My Sussex: Andrew Churchill

Self-portrait © Andrew Churchill.

Where do you live, and when/why did you move to Sussex?

I live in Yapton, near Bognor Regis and Arundel. I first moved to Brighton in 1999. We put on some exhibitions in a room above a bookshop, and then I got my first position working for Pallant House Gallery in 2000. I’ve been in West Sussex for around 20 years now.

Tell us about Oxmarket Contemporary, and how you came to be involved…

I’d worked at Pallant for two stints of seven years, and at Watts Gallery in Surrey for seven, in between. I’d always popped in to Oxmarket and could see its enormous potential. It had become rather worn down by its 45 years of service, but The REFRESH project, completed in Spring 2021, had made a big difference. I was painting full-time at that point but as the money was starting to run out, the offer to apply for a new position of part-time gallery director was a perfect fit for my years of gallery experience and my desire to keep painting.

What do you think of the arts scene in the county?

The whole of Sussex is now operating at a nationally significant level. It is very heartening that the collections of Pallant and Charleston are growing all the time as people leave significant works to them. Chichester, with its Cathedral, Chichester Festival Theatre, Pallant and now Oxmarket Contemporary boasts world class art experiences. Aside from my association with Oxmarket, it is very important that we have a venue that gives contemporary makers opportunities to exhibit and sell, outside of the commercial system.

What are you most excited about curating at Oxmarket over the winter?

In December we have the brilliant Jonny and Sharon Hannah [see our interview on page 36] whose exhibition will feature a life-size cut out of a bus! In the new year we will have the prize winners from the OX OPEN 2022. This was a big moment for us, the quality of the entries was astonishing. We will also be launching the OX OPEN 2023, as it is now an annual event.

You’re an artist as well as a gallery director. How much is this a help?

My curator at Watts Gallery, Mark Bills, was a former painter and he maintained that the best curators are those who have or had an art practice. I think this is true, for the insight it gives you into the making process. Further to that, there is an empathy which comes with being an artist myself. I understand that it isn’t always easy.

What do you think could be done to improve the cultural scene in Sussex?

Chichester itself desperately needs dedicated studio spaces for makers. It is a huge problem. Artists are forced to leave the area to get a studio or to compromise their work by having to work at home or in garden sheds.

Do you feel that you are part of a Sussex art scene?

I don’t know. Oxmarket Contemporary certainly is, as a hub for makers of all kinds. But I am as likely to have an Instagram chat with an artist in New York as an artist in Sussex.

How would you spend a perfect (cultural) Sunday?

I’d go to Charleston to see the Duncan Grant erotic drawings exhibition and the bold and exciting contemporary responses. It’s terribly sad that these drawings were passed from one guardian to another and rarely if ever shown to another person, because of their content. And inevitably I would leave with a purchase of a print or a ceramic. The avid collector in me must be fed!

What’s your favourite gallery?

For its collection, Pallant House Gallery. Revisiting is like seeing old friends. And like the best of old friends, you discover something new about them each time. Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge is my favourite UK gallery and Louisiana in Copenhagen overseas.

Which Sussex-related artwork would you hang from your desert island palm tree?

RB Kitaj’s The Architects, which hangs in Pallant. It depicts the architects of the new galleries, Sandy Wilson and MJ Long. I learnt a lot from them both. And I could look at that painting till the end of my days and still discover new things about it.

Tell us a Sussex secret.

The village of Yapton, where I live, was once considered quite lawless. Back doors would be left open to allow smugglers to hide their illicit goods if they were being chased by the authorities as they made their way to the old canal. I rather like that about Yapton.