A clique of creativity

ASPEX art gallery is holding an art exhibition called Here & There. Director Joanne Bushnell and Curator Clive Caswell.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (150232-5)
ASPEX art gallery is holding an art exhibition called Here & There. Director Joanne Bushnell and Curator Clive Caswell.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (150232-5)
Mark Compton from Portsmouth CCG

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As he wheels a bicycle into the gallery foyer, Clive Caswell is giving us a glimpse of big things to come.

It’s a Brompton, a squat little number that’s able to fold up into a neat, portable package.

‘We want to make people stop and think about what a bike is,’ says Clive.

‘Aesthetically, but also the mechanics and engineering that goes into these things.’

Clive, 40, is the curator at Aspex Gallery in Portsmouth’s Gunwharf Quays.

He’s telling me about In The Frame, a series of cycle-themed events and exhibitions that will be a big part of this year’s programme at Aspex.

‘We’ll be installing around 20 bikes, ranging from a penny farthing through to some space-age bikes.

‘We’ll also have some game-changing bikes that really revolutionised cycling, like this Brompton and a Raleigh Flyer.’

In The Frame, to start in July, will also include artists on ‘cyclable sculptures’ pedalling their way around Portsmouth, and a series of organised bike rides around the Portsmouth area.

Clive adds: ‘They might not be immediately recognisable or look anything like bikes, but they will be cyclable in some way.

‘The artists involved, being artists, will come up with all kinds of weird and wonderful ideas.’

It’s an off-beat idea from an artistic team that’s become used to thinking out of the box.

Tucked away off the main thoroughfares of the popular shopping district, Aspex has to do a bit of flagwaving to get noticed.

The gallery is housed in the Vulcan building, a former Royal Navy storehouse behind Carluccio’s.

Marketing manager Adam Carroll-Smith says the location has both positives and negatives.

‘It’s an oasis of calm,’ says Adam, 30, from Southsea. ‘But like any arts organisation we’re always looking for more people to come through the door.’

Adam says the gallery is focused on getting more people to engage with the arts.

Its programme spans art classes for tots to open-mic poetry nights.

Adam says: ‘We feel that visual arts are viewed by many as a kind of elitist thing and that an art gallery is something that requires a bit of advanced knowledge.

‘But we would love people just to come in.

‘Art is supposed to drum up feelings and get you thinking about the nature of it and what you like and don’t like.’

The mostly Arts Council-funded gallery was founded 34 years ago in a converted chapel in Brougham Road, Southsea, and moved to Gunwharf Quays in 2006.

Oasis of calm it may be, but it seems like there’s a lot going on at the gallery these days, as director Joanne Bushnell explains.

The venue hosts an ongoing programme of exhibitions and workshops with international connections, a small cafe and a shop.

Joanne says: ‘The idea is that Aspex is both local and global.’

Joanne, 44, says the gallery has even got involved in the world-renowned art exhibition, the Venice Biennale, for the first time this year.

She says the gallery is sponsoring an art project called Boite-en-Valise, meaning ‘box in the suitcase’.

Joanne says: ‘It’s based around the idea of the transportability of art and the transportability of artists as well.

‘They need to be able to take artwork, or the materials they need to perform it, in a regular-sized suitcase aboard a flight or a train.

‘The artists’ works include sound installations, film, performances and sculpture.’

The suitcase works will go on display at Aspex tomorrow from 2pm to 4pm.

What better base for a creative company than at the heart of an art gallery?

Aspex has become home to a growing number of start-up businesses since its mezzanine level was converted to offices late last year.

Director Joanne Bushnell says 13 people now work upstairs and there are still a couple of workspaces available.

‘It’s a really important development for us,’ she says.

‘It’s all about developing a mixed income stream so that we’re not so reliant on public funding.’

Joanne says the start-ups include graphic and interior designers, online printers and illustrators.

Among them is graphic design business Creative Clique.

Partner Glenn Alexander says Aspex is a fantastic space to work in.

Glenn, 35, from Drayton, says: ‘Our previous office was a brick box with one window.

‘To come from that to an art gallery with windows and light and to be surrounded by creative people is pretty amazing for us.’

They may be ‘everyday’ objects, but there’s something beautiful about bicycles.

That’s the idea behind In The Frame, a series of events and public art projects being organised by the team at Apsex Gallery.

The cycling-themed season will run from June to July and possibly longer.

Adam says at its heart is an exhibition of bikes guest-curated by enthusiast Tim Connell.

Adam says: ‘We will be taking bikes out of their normal context and showcasing them for their aesthetic value. A lot of these things are very beautifully made and there’s an incredible amount of craftsmanship involved.

‘To see the love and passion that goes into making a bike is something that we as a visual arts organisation can quite easily identify with.’

Adam says there will also be several organised bike rides to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the National Cycle Network.

Adam says: ‘There will be a big loop around greater Portsmouth including Portchester, Fareham and Hayling Island.

‘There will be things like bike doctors along the route who will be there to tune up gears, fix punctures and make the bikes look more colourful and exciting.’

The season will also include screenings of bicycle-themed films, including the classic Italian movie Bicycle Thieves, at the Historic Dockyard’s No. 6 Cinema.

Adam says: ‘Cycling is now the fastest growing participation activity among people of all ages.

‘You can certainly see it around Portsmouth and Southsea - there’s a lot more people riding bikes and discovering the health benefits.’