Empty Shaftesbury Shop Transformed Into Pop Up Gallery

An empty shop on Shaftesbury’s High Street has been transformed into a pop-up gallery, displaying the work of two 19-year-old art students.

Phillip Rhys Olney and Morganne Cannon-Langford have just completed a Foundation Diploma in Art & Design from Bournemouth’s Arts University.

Morganne lives in Motcombe and she has collaborated with Phillip, who comes from Salisbury, to showcase their work in the former ‘Fork And Flowers’ store. “We began working together at the start of the year but the gallery came together in the last two weeks,” said Phillip. “We had a lot of work and also sculpture. We needed a place to show it. With making art, the most important thing is the conversation aspect, with an audience. We had to find somewhere to put it up and let people see it,” Phillip explained.

Phillip Rhys Olney and Morganne Cannon-Langford

Morganne says it’s been a challenge to find suitable display venues. “We’ve struggled with ways of getting people to see it. We’ve had our work up in the Boston Tea Party in Salisbury and we’ve also done the teenage market there. We’ve tried to find different outlets. I had the idea of the empty shop and we went from there. We tried to contact as many people on email as possible.”

When Morganne emailed Shaftesbury Town Council’s Business Manager things moved quickly. “We got in touch with Brie Logan. She has been the most amazing woman in all of this. She supported us and she’s been the backbone of being able to make this happen and get it done,” enthused Morganne.

Brie, in turn, contacted Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce Executive Committee Member Virginia Edwyn Jones. As a designer and passionate supporter of the arts, Virginia was keen to help arrange for the temporary use of the High Street unit.

Morganne thinks that pop up galleries can help artists and also enhance unoccupied high street properties. “Having so much wasted space is such as shame and it’s such a great way for artists to show their work for a week or two weeks without having loads of costs or insurance problems. It’s a really great opportunity,” Morganne said.

The gallery has attracted a steady flow of interested people since it opened yesterday (Sunday 19th August). Between opening at 10am this morning and 1pm this lunchtime, 30 people had been in to inspect the installations and the art hung around the walls.

I asked Phillip what kind of comments he had received from visitors, who had literally walked in off the High Street whilst going about their everyday business. “It’s been a mixed bag,” he said. “People have said it’s so lovely to see this shop being used for something. That is to the credit of Brie and Virginia. It’s good to see something artistic coming through Shaftesbury. A lot of the work is aesthetic. People can see it for what it is – as a nice piece of art to go on the wall or sculpture to go in the garden. It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

“Our work is so different to anything Shaftesbury has really seen before,” added Morganne. “It’s quite modern. We take a lot of our inspiration from London-based artists. We really like city and contemporary styles like those at Tate Modern. That’s something that Shaftesbury hasn’t really seen before. I think that’s what people are really happy to see, from the feedback I have received.”

Phillip doesn’t think the pair’s artwork can be effectively described by using existing art references. “I think it’s something new. It is exciting. It’s young and it’s hedonistic,” he said.

He knows what his work is not. “I think that both of us would agree that traditional art, painting and drawing is not our style. There are intellectual and thought-out reasons for all of the work that we produce. I don’t think we could produce work if we didn’t,” he said.

All of the artwork is noticeably lacking in colour. Everything is black and white. “For me, it’s a control thing. I couldn’t be a painter because I would have a little freak out every time I had to mix a colour,” said Phillip. “For me, black and white is an effective and de-cluttered way of getting my point across.”

Phillip says that his work also reveals tension. “My father is a dock worker and I am the first to go to university, in October. Doing art and going on to university sets me aside from the entirety of my family. A lot of my art is exploring the anxiety that I feel as an artist. If I used more colour or if the art was more heavily produced I don’t think I would be true to myself,” he said.

The exhibition is larger than you might think when you stroll past on the High Street. I walked downstairs inside the shop to a makeshift lower level gallery. Phillip proudly showed me the first piece he made – a sculpture comprising of two different three-foot lengths of telegraph pole, split in half down the middle. One section of pole was placed slightly higher than the other, so the wood overlapped. The flat side of the pole, where it had been axed, was faced with an industrial metal plate.

“The pieces counterbalance each other and that’s the only reason they stand up,” said Phillip. “It was part of a pair. We exhibited at Bournemouth University but when I went to get them to bring them here, one of them had been stolen. We couldn’t find the other one.”

Phillip said he was gutted. “There was so much work and so many favours called-in when I was making both of them. It was really unfortunate but it was the first time that I have ever experienced this kind of thing. I will probably take it as a compliment, that somebody thought it was good enough to steal. As long as they weren’t using it for scrap wood, “ he added.

Morganne’s experience in preparing for the show was happier. She says she’s excited to be showing her art in her home area. “It’s nice to see friendly faces and the people that you know. To have connections here is really good. I went to Gillingham Secondary School before I did the foundation course in Bournemouth,” she said. “People from school have been able to come. There’s such a strong sense of community around here.”

And Morganne thinks Shaftesbury is a place where artists are supported. “I grew up with all of the different artists around, like Zara McQueen and my mum, Yvette Cannon who is a jeweller. I definitely felt supported throughout this project.”

All of Phillip and Morganne’s art can be purchased from the pop-up gallery. “It’s all up for sale, including the sculptures,” said Phillip. And the pair have had some positive results. “We decided to open yesterday because it was market day. We’ve sold two prints to one gentleman, three pieces to another lady and there is interest in one of the sculptures,” said Morganne. “It’s a good start. It’s a positive start. Our expectations were not too high. We know we are just young artists starting out so it’s been a really great thing to be able to sell so much, so soon. Hopefully we will carry on.”

Both of the artists intend taking their art further. “I am going to Chelsea to study Fine Art for three years and then I am hopefully going on to do an M.A. Art is my biggest passion. It always has been since I was younger and I’ve never considered anything else as a serious prospect,” she said.

Phillip is off to study English Language and Literature at Corpus Christi College in Oxford in October but he also hopes to pursue an art career after he graduates.

So the gallery has a limited time lifespan. “We were going to go on until Sunday but I will continue until the bank holiday, on Monday the 27th. There’s just seven days,” said Morganne.

So why should locals visit the pop-up gallery? “For an output from Shaftesbury and the local area you can’t get much better than this. We are both 19, we are extremely determined. It’s been such an effort and such a project that it would be a shame if it didn’t get the reception it needed. We’re also raising money for the Mayor’s charity, Young Enterprise. That will help us give back to other people who want to do similar things,” said Phillip.

The pair seem committed to their art. So perhaps you should buy from them before they become better known. “You never know, in a couple of years you might be able to say that you saw the Tate Gallery exhibition artists when they were just starting out in Shaftesbury,” Phillip smiled.

The pop up gallery is open each day between 10am and 3pm at 37 High Street, Shaftesbury.