Eileen Leahy talks to Andrew Fairfax about the success of his eponymously named space which boasts an array of cool and contemporary artists
How long have you been running your business?
We have been established for 21 years.
What was the inspiration behind it?
The original idea was to juxtapose a contemporary art gallery with the historic setting of The Pantiles, which at the time of us opening had a number of visitor attractions and events to celebrate its history.
How many shops do you have?
There is a Fairfax Gallery in the ‘Chelsea on Sea’ destination of Burnham Market, Norfolk and for six years there was also a Fairfax Gallery in Chelsea. It closed when we decided to concentrate on representing our artists, based in London and overseas, at art fairs in places such as New York, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Why did you decide to open a shop in Tunbridge Wells?
I had been living in London, but felt that it was too big a step for a first gallery, so I looked for a cosmopolitan town in the south east that could support a contemporary gallery and felt Tunbridge Wells was a great place to do that.
Do you have a number of regular clients?
I am pleased to say yes we do, in particular from people that have seen us at art fairs elsewhere in the world. It is flattering when clients from overseas make a trip to the gallery or feel confident to buy online – this has proved to be helpful when national business dips. I am also highly appreciative of the loyal local following we have and for the clients who are still returning and buying from us since we opened in 1995.
Are you an artist?
My original background was working at Lloyd’s of London in reinsurance. However, my interest in the art world was sparked by my younger sister, who gained her Fine Art degree at St Martin’s and was then offered a solo show in a West End gallery. This gave me an insight into the art world and a little later, having been talked into managing a London gallery for a week while the owner was away, I then had the idea to open my own venture.
How have you found working in the art world?
Despite not originally being from an artistic background, I am pleased that the gallery has just been voted ‘Best Gallery’ in Kent in the Muddy Stilettos awards, coming up against the Turner gallery in Margate.
What inspires your buys?
I hold regular exhibitions by a body of carefully selected artists mostly from the UK but a few from overseas, too. The artists we feature range from established Royal Academicians to young, up-and-coming talent.
Do you have any favourite local artists?
One of my favourite local artists from Sussex is Shaun Ferguson, who is an ex-Royal Academy Schools graduate. He came to my attention when he picked up a Discerning Eye ‘New Discovery’ award. Whilst the Fairfax Gallery chooses its artists on merit rather than location, over a third are from Kent and Sussex.
How do you like working in The Pantiles and why?
The original attraction of being based in The Pantiles was its history and architectural beauty. In the last year it has lost several established retailers and I am hoping, where landlords have the power to do so, that they will increase the proportion of retailers versus food and beverage establishments so The Pantiles can remain a worthwhile shopping destination.
What do you think is the key to successful trading in Tunbridge Wells?
The advantage of being an independent business is that you can reflect the tastes and wishes of your clients rather than being a homogeneous branded store that’s found in every town. I think Tunbridge Wells does this particularly well and has a strong line-up of independent retailers, making it a very attractive destination for shoppers.
The Fairfax Gallery, 23 The Pantiles,
Tunbridge Wells TN2 5TD.
Tel: 01892 525525