There are many variations of the quote “Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life” and all of them resonate with Nick Bentley, who works all hours and enjoys almost every minute.
Now a well-known Yorkshire gallery owner, his previous careers include air traffic controller, building project manager, event manager and chef. “I travelled a lot back then but wherever I was working I’d try to steal an hour in a gallery. I have always loved and appreciated art and I find galleries immensely peaceful. You can go there and forget about your worries, forget about politics and just get lost in the art,” he says.
Nick decided to put his knowledge and his eye for quality to good use eight years ago when he opened the Bils & Rye gallery in the pretty Ryedale village of Nunnington. Sculpture and ceramics featured heavily along with paintings and anything else that captured his interest.
A move to a characterful former pub in the market town of Kirkbymoorside followed in 2017 and business was brisk until the pandemic hit. While lockdown sent most of us into a spin, Nick sat back quietly and decided to reflect on the future before springing into action. Within just a few weeks, he had moved Bils & Rye to Harrogate, which is fast becoming a hub for galleries and art hunters.
“One of the great positives of lockdown was that it gave me the opportunity to sit back and plan how to take the business forward. It was successful in Ryedale but most of my clients were travelling between 45 minutes and two hours to get there,” says Nick. “Harrogate seemed the obvious place to go so I started looking at premises and finally found the perfect one on John Street.”
Nick also managed to find the perfect new home in the spa town. His two-bedroom, top-floor apartment in the Montpellier quarter is light-filled and spacious. “I saw about 20 flats and I knew immediately that this was the one,” he adds.
The freshly-painted, neutral colour scheme was a gift as it meant he could move into the apartment without decorating, thereby saving time and effort, while he was juggling setting up the new gallery with moving home and collecting stock.
“Sales on the website were up 200 per cent over lockdown so I was driving all over the country to collect stock. I didn’t have much time to spend on the apartment,” says Nick, who was also forced to hunt for furniture that would fit up the narrow stairways to his top-floor home.
He did manage to squeeze in a large oriental coffee table bought at auction and a treasured Korean cabinet, which is topped with a sculpture by York-based Chiu-I-Wu. “I am influenced by the orient as a lot of my forebears were directors of the East India Company and my best friend is from India,” says Nick, who liberated the green sofa from a friend’s garage.
The Art Deco chairs were eBay finds and there is a variety of wooden chests used for storage and for displaying art on. A wire sculpture by Rachel Ducker sits perfectly on one, accompanied by a trio of ceramic apples by Remon Jephcott. Along with being a place to relax, the sitting room is also Nick’s office and his Georgian desk, just £10 from an auction, is one of his best bargains.
The main bedroom is restful and minimal with a large painting by Jamel Akib as the star, along with an eye-catching tiny picture of one of Nick’s favourite singers, Joni Mitchell, which he bought from Jane French as part of the Artists Support Pledge. The pledge sees artists, or in Nick’s case, gallery owners, post images of work for sale for no more than £200. Each time their sales reach £1,000, they promise to buy another artist’s work for up to £200.
A love of mid-century is evident in the kitchen/dining room where a G-Plan dining table and chairs is centre stage. “Most of my furniture is second-hand and I don’t drive a Porsche because I like to eat well and I love being surrounded by beautiful art so that’s what I spend my money on,” says Nick, whose next project is to add some colour to the walls of his home.
He is emboldened after enlisting the help of Joan Maclean, who runs the Joanie Mac Interior Design School in Harrogate. She gave him the confidence to pursue an idea of painting the gallery in a range of colours, rather than the traditional neutral backdrop adopted by most art dealers. “Joanie was an inspiration,” he says. “We used a range of Little Greene colours, which have rich pigments and really show off the art.”
They include Royal Navy, Apple – a soft green – and Adventurer, which is a rich plum that works wonderfully with the sculptures, ceramics and paintings by an array of artists including Simon Gudgeon, Rebecca Appleby, James Oughtibridge, Rachel Ducker, Chiu-I Wu and Brendan Hesmondalgh, Peter Wileman, Jamel Akib and Laura Rich, to name just a few.
“My logos are ‘passionate about art’ and ‘dealing in temptation’ and they really sum me up,” says Nick.
*The Bils & Rye gallery is at unit 4, Regent House, John Street, Harrogate, www.contemporarysculpture.gallery; Joanie Mac interior design courses, www.joaniemac.com
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you'll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers.
So, please - if you can - pay for our work. Just £5 per month is the starting point. If you think that which we are trying to achieve is worth more, you can pay us what you think we are worth. By doing so, you will be investing in something that is becoming increasingly rare. Independent journalism that cares less about right and le ft and more about right and wrong. Journalism you can trust.