EGG, CHIPS AND A DOLLOP OF ART

Artists are putting their business caps on and creating a new kind of community - the `artist-led space'. John Windsor meets a group in Deptford, that will exhibiting at this week's Art 97 show

Paul Hedge was in his apron, stirring pasta sauce in his caff in Deptford High Street, when Charles Saatchi, the adman-collector, poked his head round the door. "Is anybody available from the gallery?" he asked.

"That's me," said Hedge.

The Hales Gallery is tucked away in the basement. Hedge, 36, a warehouseman's son who co-founded it after getting a first in fine art at Goldsmiths College before spending 11 years as a postman, knows better than to affront passers- by with art, however hungry they might be. "This is Deptford High Street," he says, "not Cork Street."

Besides an ace caff, he offers ace toilets. They are in the basement, too. Which means that on Wednesdays and Saturdays, traders from the street market outside expose themselves to art three times a day. The visitors' book contains as many plaudits for artworks as for cream-topped desserts and attention to hygiene.

Saatchi, not your average passer-by, and not, as it happened, either hungry or taken short, has bought the work of four of the gallery's artists. But then, it is not your average gallery. Saatchi, as everyone knows, could spot an up-and-coming artist in a haystack, let alone Deptford High Street. So how can we passers-by learn to poke our heads round the right doors and do the same?

Visit Art 97, the ninth annual London Contemporary Art Fair at the Business Design Centre, Islington (Wednesday 15 to Sunday 19 January) and you will find six stands occupied by galleries of the Hales ilk. What distinguishes them from other exhibitors, who are almost all dealers, is that they are what has become known in art-market jargon as "artist-led spaces" - communities of artists who curate their own selling exhibitions, sometimes living and working together.

The six have been invited to exhibit free at Art 97 by the Contemporary Art Society (CAS), which scours the country for promising work to sell at its annual fair and donates some of its finds to museums and art galleries. The CAS, it could be said, has the Saatchi touch. It does our homework for us.

Gill Hedley, its director, will be lecturing at the Fair on how to buy art (Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, at 3pm). Whether you are a shy first-time buyer with a modest income, a company man seeking something inspiring for the foyer, or a rich philistine bent on art investment, you can expect a demystifying introduction to degree shows, commercial galleries, art fairs, art magazines - and the growing phenomenon of artist- led spaces.

There was a time when buying direct from artists meant climbing rickety stairs to a garret and hoping that the genius was awake. Not any more. These days, artists are becoming - jargon again - more "visible". Ms Hedley says, "They can no longer survive by waiting to be discovered, so they are organising themselves, creating their own opportunities. Some of their exhibition spaces are quite substantial." Notably, in former warehouses in the East End of London.

Artists have a particularly good reason for coming out of the garret and getting together: they are dead poor. Research by the National Association of Artists has found that more than a third of them earn less than pounds 5,000 a year and only 14 per cent actually make a living from art alone - they teach art and do other jobs as well.

Of the 11,000 artists in London, 17 per cent are already in artist-led spaces accessible to buyers - according to separate research by Britain's foremost researcher on British artists, Susan Jones, a seasoned debunker of statistical myths of the more-artists-in-Hackney-than-Europe kind.

A well-run artist-led space can now get public funding, especially since the National Lottery began to look kindly on them. Which means that, all of a sudden, public arts bodies have developed a yen to find out how organisations run by artists tick. No fewer than 11 of them, including the Arts Council, the regional arts boards and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, gave money towards Jones' latest research, to be published in the April issue of the visual arts magazine, Artists Newsletter.

Its findings are paradoxical. Artists' communities, it says, have become a valuable commodity, hailed as bringers of cultural vibrancy, social wellbeing and economic stability - positive indicators of an area's quality of life. (Ms Jones does not mention the housing market: but from my vantage point, in Hackney, I can tell you that estate agents rub their hands together every time a newspaper article appears proposing this borough as the equivalent of Paris's Left Bank.)

But it seems that the artists' new-found social status will not automatically make them rich. In spite of the well-meaning concern of art colleges (and perhaps the Inland Revenue) that they should be trained to manage their affairs like small businesses, their chief concern is not making money but maintaining their own lifestyle. That is, they tend to plough back their earnings into paint, canvas and sculptor's stone, while foolishly agreeing to exhibit in public galleries virtually free.

Hedge has discontinued small-business training. The gallery's mentor, an ex-Sandhurst and ex-London Business School man, Andrew Baines, used to help him and his business manager, Paul Maslin, give evening classes in book-keeping, negotiating skills and marketing. "We couldn't have done without Andrew. He gave his services free and we still telephone him for advice."

If you want to know how the Hales Gallery ticks, your best starting point is the Woolpack at London Bridge and the Bird's Nest or the Dog and Bell at Deptford, where Hedge, Maslin and the artists drink in the evenings.

"We talk about art," he says. "Once dealers stop going down the pub with their artists, their galleries are in danger of losing their way. There is more to representing artists than just sitting in a shop with a stack of paintings in the basement."

There are no written contracts, either. "Once a dealer stops wanting to work with an artist, or an artist with a dealer, you might as well say bye-bye, contract or no contract. The financial gains are not worth the emotional agony."

Thirteen artists sell their work through the Hales, six of them exclusively. The gallery takes 38 per cent commission, not the standard 50 per cent. There is an unwritten rule that the six artists tell Hedge if they are negotiating to sell through other galleries, so that he can negotiate a cut.

One or two of his artists telephone him almost daily to discuss their careers - he finds himself cooking lunch with a telephone clamped under his chin. "I think that's really healthy," he says. "It's a bit like managing the careers of pop stars in the Sixties. These days, promotion is nine tenths of what artists need. They may know how to produce art but not how to present it.

"An artist like Keith Wilson, for example, who turns the contents of a room into a sculpture, has a slim chance of selling to the average punter. He needs the flexibility of showing at other galleries. His work is destined for museums and private collectors. We also encourage him to apply for publicly funded projects."

He adds, "There's nothing more depressing than listening to an unsuccessful 40-year-old artist who talks only about his art, not how to get it into the public forum - as if he was just out of college."

He hangs some of his artists' paintings in Savile Row - in Richard James, the tailors, and Atlas, the hairdresser's. "Mutual benefit," says Hedge. "Savile Row may not be associated with art, but it is associated with quality. We've had clients from there make the pilgrimage to Deptford and I've visited their homes to hang work."

And to lure more of them on the pilgrimage - big, sensational installations. "Getting people to Deptford is a feat in itself. You won't do it with small watercolours. We like one-person shows that offer something big and dramatic." This is where the creative, artist-led space scores over West End dealers with accountants at their elbow - the sort who tell you that big installations are unsaleable.

Saatchi bought from the Hales an installation in gold polythene by John Frankland, a foyer passenger lift entitled `You Can't Touch This', now on permanent display in the Saatchi Collection. It cost him pounds 9,000. He also bought several installations of furniture by Keith Wilson. Not, you might think, the most commercial sort of art: nevertheless, one recently sold for pounds 9,000.

From Claude Heath, Saatchi commissioned an installation of four large paintings based on drawings that the artist made by blindfolding himself, feeling his brother's face and making an impression with coloured ballpoint, price pounds 12,000. And from Richard Woods, the gallery's most prolific artist - buyers in America and Europe, forthcoming shows in Milan and Stockholm - he bought three big photograph-based paintings: pounds 3,500 each.

The notorious Jake and Dinos Chapman, whose characteristic work is small figures with penises in funny places, had their first show at the Hales. Leo de Goede, a 38-year-old artist specialising in formal abstracts, has left his native Holland to join the gallery and David Leapman, a John Moores prizewinner last year, has quit a West End gallery to join. "His arrival was a great boost, a recognition of my skills," says Hedge. "David is an older, established artist."

In its first three years, the Hales did not aim to sell. "The important thing was to create an atmosphere," Hedge recalls, "to dismantle the cultural baggage and class snobbery surrounding art. Not in a patronising way. We just wanted to say to local people: this is our shop and this is how we live." They had raised pounds 65,000: pounds 22,000 from Task Force, a forerunner of City Challenge, the rest from local people and parents. The three founder partners contributed pounds 100 a month and the caff turned a profit. Local MP, Joan Ruddock, supported their application to the Department of Trade and Industry to run the business-training course.

The derelict shop had been left to the Shaftesbury Society in a will. Maslin's father is one of the Society's pastors. The basement, a former undertaker's, had not been used since 1936. The black horses' plumes they found there are now in the Reminiscence Centre in Blackheath. For cadavers, there was a zinc refrigerator packed with sawdust, a box of theatrical face make-up and tooth powder. There were also jars of formaldehyde: just the job for contemporary art.

Other artist-led galleries presented at the Fair by the Contemporary Art Society: Cairn Gallery, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire; Catalyst Arts, Belfast; The Agency, London; The Tannery, London; Transmission, Glasgow. See also the Eagle Gallery, London. Opening hours: 11am-8.30pm.

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker