Paper Gallery
Paper Gallery

Paper is an artist-led gallery something, which makes complete sense when you think about it, especially when the artists running it are internationally known artists. But for those unfamiliar with the concept, tell us more about how an artist-led gallery works and why its different to your a-typical gallery?

All the people involved in PAPER are creatives - the majority of which are practicing artists and have successful independent careers in the arts. The exception is Sara Jaspan, who is the editor of PAPER Magazine. Sara is an art critic and her post was established as a talent development scheme. This also means that everyone takes on specific roles that they can manage alongside their other commitments. Also the majority of the staff team are working voluntarily because they believe in what PAPER is trying to achieve.

The gallery has grown considerably from when we started, and we have to constantly develop new strategies to continue to be relevant. One of our original intentions was to present affordable artwork to the public to encourage sales of original artwork. We wanted to build a sustainable model that would essentially support artistic practice. There seems to be a preconceived notion that art and commerce should be separate, but it is our belief that having a sustainable practice means that artists can spend more time on the development of their work and become more ambitious. Many artists in the region are funding their art practice by taking on paid employment, and we wanted to try and change this. This was our main goal in establishing PAPER as a commercial gallery.

As well as the commercial aspect to the gallery, where we sell and promote artists at art fairs, we have also set up schemes to support artists working in the Manchester region, such as our Exploring PAPER residency, and Tracing PAPER, a mentoring scheme supporting 9 artists over a year. 

Not everything is plain sailing. We recently had a funding grant declined and we have had consider new ways of fund raising. As we focus on a particular support, we also have problems with representation: not all of the artists we work are happy to continually make work on paper, so we have to have some flexibility in regards to exclusivity. Selling work on paper isn’t the most profitable. The gallery has reached a level where we want to participate in more high profile art fairs; however, the cost of participation in these fairs is far beyond what we could ever recoup in sales. 

However, having creative individuals at the heart of the gallery means that each obstacle presents a fresh challenge to us, and we have to evolve and remain relevant, and constantly reconsider what we do.

You guys at Paper, as it says on the tin, focus on artists working with paper as a medium. What made you decide to focus purely on paper as a medium and what has the response towards the concept been like from the artistic community?

PAPER was initially started by three Masters Students from Liverpool John Moores: David Hancock Nicola Smith and Andrea Cotton. At the time the three of us were all making paper-based work, and so were a number of our artistic peers. Focussing solely on work on paper became our unique selling point and provided us with an identity. There does seem to be a love for work on paper and we’ve had a very positive response from audiences.

Narbi Price - Codeword, 2016 


The Gallery itself, which opened in 2012, hosts regular exhibitions of PAPER Artists. Talk to us about the types of artists you guys work with and how you organise you exhibitions throughout the year?

We work with a diverse range of artists, all who make work on paper or with paper. This covers a diverse range of practices: painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, print, animation, performance, and artist-made books. PAPER represents 15 artists and has around a further 40 associated artists. We are keen to work with artists based in the North of England; however, it is important that PAPER has an international focus, so we also represent the work of artists based elsewhere in the UK, as well as in Europe. Our exhibition programme is made up of solo exhibitions by represented artists and curated exhibitions (curated by the PAPER team or by invited curators).

Par Stromberg - Black Metal Girls, 2016 


In 2013 you also set up an artist-in-residence program ‘Exploring Paper’, what are the key things your looking for from the residency (both in applicants and in those who’ve gained a place) and what kinds of things could one expect from undertaking the residency?

Manchester based artist, Ruby Tingle, was selected as our Exploring PAPER artist-in-residence this year. Selecting for Exploring PAPER is very difficult as we can only accept one artist from around 50 applications. The residency is another opportunity to support regional talent. The gallery is handed over to the artist to be used as a studio and still remains open every Saturday during the 6-week residency. Therefore, the artist has to engage with the public and build that aspect in to any proposal. Obviously the artist has to work with paper, but we are pretty flexible on what constitutes work on paper. After the residency finishes, the artist has an opportunity to develop their ideas before a solo exhibition around 4-months later. It is important that the artist has time to reflect on the ideas generated during the residency and not have to rush to make them ‘gallery ready’. We have run the residency for 4 years now and this format seems to have worked very well.

After the residency, we have been keen to continue working with the selected artist, and it would be difficult to not have this influence the selection process.

Lisa Wilkens - The Shadow of an Unseen Power @ Art Rotterdam 2016 


A lot of the works you show in your gallery also feature in your ‘Paper Magazine’, tell us more about the decision to create a magazine and what the process is like?

The magazine was created to develop artistic talent in the North if England. CVAN (Contemporary Visual Artists Network) had set up a scheme to support young critical art writing in the region. An intern had set up PAPER Magazine previously, but had moved on to paid position. We sought funding from the Arts Council to re-establish PAPER magazine as a talent development project to work with one of the critical writers who were part of the CVAN scheme.

Frances Disley - Intermission, 2015


This year you’ve exhibited in quite a few Art Fairs, which ones were your favourites and which ones are you thinking of doing next year?

This year we will take part in Art Projects at London Art Fair in January and The Manchester Contemporary. These have been successful art fairs for us in the UK. These art fairs raise PAPER’s profile in the UK and allow us to establish a market in here. Internationally, Art Rotterdam was a huge success for us in 2016. We presented the work of Lisa Wilkens and sold most of her work. We hope to return again in 2018. We are also keen to participate in Art on Paper which takes at BOZAR in Brussels. We had a good fair last year with Simon Woolham.