Interview with Art for Guernsey Founder David Ummels
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David tell us a little about yourself and how you are enjoying life in Guernsey?
I came to settle on the island four years ago with my family, having been a passionate art and antique collector for more than 20 years. I very much like my life here in Guernsey. The island is beautiful and has a lot to offer to young families in terms of lifestyle and quality of life. I have lived and conducted business in several parts of the world, but so far I have never experienced the feeling of being in such a special place. I feel at home in Guernsey.
What inspired you to set up Art for Guernsey?
I decided to start Art for Guernsey because I felt so enthused by the level of courtesy and honesty that I witness here on a daily basis. It makes me feel like I want to pull my weight and contribute as well. I find it so refreshing! That is why I came up with the idea of Art for Guernsey. I thought that I could capitalise on my relationships in the art world and once a year invite an internationally renowned artist to visit Guernsey, be inspired by it, and produce related artworks that would be displayed during a week-long exhibition at the Market Square. Guernsey has a long history of being a welcoming harbour for artists, and I really like the artistic legacy element of this project. I am also a strong believer in Cultural Diplomacy. Art, in particular, can be a very effective way to positively promote a community, its beauty and its values. Art for Guernsey is very much about creating an opportunity for islanders to discover high-quality art for free. It is also about supporting the community by donating all the resources generated by the exhibition to local charities and/or run charitable projects ourselves. Finally, on a more personal note, I wanted to do something charitable, but also fun and so far it has been incredibly enjoyable
Please remind us of the international artists that you have invited to Guernsey so far?
Three years ago we curated our first exhibition featuring the work of Eugen Gorean, an incredibly talented watercolourist from Moldova. Eugen visited the island several times and produced some wonderful paintings which managed to capture the very special features of our landscapes and seascapes. Despite his young age, Eugen has exhibited all over the world (including at the International Watercolour Exhibition of Shenzhen (China) which is an “invitation only” event and the Holy Grail for any watercolourist) and is now recognised internationally as a highly accomplished artist. Eugen fell in love with the island and regularly uses images of Guernsey in the workshops that he runs all over the world. He even created a new green colour in his palette that he calls “Seaweed Guernsey”.
Art for Guernsey is very proud to have organised the first ever solo show of Eugen’s already brilliant career. Two years ago we invited wonderful British ink drawer Olivia Kemp, whose journey, despite her young age, has been spectacular as she has already exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery, the National Gallery and has some of her artworks in the collections of the V&A Museum and the Royal Collections. She spent a couple of months on the island and managed to produce incredibly detailed pen drawings of Guernsey. Her art is concerned with notions of wilderness and tensions between the natural and man-made, which obviously fits Guernsey perfectly. The exhibition was a big success and also the first ever solo show of Olivia. Her main artwork, “The Where that Was”, a very large representation of the Guernsey landmarks, was subsequently borrowed from us by Prince Charles and displayed last Summer in the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace as part of an exhibition of national importance. Last year we invited internationally acclaimed Russian oil painter Dmitri Permiakov. Dmitri is simply regarded by the Head of the Russian Art Academy as one of the most talented contemporary artists of his country. He has been curated as such in all the main Russian museums. Over the course of his career, Dimitri has collected a large number of awards and diplomas, including a silver medal for his contribution to the National Arts of his country.
His exhibition with us last September was not only his first solo show in the UK but also in Western Europe and it sold out. Like Eugen, Dmitri has fallen in love with Guernsey and has already made it back to the island as he feels very inspired by our very special light and colours. Art for Guernsey exhibitions has built significant popular momentum over the years. Not only with art lovers but also with the local schools as on average, one thousand pupils and students are turning up to each of our events, gaining valuable first-hand exposure to art.
Part of our remit is to ask our visiting artists to intensively engage with the local community during their exhibition time. Eugen decided to visit the Hospital and the Cheshire Home, to engage with the visiting schools and run a free workshop for the local art community. Olivia ran a large number of workshops within the schools and Dmitri ran an outdoor workshop for art students and also visited a large number of schools. Organising those social engagements, and witnessing first hand their positive impact on our community, in particular on our youth, is the best feeling in the world. That is what Art for Guernsey is all about.
Tell us a bit more about Cultural Diplomacy, what have you achieved so far?
One of the key goals of Art for Guernsey, through the arts, is to capture the core values and beauties of the island and implement a Cultural Diplomacy Strategy that promotes Guernsey in a very positive way. We consider each of our visiting artists like cultural ambassadors for life. So far that strategy has been very successful. Eugen Gorean managed to show the cliffs of Guernsey within the European Parliament and the Hermitage Museum, he’s made half a dozen interviews with international art magazines on his residency in Guernsey as well as national TV in Moldova.
Olivia Kemp curated the social media’s of the Tate Modern last spring, mentioning Art for Guernsey. She had interviews with BBC4 UK and various UK papers on her residency with us. The main artwork of her solo exhibition with us has been borrowed by Prince Charles to be part of “Prince & Patron”, an art exhibition that he personally curated in the States Rooms of Buckingham Palace last summer. Country Life magazine took a great interest in our activities and included us in their 11th July UK edition, covering our art residency programme, the Buckingham Palace exhibition and our innovative art lending programme to the Guernsey schools. Eugen brought the beauty of our cliffs into the European Parliament and Olivia’s drawing of the Guernsey landmarks made it onto the walls of Buckingham Palace. So on that basis, it doesn’t appear nonsensical to expect Dmitri to have one of his Guernsey paintings exhibited at the Kremlin!! Those initiatives reflect very positively on the Country Brand of Guernsey, and it cost the taxpayers nothing. Finally, Art for Guernsey is now the “most followed” cultural organisation of the island, with more than 9,500 Facebook fans. We have a strong local base of followers, but also a growing international reach, thanks to our visiting artists.
Can you please describe why you are calling Art for Guernsey a “charitable initiative”?
Art for Guernsey is not commercially driven. We aim to operate by the highest standards of professionalism, with passion and high purpose, but we are fundamentally inclusive and altruistic. We do our utmost to curate the best possible events, create community value and try to make people happy. Over the last three years, as we sold many paintings, and thanks to the support of our generous corporate partners (BullionRock, Carey Olsen, Hiscox, Kleinwort Hambros, Lancaster Guernsey, Sarah Groves Foundation, Sydney Charles), Art for Guernsey raised more than GBP 100,000 for local charities or for art-related charitable projects that we run directly. Since inception, we have been supporting the Guernsey Teenage Cancer Trust, the Eisteddfod Society, the Princess Elizabeth Hospital, the Guille-Alles Library, the Youth Commission, Magical Days, Arts for Impact, the Guernsey Cheshire Home and the Performing Art Department of the College of FE.
We have a very strong relationship with Arts for Impact, as we have supported them from day one with our donations and with strategic and mentoring advice. We have a summer art programme in place for the residents of the Cheshire Home that will be running in its fourth year next summer. In May, we will be sponsoring the annual performance of the students of the College of FE’s Performing Art Department for the third time. In 2018, we have also underwritten in full the production costs of “The Chronicles of Sarnia”, the first professional production of a local theatre group, Tin Whistle Productions. Over the years, we have charitably curated or sponsored the exhibitions of local artists, Rosanne Guille, Clarice Greening, Sian Jones and Charlie Buchanan. We have a successful partnership in place with our friends of the Sovereign Art Foundation too.
Over the last two years, Art for Guernsey has awarded two scholarships per year (tuition fees, accommodation and travel costs) that has allowed two art students, selected from the shortlisted finalists of the Sovereign Art Foundation School Art Prize, to attend a two week long “Foundation Masterclass” art course for young artists aged 16-19. It takes place in the summer at the Royal Drawing School in London. This is a unique opportunity for talented young Guernsey artists to hone their skills, build a portfolio and experience art school first hand. Most importantly, it has the potential to be a life-changing opportunity for the two students. We are also running, for the second year now, a great partnership with the Education Services. Art for Guernsey makes available artworks of museum quality to any Guernsey school willing to develop project-based learning opportunities and use the artworks in a multidisciplinary context (creative writing, geography, science, maths, history, technology, etc.). This innovative art lending programme, that we branded “Art in School”, has been incredibly successful as so far, 18 Guernsey schools (primary, secondary, public, private, special needs, College of FE) have engaged with us. Last June, to celebrate the first anniversary of “Art in School”, we organised within the Market Place buildings (our spiritual home), an exhibition displaying more than 120 children’s artworks, professionally curated alongside 25 masterpieces. A documentary film on this initiative is currently in production.
Tell us about the future, what is currently in the pipeline of Art for Guernsey?
In March we are sponsoring “in Shape”, an art exhibition organised by Arts for Impact and the Styx Centre, showcasing the social and wellbeing benefits of their “Art on Prescription” programme. In June, we will be curating the solo exhibition of local artist Frances Lemmon, in the context of “Art in School”. Frances recently went to Costa Rica to track the legacy of 19th century Guernsey merchant William Le Lacheur. The local schools collaborating with us will be using art to revisit the achievements of this true Guernsey hero. In July, Art for Guernsey will be curating a series of Renoir inspired events, as part of a pan-Channel Islands French festival. This will include an ‘Art Walk’, featuring the exhibition of an original artwork by Renoir and visiting the locations where he painted in and around Moulin Huet Bay. There will also be a talk, given by an internationally well-respected authority on Renoir’s artistic legacy, exploring his time in Guernsey and the wider context of his life and works. Next October, in a new collaboration, we will be curating an exhibition featuring artwork produced by the residents of the Guernsey prison, which we plan to brand “double window”. And of course, we are currently working very hard on the preparation of “Art for Guernsey 4”, our main annual event, which will involve our next international guest artist. That will take place in Autumn and we very much look forward to introducing the artist to you all.
Article credited to:
‘’Issue 13 – April 2019’’
‘’Page 20 – 24’’
Townie Sub-Committee: Rosie Henderson, Tim Bush,
David Falla, Mike Garrett, Adrian Gabriel,
Richard Harding, Zoe Lihou, Jacqui Gallienne