Turner Prize and our friends in the North

Next week the Turner Prize will be presented in Gateshead instead of London. That is because art in the region is flourishing

In the first week of the 2011 Turner Prize exhibition at Baltic, in Newcastle, a queue snaked out of the gallery and along the riverside path. Record numbers of visitors came to see the art. Of the four artists on show, only Hilary Lloyd works in London – although she was educated in Newcastle. Karla Black and Martin Boyce are based in Glasgow, George Shaw in Devon.

When the winner is announced, on 5 December, it will be a glittering evening. The Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant, a Baltic patron, will join the cream of the British art world. A significant number of the guests will be local.

Over the past few years, there has been a surge of interest in contemporary art in the north of England. Grand new museums have been built, such as The Hepworth Wakefield. The Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Baltic have offered ambitious programmes of work by international artists. Gallery spaces have been dedicated to experimental work.

Last month, Jarvis Cocker attended the opening of the New Contemporaries exhibition in Sheffield and a large crowd went on to a dinner in the huge atrium of a local studio. The evening showed the vibrancy of the art scene in Sheffield.

London is the centre of Britain's art world. Outside the capital, only Glasgow has a significant number of commercial galleries. But artistic activity is heading north. Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Wakefield, Leeds and Sheffield offer cheap studio spaces and opportunities to show work in public galleries. For an artist to move north is no longer the end. For some, it is the beginning.

Haroon Mirza left London five years ago. He moved in order to be with his girlfriend, but in his time in Sheffield his career has gone global. He won the Northern Art prize last year and an award at the Venice Biennale. His work is on show in New York and London. He is represented by the Lisson Gallery in London and bets are on that he will be nominated for the Turner Prize next year.

The 33-year-old works at S1 Artspace, a large industrial building not far from the city centre. Rent is a fraction of what it would be in London. Mirza makes complex art, machines that vapourise water inside a cube or objects held together by sound. His great advantage over London artists is that he finds it far easier and cheaper to find fabricators and materials. He can get it all done in Sheffield.

"I was terrified about leaving London," he says, "and concerned that it would affect my development as an artist. I worried about being cut off from influence and stimulation. But then artistic endeavour is about originality and you don't want too much influence or your work loses originality.

"Being in Sheffield meant that I had time to focus and concentrate, which I suppose is more important. Of course it's different socially, compared to London. There is a community of people involved in art up here but it's on a small scale. In Sheffield, I knew everyone and what they did within a year. In London there's an energy and productivity to the social side of being an artist. But London is more competitive, more challenging and more expensive. I don't think it is essential to be in London."

Mirza has a gripe about some London attitudes towards the north.

"Curators will fly to Milan, New York or Berlin to visit an artist's studio," he says. "But ask them to visit Sheffield and it's like, 'No thanks.' I think that's really lazy."

Dan Holdsworth is from Yorkshire. He lived in London for 12 years but he now lives in Newcastle, where he makes striking landscape images. His work shows in London and all over Europe.

"Moving north was fine for me because I had already established my career in London," he says. "So it gave me a certain freedom. I ended up in Newcastle because we met so many other artists who lived there. It is a centre for the arts, in terms of the community and both universities, which attracts a lot of artists who teach there. I travel a lot but I often work with people in Newcastle as well. Newcastle is very well set up for studios. It's like Glasgow was 15 years ago."

Greville Worthington, an art collector who is based in Catterick, North Yorkshire, says: "We used to get international artists coming through up here but there were very few people to see it. I definitely see more international art up here now. The first UK exhibition of one of the most important post-war Italian artists, Mario Merz, opened in Leeds this year. Artists such as James Lee Byers and Jaume Plensa have shown at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. That would not have happened 15 years ago."

Paul Morrison is an artist with an international profile – his beautiful paintings, sculpture and installations of landscapes and nature are very expensive. He works in a purpose-built studio, close to Sheffield Hallam University.

"I think that as artist working now, you can live anywhere," he says. "It depends what you want. I have more time up here and I didn't come looking for an art scene. Sheffield is very vibrant at the moment, there is definitely more going on."

In and around Leeds lie a group of museums that have been called the "sculpture triangle". The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Hepworth Wakefield and the Henry Moore Institute are within 20 miles or so of each other. Some claim that this proximity makes them the largest centre for sculpture in Europe.

"I think the bar has been raised over the past few years," says Clare Lilley, the head curator at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. "Expectations of regional spaces is much higher. You can't not do a programme of international artists now."

The Park's most ambitious recent project saw the American artist James Turrell build a Skyspace, a chapel-like room in an old deer shelter with a large open square in the ceiling, through which viewers can look up into the sky. Baltic is currently staging A Voyage of Growth and Discovery, by two American artists, Mike Kelley and Michael Smith.

"There's a thirst for contemporary art here," says Laurence Sillars, chief curator at Baltic. "I think in London there's pressure to do blockbusting shows but here we can take more risks with our programming. There is an art scene here. There's so much going on that it is hard for me to get to everything. A group of artists has taken over a local tower block, there are young curators doing all sorts of interesting stuff. Good artists have come out of Newcastle."

There is no art market in the north. A handful of commercial galleries, such as Workplace in Newcastle and The International 3 in Manchester, provide opportunities but have to travel to London, Miami and Basel to find buyers.

However, publicly funded spaces such as S1 Artspace and Site in Sheffield are integral, supporting young artists to international success. If creativity blossoms when the financial pressure is off, the future might be far from grim up north.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine