Cafes, restaurants, hotels and libraries often offer up exhibition opportunities for artists. Painter Pippa Spires is currently exhibiting at the the Hameau Albert 1er hotel in the alpine resort of Chamonix, France. In this post Pippa shares her experience of planning an exhibition in a lived in space and the considerations she had to take into account.
by Pippa Spires
This winter I have the privilege of showing my work in a top hotel in Chamonix, France, an alpine resort popular with the English since the advent of mountain exploration in the eighteenth century but now welcoming tourists from all over the world and in all seasons.
It’s an exhibition space with a difference, as the hotel, the Hameau Albert 1er, has been refurbished with the idea of maximising wall space for art and offering two exhibitions each year in their lobby, lounge and bar areas.
The Importance of Planning
I began by measuring all the spaces available for pictures, and noting the colours already used in the decor. Another given was the timing of the show, in the winter season. As my work is landscape-based and our seasons bring such a visual contrast, I like to plan an exhibition so that most of the works reflect the time of year.
It’s nothing new for an artist to be asked to decorate a living area; and it’s clearly different from hanging a selection of work in a neutral gallery space. Here the challenge for me lay between the two; to present a group of paintings and drawings which would ‘sit well’ in the rooms and not battle with the existing decor, while of course transmitting an identity of their own.
Being able to hang work in adjoining rooms was a great help in separating themes and palettes. There were picture spaces on white walls and some on wooden panels. The decision to frame or not was taken in some cases right at the end of the process when we were able to position the pictures. Luckily my ‘personal framer’ was free and able to work quickly to ensure that paintings were given their full value in their allotted space.
Exhibiting as an ongoing process
As I am showing paintings and drawings of varying sizes it has been interesting, and very motivating, to create new pieces and replace works as they are sold. It has proved important to work in series, or at the very least in pairs of pictures, so as to not lose the sense of the whole. The exhibition opened in early December and runs right through to May, so making changes to the presentation is an ongoing process.
Trust your judgement while being open to the sense of collaboration
I have learned to pursue ideas which I feel are right, to trust my own judgement. There is adequate space to present different aspects of my work and the hotel’s owners have also expressed their own preferences which I have aimed to incorporate. The result is a feeling of collaboration and where there is constraint in terms of size and colour it seems only to have helped the creation process.
Know Your Space
Several visits to the hotel while preparing the show resulted in a personal response to each area. There is a small sitting room with a fireplace, for example, where I felt the colour could be more intense and intimate. Conversely, the pieces planned for the bar were less serious and more playful in tone, and ‘isolating’ this area persuaded me to experiment with totally new subjects. The hotel owns an impressive collection of crystals, found locally, and I allowed this motif to influence some of the landscapes, exaggerating certain forms and deepening colour toward a ‘mineral’ palette.
Make sure your expectations are realistic
I would say that the most important learning point for me was that even the best laid plans may not come together as you imagined – I had to set aside many hours, even days, of work when I had decided to investigate a particular subject as a series and it just didn’t come together, at least not yet, and in the time available (perhaps later I will have the skill to finish them). The challenge of a project like this is perhaps to accept your own limitations and to select to follow through on ideas which seem to have currency. In other words I am learning to see my work as a whole, as a progression and to make choices accordingly, rather than a series of individual pictures.
The opportunity to show your work is always energising, and this art project has been my biggest challenge since my first solo exhibition in 2013. The discipline of fitting the pictures to the space has been important in advancing my work process and the feedback from the public invaluable.
Thank you to Perrine and Pierre Carrier at the hotel Hameau Albert 1er, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, to Olivier Rigal for mounting and framing at a moment’s notice and to Emmanuelle Nemoz for allowing me to reproduce her photos.
Paintings and drawings from the exhibition, which is open to the public until 3rd May 2020, can be seen on my website www.pippaspires.com
About Pippa Spires
Pippa Spires studied Art at Goldsmiths’ College and Art History at the Courtauld Institute, London. After a variety of jobs she worked at British Airways for over twenty years, during which time not much painting was done. However on leaving the flying business and having settled in the french Alps, her passion for painting re-emerged and continues to develop, with regular exhibitions providing a framework and impetus.
Header Image: Going up and Coming down by Pippa Spires in the entrance foyer
Installation images courtesy of Emmanuelle Nemoz, https://anatholie.photo.blog/