Art For All


Clarendon Fine art is known for its elegant, contemporary galleries across London and its reputation for finding and nurturing young talent. Luke Thomas caught up with Marketing Director, Rachel Simkiss to discuss a life in art, making the art world accessible and more

What first drew you to the art world?

I studied art throughout school – I always loved it. I went on to complete an art foundation course at DeMonfort University, and then studied art history and fashion at what was then known as the Southampton Institute, from where I graduated in 2012.

My first job out of university was at Tsunami Films on Poland Street, Soho. I worked there for about four years rising through the ranks to a producer, working on music videos and commercials. It was a very creative, behind the scenes role, which led me to work with artists and musicians, including Sigur Rós and Madonna. I adored it.

After that, I was headhunted for a job as Marketing Manager at the new Halcyon Gallery on Bruton Street. Our first showcase was for the contemporary artist, Mitch Griffiths, whom I adore. We took over billboards all over London with this amazing, highly controversial image of the Crown of Credits. It was brilliant – there was a tonne of backlash, but we sold the whole collection in under 20 minutes.

I decided to leave the Halcyon to pursue some personal interests including setting up a charity – after that I was headhunted by Clarendon Fine Art nine years ago, setting up the gallery here in Mayfair as the Marketing Director.

What style, or art movement would say is your favourite? What influences you the most?

I love figurative work – I’m drawn by many different artists, but I definitely have my favourites.

If we look within our stable of artists here at Clarendon, one I’m most fond of is Christian Hook from Gibraltar. We’ve have been featuring his work in the gallery for many years now. I discovered Christian about 10 years ago going backwards and forwards to Gibraltar to see family. I was in my favourite antiques shop which always has beautiful artwork influenced quite often by North African artists as it’s so close to the island. I saw this painting on the wall, which I just fell in love with called ‘The Culprit’. It was a little abstract but had an amazing amount of movement – I thought “I have to know who painted that.”

The shop helped me set up a meeting with him. He was already incredibly talented and had studied in the UK at The Royal Academy, but hadn’t yet gone onto the next level. We developed an amazing relationship and won a competition we put on in Gibraltar, which half of The Rock entered. We saw some incredible art, and adjudicated the entries down to around 26 artists. Even though we had so many amazing submissions, I just knew that Christian had to win, he had something so special.

He won the Clarendon Fine Art prize in 2012, and in 2014 he went on to win Sky Arts’ Portrait Artist of the Year, which absolutely rocketed his career. They took him on as a featured artist and did three more amazing shows with him and us, producing a 45 minute programme each week of him painting famous figures including Mick Hucknall, Sue Johnson and ex-footballer, Fabrice Muamba. Every year we were doing events and solo shows, and helping him curate his collection – the demand for his work was incredible.

It’s been the most wonderful time. Christian is one of my absolute favourites, so it’s been quite an amazing, personal journey.  I also love 20th century works – I adore Salvador Dali, I did my dissertation on him and his work. I also love Chagall and that whole dream effect - the surrealist movement really catches me.

What is your favourite past exhibition at the gallery?

Christian Hook is obviously a clear favourite. We curated a huge event with him in October 2018, where we were very lucky to work with Lord and Lady Spencer at Althorp during their Literary Festival as their gallery partner.

We exhibited the pieces in their picture gallery which features some of the most important pieces of art in the world – we even persuaded them to let us take some of these works down and replace them with Christian Hook pieces for the weekend. Bearing in mind that these works included £20 million van Dyck’s, it’s remarkable they allowed us. It took 10 of us 48 hours to remove the pieces – we were so nervous about damaging any of them. It was an incredibly unique show – clients loved it. It meant we were able to elevate Christian’s work to another level by hanging it alongside pieces like War and Peace by van Dyck, which is allegedly priceless.

Another one of my favourite past exhibitions was with the artist, Vincent Kamp, whose work is inspired by film. He creates short films with characters for each piece, before he even begins to paint – it’s a very unique way to take inspiration. The whole thought process behind his work is fascinating. We recently worked with him to put on an event at The Ritz, as well as here at Clarendon.

People love coming to see our Vincent Kamp showcases because they’re not just exhibitions, but experiences. In the last show, the whole room was transformed into a casino to coincide with his collection called ‘The Long Game’. All of the characters in the pieces were also there played by actors in full costume – it was like walking into one of his paintings.

What is coming up next for Clarendon?

One of the next showcases we’re putting on is a contemporary Impressionist exhibition from Jeffrey Pratt, who’s a spring chicken in his late 70s. His style is very much Van Gogh meets Monet – he has an amazing colour palette.

Then we’re very lucky to be teaming up with Sky Arts again to put on a showcase with all of the finalists from Portrait Artist of the Year to give them a chance to display their work to the public and our clients. We’re hoping to help them have their pieces visible on the art market. We’re not necessarily looking for the finished product, just evidence of some real talent. It’s actually way more exciting when you catch a burgeoning talent rather than a seasoned gallery artist – you can help provide them with direction, and they’re really hungry for it. We’re now Sky Arts’ official gallery partner and we’ll be working with them on all their future shows.

What sets Clarendon apart?

It’s key for us to make art a really accessible experience – it’s such a personal thing and we really want clients and artists to feel they can build a relationship with us. Even if you’ve never invested in art or worry about not knowing enough about it, you shouldn’t be put off. If you walk into an art gallery and love a painting on the wall, you should be able to pick it out, buy it and enjoy it without having to be an art connoisseur. We want to make it a non-elitist, non-snobby environment that everyone can enjoy.

We like to do the same for up and coming artists too. We appreciate how nerve-racking it can be to knock on a gallery door and try to present your portfolio, and we want artists to feel comfortable to do so at Clarendon – after all, artists may need galleries, but galleries also need artists.

Do a lot of your clients buy pieces for their homes?

Absolutely. We have a very mixed demographic of clients, young and old. Some buy for their homes, many of them have properties all over the world so often for them it’s about which pieces work in which homes.

We also have a contract with the Cunard Line, and one of my jobs when I first started was to launch Clarendon Fine art on-board the Queen Elizabeth cruise liner for its maiden voyage in 2010. There’s a beautiful gallery on-board the ship, which is just breath-taking. The following year we won the contract for Cunard’s Queen Victoria cruise ship, and then a few months later we won the contract for the Queen Mary 2 liner too.

What sort of pieces do you find that gallery attendees are most drawn to?

We’ve had work from a few different artists that always attracts people to the gallery without fail. It can change dramatically, but our recent 20th Century show was incredibly popular. People were so excited to see work from legendary artists like Picasso, L.S. Lowry and other household names that can often only be seen in museums.

We also represent Fabian Perez who is much loved by our clients. His work attracts people from all over the world, with clients flying in from as far away as Australia. They won’t just have one piece of his artwork – they’ll be looking to buy 20.

Is there a new trend or movement that you think will be the next big thing in the art world?

I think the art world has become an enjoyable place for people from all walks of life to experience. Our clients seem to have quite an eclectic range of works in their properties, but we’re seeing a lot of people really enjoying contemporary work. Pieces by artists like Mila Alexander and Sarah Pope are becoming hugely popular – they have very cool, vibrant, modern styles which people are really enjoying.

Photography is also very popular at the moment – we work very closely with John Swannell, who creates stunning portrait photography, but also does the most incredible nudes. I love the photography scene right now, and we’re definitely looking to get more brilliant photographers into the gallery.

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