Different frame of mind

For the next month the historic rooms of Swinton Park are being turned into a contemporary gallery. Yvette Huddleston finds out more.

Artist Emerson Mayers and Swinton Park owner Felicity Cunliffe-Lister carry a painting by Harrogate artist Chloe Holt into Swinton Park. Pictures by Gerard Binks
Artist Emerson Mayers and Swinton Park owner Felicity Cunliffe-Lister carry a painting by Harrogate artist Chloe Holt into Swinton Park. Pictures by Gerard Binks

At Swinton Park, change is afoot. The old masters and family portraits hanging on the walls of the 17th-century stately home and castle hotel run by Lord and Lady Masham are being taken down and replaced by much more modern artworks.

The exhibition at the Masham mansion is the brainchild of New Lights, a self-funded charity that supports and promotes artists in the North. One of its aims – through its Art for All scheme – is to inspire people of all ages and from all walks of life to actively engage in art through a programme of workshops and outreach work.

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The charity also provides younger, emerging artists with guidance, mentoring and exposure. In September, it will present its first group show at the Mall Galleries in London, featuring the work of six established and six emerging Northern contemporary artists.

Emerson Mayers (right) and his father Trevor Mayers hang a pastel and collage art work by Mark Demsteader

“The Swinton Park exhibition is a fundraiser for a project we are starting up next year to place artists into primary schools across the north of England,” says Yorkshire-born landscape and wildlife artist Emerson Mayes, one of the directors of the charity. “The artists will work with the pupils on a substantial project creating a piece of artwork which will then remain in the school.”

The idea, he says, is to encourage the children – who may have had little or no exposure to art – to interact with contemporary art. The project will include visits to galleries and museums as well as giving the young participants the opportunity to take part in hands-on activities, making their own artwork.

“The charity was set up in 2010 by Annette Petchey,” says Mayes, who first got involved with New Lights in 2011 as a mentor to one of the winning artists 
from its touring Open Exhibition and prize which is held every alternate year. “The previous two exhibitions – in 2011 and 2013 – were for artists under the age of 35 but this year we have opened it up to all artists who were born, educated or now live in the north of England.” It was felt that the age limit was too restrictive and the charity is keen to encourage all artists, regardless of their age or what stage they are at in their career, to enter. Last time there were nearly 500 entries which were whittled down to a shortlist of 60.

The main award is the £10,000 Valeria Sykes Award alongside a £2,500 Sponsors Prize. Swinton Park also sponsors the Swinton Foundation Prize which will be presented to an artist at the start of their career. “We are hoping to add a Travel Award to the prizes for next year and we are currently looking for sponsors for that,” says Mayes. “The next prize is in 2015 and it will be hosted by the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle. It will then tour to the Mercer Gallery in Harrogate and hopefully other venues in the North before it goes down to London.”

The charity has gathered together an impressive panel of judges for the 2015 Open – Leeds-born artist and Royal Academician Norman Ackroyd, arts journalist Laura Gascoigne who writes for The Spectator, London gallery owner Matthew Hall, Lord Crathorne, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Arts and Heritage Group at Westminster, and New Lights founder and chief executive Petchey.

The month-long exhibition of contemporary artworks at Swinton Park will feature pieces from established artists in the North including Hester Cox, who is based in Horton-in-Ribblesdale and specialises in designing original prints inspired by nature; Debbie Loane, landscape artist and owner and founder of the Lund Gallery in Easingwold, near York; Manchester-based figurative artist Mark Demsteader; leading contemporary landscape painter James Naughton, who was born in Bolton and studied at Leeds Metropolitan University; and Mayes himself, who lives in Pateley Bridge. Young Harrogate-based artist Chloe Holt will also be showing her work in the hotel’s bar area. Holt was shortlisted for the Swinton Foundation Award last year and since then her career has gone from strength to strength – she has exhibited in a number of major shows around the UK.

“I thought Swinton Park was a great venue for an exhibition,” says Mayes. “I had a show there last year so I know the space well. Sometimes it’s nice to get art out of galleries – that is one of our core strategies.”

There will be a private view of the exhibition on June 26 with music provided by Yorkshire singer-songwriter Alistair Griffin, known for his anthemic sporting songs, and whose latest work, The Road, is the official anthem for the Tour de France’s Grand Départ.

As the person in charge of taking down Swinton Park’s paintings and replacing them with new work, Mayes has quite a job on his hands. “There are 50 pieces to put up, so there will be quite a lot of ladders needed,” he says. “Some of the work is quite large scale, but there will be a good range of pieces and all the work is for sale.” Forty per cent of all the sales will go towards the primary school project.

• The New Lights exhibition runs at Swinton Park Hotel until Friday, July 18 (closed on Saturday, June 21). Tickets for the Private View on June 26 cost £10 with all money raised supporting New Lights. www.swintonpark.com www.newlights.org.uk