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Interview with a British dealer Pat Jordan Evans on her gallery's 30th anniversary

An out-of-town gallery thrives on showing gentle, figurative painters

Pat Jordan Evans set up the Bohun Gallery in Henley on Thames with two partners in 1973. They all were in their early 20s and had never worked in a gallery before. From these beginnings, the gallery went on to show many of the best living British artists, including John Piper, Michael Cardew, Elizabeth Frink, Peter Blake, Ivon Hitchens and Henry Moore.

Never part of the London gallery scene, Ms Jordan Evans has developed her own highly distinctive gallery style and now shows a broad range of younger artists to complement the more established work. This year is the gallery’s 30th anniversary and it is holding a rare exhibition of recent works by Mary Fedden, together with late works by her husband, Julian Trevelyan, who died in 1988.

The Art Newspaper: Right from the beginning you were brave enough to approach major artists. As early as 1975, you were showing John Piper; how did this come about?

Pat Jordan Evans: John Piper joined Bohun within about 18 months of its opening, which was fairly surprising considering how young and new to the business I was. I was particularly interested in his “Eye and Camera” series, which was a combination of photography, drawing and cut-out shapes, which he also used as the basis for screen prints. I was very lucky because he lived about three miles away and was interested in the gallery. From then on he showed virtually every two years with us; after his death I worked with his wife and I organised a memorial exhibition for him which brought together all his Foliate Heads for the first time.

TAN: Having started with John Piper, did it make it easier for you to attract other artists?

PJE: Yes. Quite soon Elisabeth Frink showed with us. Artists soon talk to one another. She was staying in Henley and came into the gallery.

TAN: At the time Elisabeth Frink was with Waddington Galleries, did that make it difficult for you to show her new work?

PJE: No, from the beginning I was able to work directly with Liz and she always presented new work. I made it a priority that the gallery would always show new work, and never the London leftovers. I have found established artists such as John Piper and Liz Frink always had great generosity of spirit in their dealings. We then arranged an exhibition of Peter Blake’s “Circus Freaks” Suite, which was a series of woodcuts. I invited Ivon Hitchens, but unfortunately he died before the show opened, so we delayed the show a year and then organised it with his London gallery, which again was Waddington.

We followed this with Hockney, I wanted to do the “Blue Guitar Suite” and that brought in excellent clients such as the writer John Mortimer. I also invited Elizabeth Blackadder to exhibit–this was before she had her retrospective at the Royal Academy.

TAN: How financially successful were these shows?

PJE: At that time we didn’t sell very much because every thing we were doing was very much ahead of what else was going on in Henley, although Piper and Frink always did well. The gallery was thought to be very modern; most people were buying attractive figurative watercolours. For the first 12 years the gallery almost went bust every year.

TAN: Were you never tempted to slip into the easy, commercial shows which go down well in the provinces?

PJE: I knew what sort of work I wanted to show. This was in the 1970s and what was going on in London was Pop and Abstract art. There was a feeling that you had to be incredibly intellectual to connect with art at all. I felt very worried that the public was being alienated and our aim was to set up a gallery showing the best British figurative art and make it as friendly and easy as possible to buy.

TAN: Where does most of your client base come from?

PJE: It’s very, very wide. We have people come from Bath and even from Scotland occasionally. The majority, however, are from Henley and West London. We’re only 40 minutes from Hammersmith. The huge advantage of being at Henley is that I can show artists in the year they don’t have their London show, and that gives them more financial stability.

TAN: Are you now also showing the work of younger artists?

PJE: Oh yes, we have a large stable of younger artists, especially Scottish ones. We showed Hsiao-Mei Lin, the first Taiwanese artist to graduate from the Royal Academy, and Emrys Williams, a Welsh artist in his early 40s, who has just been made artist in residence to the Welsh National Opera.

TAN: What about your show this month (10 February to 22 March), I understand Mary Fedden has broken her rule not to have any more gallery shows by doing this exhibition with you. How did your association with her and Julian begin?

PJE: I think people such as Elisabeth Frink suggested they should be with the Bohun Gallery. I approached them in 1983 and they have shown with me ever since. In 1998, 10 years after Julian died, I initiated a retrospective exhibition at the Royal College of Art which was a revolution to people. I also organised the catalogue raisonné of his etchings. Mary’s agreement to launch the 30th anniversary of the gallery is a wonderful acknowledgement of our relationship. Now she is 87 she feels she doesn’t want to be under the pressure of putting together exhibitions. We will have about 10 paintings, all new work and I won’t sell anything before the show opens.

TAN: Didn’t a Mary Fedden painting make £30,000 at Olympia in December? Was it from a particularly important period and why did it make so much?

PJE: People just adore her work. She always has paintings in the Summer Exhibition and they are priced at about £16,000. There are certain galleries she gives work to, but not enough to fill the demand. We are showing Julian’s late work specifically because it links with Mary’ s work.

TAN: How do you think the art scene has evolved since you opened the gallery 30 years ago?

PJE: There is more excitement now and a much broader awareness. Television coverage, art prizes and art fairs have introduced far more people to buying art. Young people are also better off and it has become the thing to buy art among the younger wealthier group. The opening of Tate Modern stimulates people and brings about debate.

TAN: What about the current market?

PJE: The market is unsettled but we don’t seem to be too affected. Many of my clients are so disillusioned with the stock market they have decided to buy a picture because at least it won’t go down in value and they will get years of pleasure out of it.