Pop-up gallery enterprise takes Portsmouth artists on the road

Dolly Sciberras, founder of CAPUG, at the Coastguard Studio in Southsea. Picture: Duncan Shepherd
Dolly Sciberras, founder of CAPUG, at the Coastguard Studio in Southsea. Picture: Duncan Shepherd
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Thanks to overhead costs, rising commission rates and inconsistent footfall, art galleries across the country are sadly walking a tightrope of uncertainty. 

The places that have prided themselves on taking visual culture to the masses for decades face fading away, all the while undiscovered talent that deserves to go up on walls, or in lights, remains just that. 

Milton clothing designer Paula Ann Savage's Blood, Sweat and Tears dress, modelled by Laura Rylands, as a result of her appearance at CAPUG's pop-up gallery at the Coastguard Studio in Southsea. Picture: Maximillion Hetherington

Milton clothing designer Paula Ann Savage's Blood, Sweat and Tears dress, modelled by Laura Rylands, as a result of her appearance at CAPUG's pop-up gallery at the Coastguard Studio in Southsea. Picture: Maximillion Hetherington

But one self-confessed 'artrepreneur’ from Southsea – a third-year fine art student at the University of Chichester – is hell-bent on shifting the tide licking at the industry’s ankles. 

Dubbed CAPUG, Dolly Sciberra’s enterprise Contemporary Art Pop-Up Gallery is on a mission to transform empty city units into the dynamic galleries of the future, if only for a few days at a time.

In a matter of months the start-up has already made pop-up hotspots of a vacant Job Centre in Chichester and the Coastguard Studio in Southsea. 

And moving forward, with Brighton's famous lanes up next in October, Dolly believes it could be the way to sustain emerging art and briefly upcycle the eyesores many see as scars on their cities. 

'Connectedness', a piece of art by Ian Parmiter, at the Coastguard Studio in Southsea as part of CAPUG's second pop-up gallery. Picture: Duncan Shepherd

'Connectedness', a piece of art by Ian Parmiter, at the Coastguard Studio in Southsea as part of CAPUG's second pop-up gallery. Picture: Duncan Shepherd

‘I started this because I was seeing people who had done art degrees working in shops, with no way of showcasing their talent,' the 48-year-old says. 

‘Of course they have to pay the bills, but deep down their real passion is art – it's like a longing within. 

‘There's something like 45,000 artists looking for exposure at any one point in the UK and the fact many of them have no way or confidence of finding it makes me sad. 

‘CAPUG is a great concept because not only can it pop up anywhere, but there are far fewer overheads in the way. 

'Weapon of Choice', by James Porter, at CAPUG's second pop-up, at the Coastguard Studio in Southsea. Picture: Duncan Shepherd

'Weapon of Choice', by James Porter, at CAPUG's second pop-up, at the Coastguard Studio in Southsea. Picture: Duncan Shepherd

‘I just hope we can make some successful artists and help the names and ideas of people who have something brilliant to show society to emerge.’

In a bid to encourage new talent to come forward, irrespective of financial means, CAPUG lets its artists hang on to the pennies they would fork out in commission at a traditional gallery if they make a sale.  

Add to this the fact the pop-ups are free to enter, there is nothing stopping passers-by from strolling in and soaking up the fruits of their labour. 

This, says Dolly, is all part of a plan to help revolutionise the way art is received in Hampshire and beyond.

‘I think this is the only way forward,’ he says.

‘Art should be accessible to all and that’s something I’ve said all the way through university. 

‘I want people to recognise, understand and read this work like anyone should be able to. 

‘Even if there’s art they don’t feel like they understand, it’s about giving them the chance to see it in the flesh and take from it what they will.’ 

The movement is already inspiring a burgeoning confidence among people who have long been creators, but have never felt brave enough to show off what they’ve made. 

A single mum of two teenagers, Paula Ann Savage, from Milton, has been designing and making recycled and sustainable clothes for more than 30 years.

CAPUG’s weekend-long exhibition at the Coastguard Studio earlier this month was the first time the garments had ever seen the light of day. 

‘All my clothing was in a suitcase under my bed before Dolly said he was doing this exhibition and asked if I would be interested – I was unsure about it because I didn’t have a lot of confidence,’ says the 52-year-old. 

‘But since that weekend I’ve had so much interest. A guy I met at the exhibition was asking me about how much I was selling the clothing for and he was talking in telephone numbers.’ 

She continues: ‘I also bumped into a professional photographer and a model who does work for Stella McCartney and we did a photoshoot.

‘He sent me all the photos [on Tuesday] and they’re just amazing – they’ve brought my clothes to life. 

‘I was a musician for years and I never knew whether I wanted to make a dress or write a song. 

‘But CAPUG has given me lots of confidence and encouragement to do a lot more clothing now.’ 

Paula’s work includes garments made of four decades of fabrics and a dress titled Blood Sweat and Tears, which is made entirely from Victorian-era handkerchiefs. 

She will be one of the artists to feature at CAPUG’s 12-week pop-up in Hannington Lane, Brighton, from October 23. 

Also in the mix will be renowned Southsea collector Ian Parmiter, who also goes by the artistic pseudonym Lord Sonic. 

The antiques connoisseur and Emptifish guitarist has fought Parkinson’s disease for eight years but is now finding a new love for expression through his work, which often comes to fruition in 15-minute bursts via wood panels and household paints. 

‘My wife left me this year and it sparked thoughts off in my mind and things came to life,' the 56-year-old says. 

‘I’m sure I painted as a child but I’ve only been taking it more seriously for about two years, so it was a big step going into the gallery.

‘But it’s expression from the heart and I find it deeply interesting that I can do it. It calms me down.

‘What Dolly’s doing is absolutely marvellous because it gives everyone an opportunity to show their talents and moving the gallery around to interesting places just increases that appeal.’ 

On the Brighton pop-up, Dolly adds: ‘We’re all really looking forward to this. I can already visualise where the work is going.’ 

Can I get my art on display at a capug pop-up? 

As it prepares to embark on its third pop-up gallery, CAPUG is actively on the hunt for emerging artists to join its ranks. 

A total of 28 creatives displayed their work at the movement’s debut Chichester event in June, before 30 popped up at the Coastguard Studio in Clarendon Road, Southsea, earlier this month. 

If you want to be part of CAPUG’s next wave of artists, you can apply via the body’s website, capug.com. 

All you have to do is send in a statement summarising you and your art, along with an initial set of five pictures of your work. 

The website offers 21 examples of CAPUG artists who have done this, alongside slideshows of what they have made. 

You can email CAPUG at popup@capug.com or call 07990 905878.