, grows his fruit and vegetables and stores the wood he is drying (ready for chopping and using to fire the kilns he has built himself).
Jonathan studied archaeology and is also the son of a dealer (who by an extraordinary coincidence, knew my father), so the ancient forms of cooking utensils inform the shape of much of his pottery and the colour and surface pattern is heavily influenced by his love of African textiles. I had a wonderful time in his showroom barn surrounded by his amazing array of shapes colours and came away with a selection of mugs, bowls and jugs for use, but also some larger pieces. They are in the shop now, so I hope you will come to have a look if you’re passing.
My parents were both dealers and so from a very young age I spent a lot of time going to auctions and antique shops with them. I have to confess that I hated it and always swore that I would never become an antique dealer. Yet I always enjoyed listening to my father explaining how things were made and was sucked in by his passion; without realising it my eye gradually became accustomed to these things around me. So when I went off to university and saw a watercolour I liked in a shop for £15 – I bought it instinctively and that was it really… I continued to buy small things when I could until I realised I wanted to become an antique dealer after all and joined my parents’ business trading at Fairs.
That was a long while ago and I have come to realise that what I enjoy most about these objects that I buy and sell is that feeling of connection to a world that was seemingly so different. The connection can be obvious: finding a name written in pencil hidden away, or letters in a secret compartment, carefully tied up. Or it can be less obvious: the realisation that a chair with a puzzlingly low, but comfortable, back was a dressing chair in which men sat to have their wigs dressed, tells you something about the world in which they lived that you had never thought about. Like a door opening it makes you realise that, of course, they wanted to be comfortable while their hair was done just as we do. Looking at these objects not just as old things to be collected and venerated, but as things that still have something to say to us about ourselves and how we got here is what keeps me doing this.
Oh and I still have that watercolour.
It was time for a change! Websites with lots of thumbnail photographs of stock are generally only interesting on the first visit, from then on you just tend to look at the new arrivals. The new website also reflects the change in the shop from traditional antique shop to a space reflecting my likes and interests, old and new. So I also want the new website to have more of a sense of the new life of the shop. I only realised that this might be possible when Joanna Moore’s exhibition in the gallery last year featured in Spitalfields Life prompting the visit to the show of many of its readers – all with a genuine interest and affection for everything connected to the blog. Not being a social media user I had never encountered that sense of community on the web and I suddenly understood that websites can have a life and a personality that people enjoy getting to know, in exactly the same way as visitors to small shops like getting to know the owner. So I am going to talk about some of the things I have in the shop and why I like them, people I come across and interesting things I find. We’ll just have to see as we go along…..