My Sussex: Jon Tutton

Jon Tutton, co-founder of MADE Brighton and London, and Atelier Beside the Sea.

Where do you live and how did you come to live in Sussex?

I live with my wife, the artist Sarah Young, by Worthing seafront and we spend our working days in Brighton. I moved down from Manchester to attend the University of Sussex in the late 1980s, on the basis that it was by the sea and sufficiently far away from my home town. As soon as I arrived, I felt at home. Brighton felt like a place where anyone could be what they wanted, and how they wanted. After a brief and unspectacular spell as a civil servant in Whitehall, I returned to Brighton and teamed up with Sarah to found a travelling puppet theatre that eventually developed into Tutton & Young, a company that is involved in a wide variety of art-based projects.

You’ve done a lot to stimulate the art scene in the city. Are you an artist yourself?

No I’m not, but I hope I help Sarah to work on her own practice and that Tutton & Young’s activities enable makers and artists to develop their careers. I see my role as providing opportunities for artists: to show their work in the gallery and shop at Atelier Beside the Sea and at our art fairs. To date I have organised 35+ art fairs, including Brighton Art Fair, MADE Brighton and MADE London, specifically for artists to sell and promote their work. My focus is always on the artist community in the city and beyond.

What could be done to improve Brighton’s art scene?

Brighton has a pretty lively art scene in terms of the number artists and makers here and the exceptional quality of their work. But our proximity to the capital means that for a long time the exhibiting took place in London rather than in Brighton. That may be changing but we don’t have a ‘big draw’ for the visual arts like the Towner in Eastbourne or the Turner in Margate. In the long term, a high level contemporary public gallery would be great for the city. In the meantime, we’re left with punky DIY options or shows in temporary spaces, open houses and studios as well as the handful of commercial spaces that exist. As Brighton property becomes more gentrified and developers move in, those temporary spaces are becoming rarer. The same with studio complexes which are being eyed by developers. Studios and artists are drifting east and west to more affordable locations. The council should have a strategy to keep within the city the creative industries that have made Brighton so successful.

What’s your favourite Sussex gallery and why?

I would say Rye Art Gallery and the Easton Rooms, as they have a history of putting together low key but interesting exhibitions promoting lesser-known local (and national) artists. They were very supportive to us over a long period, taking great interest in Sarah’s work.

Tell us about a Sussex artist we’re unlikely to have heard of, but should have.

Susan Ashworth.

Tell us about a great arts event you’ve been to recently in Sussex.

I tend to be more into smaller events rather than blockbusters. I like the ethos of Newhaven’s Hospitable Environment Sussex Women Supper Clubs: food, chat and then a talk about a key Sussex female artist, such as Peggy Angus.

What’s your favourite local architectural landmark?

When I first saw Brighton I loved the regency seafront squares, Brunswick or Sussex. Graceful high-density living. Thomas Heatherwick is starting a campaign to champion interest and decoration in architecture, I think I support that.

And natural landmark?

Coming from Manchester at the base of the Peak District and not far from Snowdonia and the Lakes, it took me a while to be impressed with the tiddly South Downs, but I came to love the sculptural qualities of the hills near Firle. (And although they may be little, the climbs are still pretty steep!)

Can you recommend a good restaurant?

We haven’t been dining out quite as much as we’d like recently. Our usual is a ‘VIP pizza‘ from their wood-fired ovens in Shelter Hall, either eaten on the beach down from the gallery or in our first floor ‘cabin’, overlooking the madness of Brighton beach on a hot Friday night in the summer!

When did you last swim in the sea?

August. I’d like to swim everyday but too often the commute and admin and the weather gets in the way. Next year, definitely.

If you didn’t live in Sussex, where would you like to live?

We talk about this endlessly. It might be the countryside but I sometimes worry that it could be affluent but mostly deserted. Possibly New Zealand: it seems to be a place that appreciates creativity.

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

A mad bizarre narrative print by Polish printmaker Roman Klonek.