Shifting her 9 to 5 from artist to curator was for Victoria Cassidy a pretty straightforward move. ‘Running a gallery has always seemed like a very natural thing to me, having been involved in the arts since my teens.’ Encouragement was pressed earlier in life on learning ‘the more academic subjects of maths, physics and chemistry – art was frowned on and regarded as a “hobby” rather than a career,’ she adds. Cassidy followed expectation until, ‘I realised that I wasn’t actually happy on that path – so, in my final year of school I sat my Higher Art and was accepted to Glasgow School of Art.’
Choosing Printmaking as her speciality she reflects on this way, ‘Perhaps the sciences I studied at school drew me to it? The technical processes and the chemistry of it suited my methodical approach to making images and even now this early training informs the way I paint. I always claim that I paint like a printmaker.’
Mansfield Park Gallery is a permanent high street space which launched in 2006, an established fixture in Glasgow’s West End retail landscape. The gallery is traditional in name, offering and therefore expectation but it’s the artist understanding and view which I would argue enhances its value – offering a unique position among many other high street galleries. ‘I have developed a great network of artist friends who are happy to deal with someone who knows first-hand what it’s like to be an artist herself. I also hope that my experience will be useful to anyone interested in buying art for the first time, I don’t hang anything on the gallery walls that I wouldn’t hang in my own home – and I set that bar high,’ she tells me.
Cassidy holds a rich collection of works on the walls and in the sleeves. ‘Scotland has a tradition of producing great artists and as a nation we should be proud and supportive of that – it’s not all about highland cows and wee white cottages, there is so much more interesting and challenging work being produced and that’s what excites me and makes me feel privileged to be a part of it all,’ she adds.
Her own work is also represented but with modest self-promotion. When browsing through the range of artists on the gallery website I was quite struck by her pieces – initially drawn to the wonderful pattern and balance of elements in her early pictures, the use of Egyptian hieroglyphics and symbolism. It was only after a little further research I understood that the artist was also the gallery owner and this made it all the more interesting.
Holding a deep interest in the power of paper as a carrier of history she explains, ‘I’m fascinated with the idea of ancient, foreign civilisations whose culture is revealed to us through the discovery and deciphering of fragile paper documents, scrolls, old maps and decaying texts,’ and is ‘equally fascinated by the contrast between these ancient civilisations and the new cultures that have replaced them. ‘Compare the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt to the work of the later Muslim artists who, being forbidden to represent animal or human forms used their creativity to produce the most beautifully, decorative and mathematically precise pattern work,’ she adds.
I would also extend this to a sympathy in Cassidy’s pictures not only towards the beauty of these ancient references but she evokes, through her choice of subject matter the value of these cultures – and something else – the practise of artists and makers consciously acknowledging their view of the human position within their pieces. Islamic art for example is not only beautiful in its decorative aesthetic for the reasons Cassidy notes but there will often be a deliberate break with precision in the logic of pattern by the artist – a sign or offering of humility, of our humanness, the premise that only God is perfect. This practice of the intentional flaw is recognised throughout the world within many cultures and religions. The Navajo Indians for example would weave rugs, offering a different colour thread through the pattern as a way for part of the spirit of the weaver to escape and to show their imperfection in contrast to the creator, again considered perfect in comparison.
It also reminds me of that piece of ancient wisdom which in Japan is known as ‘wabi-sabi.’ A difficult view to explain, but this story is often used to demonstrate the beauty of its sentiment – In the height of the Japanese autumn, in one of Kyoto’s majestic gardens, a tea master asked his disciple to prepare for tea ceremony. The young man trimmed the hedges, raked the gravel, picked the dried leaves from the stones, cleared the moss path of twigs. The garden looked immaculate: not a blade of grass out of place. The master inspected the garden quietly. Then, he reached at a branch of a maple tree and shook it, watching the auburn leaves fall with haphazard grace on tidied earth. There it was now, the magic of imperfection. There it was, the order of nature, never far from the hands of humans. There it was, wabi-sabi, thought master Rikyu – the father of Japanese tea ceremony. (1)
Cassidy’s most recent work are all mixed media (acrylic/ watercolour/ ink/ gold leaf) and influenced by Japanese prints and culture, deconstructing images from Japanese masters and combining them with modern European poetry and song lyrics. ‘I have never been to Japan, but I am planning to travel there next year and hope to explore the difference between modern high-tech Japan and the old culture of geishas and tea ceremony. This should form the basis of a new body of work,’ she tells me.
It is the practising artists approach to running a gallery that I find wonderfully refreshing – enriching the customer experience through that empathetic connection between the artist, their work and the buyer. ‘I would hate for anyone to feel awkward about coming into my gallery, when I’m sitting behind the desk I’m here to help (even if you’re not ready to make a purchase) I will still be happy to answer your questions and chat to you about the work on display. So, don’t be shy,’ she adds.
Make sure when you do visit you look out for Cassidy’s own pictures – the gallery experience will bridge the gap between artist-curator and buyer in a much more direct way. I’m very much looking forward to viewing the new body of Japanese work that her upcoming trip may inspire.