Interview with art dealer Matthew Flowers, Flowers East Gallery (an extract)

HW: When did your mother Angela Flowers open the first gallery? Which artists did she show then?

MF: 1970 with Patrick Hughes for the first exhibition.He's still with us and had a show at Flowers Central recently.In the first year artists included Derek Hirst,Tom Phillips,Ian Breakwell,Jeff Nuttall and from abroad Ray Johnson and Arakawa.

HW: At what stage did you become involved with the gallery and did you think of doing something else for a living before that?

MF: I did help at openings in 1970,aged 14, and became seriously involved from early 1976, when I left school . I was also playing rock n' roll and appeared on Top of the Pops and on The Old Grey Whistle Test in two groups; Sore Throat and Blue Zoo. In 1980 I committed myself fully to the gallery.

HW: When did the gallery expand to become Flowers East, Flowers West and Flowers Central and what long-term plan did you have then?Have these plans been fulfilled in recent years?

MF: Flowers East opened in 1988 after four locations in the west end, all in Soho.It was called Flowers East as we still had the west end gallery Angela Flowers at the time.As Flowers East took off we closed Angela Flowers gallery. Flowers West opened in 1998 and Flowers Central in 2000, on our 30th anniversary year.In 1983 we set up a 5-year plan to turn it into a profitable business.We became a plc in 1990 and issued shares under the Business Expansion scheme.It was successful and we now have 200 sharefholders.The shares are traded on Ofex but few shares are available at present to buy.Our plans have been fulfilled but we would consider opening one or two more galleries.We have recently been interested in opening a gallery in Glasgow and a long-term dream is for New York.

HW: What is gallery policy about artists and what are you looking for when you take on a new artist? Do you concentrate on taking young artists out of
art school or do you consider more mature artists?

MF: Policy has always been highly subjective. Angela and I choose the artists that we like.The trend in recent years has been to rediscover neglected talent; Bernard Cohen, Richard Smith, Gary Wragg. We hear through connections and one show for finding talent has been the Artist of the Day. It is on most summers and lasts a fortnight.Ten established artists select someone they feel could benefit from a one -day exhibition.

HW: Do your art buyers come from all over London, or from Europe and America and does the situation of Flowers East here in the east end make any difference in any way.Is Flowers Central necessary to attract overseas visitors?

MF: We do have buyers from all walks of life and in varied geographical situations.When we only had Flowers East we had to rely heavily on international art fairs.We were significant on the international art fair circuit.We do not need to do so many art fairs now.The audience on Cork Street is truly international and Flowers East always attracted people when
there was publicity but you can't rely on regular reviews . Flowers Central has helped to improve the audience in the east end and renewed interest; a shot in the arm.

HW: What could an art buyer purchasing for the first time find at the gallery for £500 and for £2000?What is the highest price of any work that you sell here in London and would the buyer be a museum or an art collector?

MF: £500 would buy an extremely good graphic work by top British artists such as Lucy Jones,Trevor Sutton,Carol Robertson.You would find fewer originals for £500 but perhaps a good draping M is for up-and-coming artists or interesting artists, a try-out space. Artist of the Day would also provide a work for £500.For £2000 you could buy unique works;Peter Howson drawings, a Richard Smith monoprint, small paintings by David Hepher, a Josef Herman, a Terry Frost work on paper.Our prices rarely go over £100,000 and mostly to private collectors.Tom Phillips' "Curriculum Vitae" which is £180,000 is more likely to go to a museum.

HW: Presumably you visit the degree shows at the RCA,Slade,Goldsmiths and RA,but do you visit art schools and galleries out of London at all? I remember seeing you at Glasgow Print Studio shows in 1990 during the Cultural Capital of Europe Year:do you visit Glasgow shows now or was that just due to the vibrancy of the artists at that time?

MF: I visit the art schools when I can and usually in London . I will visit Glasgow art school if we open in Glasgow. There is a great deal of interesting new work everywhere now, but not as much good painting . I still
think however that it is a fairly vibrant time.It takes time to run the business so I have to rely on other people discovering artists and bringing them to our attention.We have chosen Glasgow for a new gallery space as we represent a number of Scottish artists such as Alan Gouk, Peter Howson, John McLean, Henry Kondracki and Eduard Paolozzi and it is an opportunity to show our other artists there.

HW: Presumably art fairs are helpful for sales and contacts.Which ones do you find the most useful? Do you visit overseas fairs as well as London ones?

MF: We do find them helpful for sales and contacts. The most important ones are Chicago,San Francisco and in Europe Cologne, Basel and Fiac(Paris), also ARCO in Madrid. The London art fair is an extremely good national fair.

HW: Who are your most interesting new artists at Flowers east or Flowers Central at present?

MF: The new names are Freya Payne, Jiro Osuga who both sell works for £500 for an original. Paolo Molinari has just had a show at gallery M and it attracted a lot of interest. Richard Smith has just joined the gallery and this has been a fantastic coup for us.

HW: How different is Flowers West in California? Do you show some of the same artists or is the stable completely different?

MF:The stable is very similar to London.Some artists do go down well there,
rather than here and vice versa.We do try and include other gallery artists from London not showing at Flowers galleries, such as Basil Beattie and Bert Irvin.

HW: What plans do you have for the future at the galleries?

MF: We would like to consolidate our east end space into one building and open new spaces. We would like to further improve the quality of our displays, catalogues and a publishing arm called Momentum,improving its present distribution.

www.flowerseast.com
Flowers East 199-205 Richmond Rd London E8 3NJ Tel 020 8985 3333 Fax 020 8985 0067
E mail gallery@flowers east.com

Flowers Central 21 Cork Street,London W1 3LZ Tel 020 7439 7766 Fax 020 7439 7733
E mail central@flowerseast.com

Flowers West Bergamot Station E1,2525 Michigan Avenue, Sanata Monica, California, CA 90404 Tel 310 586 9200 Fax 310 586 1595
E mail gallery@flowerswest.com

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