Gareth Barton
31 Aug, 2023
Spread Art Gallery

Have you ever seen that episode of Miranda where her mother can’t say certain, shall we say, risqué words out loud and just mouths them silently, often picking the wrong words to censor? Well, the latest art exhibition here at Spread – a brand design studio come art gallery – has got us feeling a bit the same.

“So, the new group show features ten exceptional contemporary artists’ work centred around the”—whispers—coughs— “nude.” Actually, it’s not like that at all, but it is funny seeing how some people react to the new show that we’ve called ‘Nothing On’. More about that later…

I’ve lived in the Chelmsford area for a little over 17 years now, having moved here from west London to work for a national charity that was based locally. Cue the plot twist. Less than a year later, I got a phone call to say that, at a week old, my son had been rushed into the neonatal unit at St. John’s and that I should get there immediately. Slightly awkward timing as the call came in during a meeting in which I was unexpectedly made redundant. Long story short, he was fine and is about to start his A Levels while my daughter is away at Uni in Norwich.

So then it was time to start freelancing as a creative, and, little by little, I was able to serve several great charities and companies with photography, graphic design, filmmaking, writing and brand development. And it was this last aspect, brand development, that really took hold of me as a passion. So many clients I worked with needed help articulating their organisation, its aims, and its positioning. I couldn’t help thinking these were issues that needed resolving before we got into any marketing, design, or communications, and I started to spend more time at the thinking end of projects—haven’t we been taught to think before we speak? —and I became as much a business consultancy as a design studio. That led me to say that the work is about figuring out ‘what to say and how to say it’.

Freelancing turned into hiring staff and transitioning into a limited company. In 2018 we opened our studio on New London Road close to Bell Meadow Park, transforming a hairdressing salon into a full-service creative agency. Since then, we’ve created documentaries in post-conflict zones such as South Sudan, DRC, and Burundi; and worked to highlight the challenges of refugees in Uganda, Jordan and Turkey. But we’ve also produced creative assets with fashion houses, brand identities for corporates, a complete brand overhaul for a school, and a new suite of visual guidelines and products for a team of international peacebuilders, to name a few. Creating all that here, in the centre of Chelmsford, has been a blast!

And that brings me back to the art. We’ve had so many people peering through our windows over the years and enjoying the space we’ve created to work in. For many, curiosity gets the better of them, and they knock on the door to ask what we do. And it’s always fun to chat and talk them through the business and the art on the walls, most of which is from my personal collection, alongside some of my own figurative charcoal pieces. And that got us thinking. ‘What if we opened the door and intentionally invited people in? What if we harnessed our connections with fine artists to put on art shows? Hang on, what if we doubled up as a gallery?’ And so, the Spread Gallery was born at the end of 2022.

Our summer show ‘Nothing On’ is our fourth exhibition and was due to run until the end of August. But we’ll probably push it into the middle of September as it’s been so popular. We’ve got works by two Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year winners, alongside two artists who live locally and a few more from further afield. Together they make an impressive collection. And all the works are for sale, ranging from £345 to £4,500.

Our motto for people visiting the gallery is ‘If we’re in, we’re open’. But as a working design agency, we are often busy with clients or on-site somewhere. So, if you’re not just passing, it’s best to get in contact to arrange a visit.

If you’d like to know about the shows, open evenings, and events, please visit our website, where you can sign up to be kept abreast of all that’s happening. Did you see what I did there?

We’re so thrilled to be working with Ignite and Chelmsford for You to participate in and promote this city’s cultural heart and be a champion for the arts.

Gareth Barton, Ignite Member.


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