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In Conversation with the Delphian Gallery

Image courtesy of Delphian Gallery's Website

Technology, smartphones and Instagram are posing potential problems to art galleries, as they take away from a traditional face-to-face visit—and Covid-19 puts a further spanner in the works. Despite this, creative industries remain a growing provider to the UK economy, contributing £111.7bn in 2018, a 43.2% increase since 2010.

The Delphian Gallery is a London based, artist-run contemporary gallery that not only adapts to this wave of change but welcomes it with open-minded arms. The gallery aims to recognise emerging artists and redefine the meaning of curation and gallery space.

I spoke to the one of the Delphian Gallery’s founders, Benjamin Murphy, in light of the gallery’s new book “Navigating the Art WorldProfessional Practice for The Early Career Artist”. We chatted about self-censorship, the exploitation of artists, art education in the UK and collaborating with galleries.

First, it would be great to know both your backgrounds and what you do.

We're both artists first and foremost, and met in 2012 when he was running a magazine that did a feature on my first solo show Abandon All Hope. My work is primarily charcoal on canvas, and Nick's is photography.

What is the Delphian Gallery and why did you start it?

We were just discovering all of these amazing emerging artists and we wanted to share them with the world. We both have a real interest in the art of curation, and we try to apply an artistic approach to it. We see the exhibition as being one cohesive artwork, rather than a presentation of multiple individual works. As soon as you bring disparate works together, each is seen in a different context than it would have been when seen alone, by its proximity to and presentation with the others. Because of this, exhibitions that try to present individual works that are seen independently, don't really work in the way they are intended, because of the connection each work has to the ones hung either side of it. Rather than kicking against that, we try to embrace it.

A recent report from Oxford Economics stated that in 2020, the museum, gallery and library sector might lose £3.9bn in turnover compared to 2019 (-45%) as a result of Covid-19. How has Covid-19 impacted the Delphian Gallery?

Delphian is just the two of us, and so we are quite fortunate that we don't have any staff to pay, or monthly rent to worry about. Unfortunately, that isn't the case for a lot of galleries, and so we really feel for them and the struggles they are facing right now. We were able to embrace the challenges of the current pandemic without having to worry so much about things like rent etc. So, we decided to use that freedom to support some artists in what limited way we can. We launched the first iteration of the #LockdownEditions project during the first lockdown, and through that we raised over £20,000 for emerging artists, without taking a share of the profits. We are currently working on what will be the second iteration of the project, which will launch this December.

Image courtesy of Delphian Gallery's Website

In your recent book “Navigating the Art WorldProfessional Practice for the Early Career Artist”, you emphasise working with other galleries to challenge current and competitive business models. How is this new approach taking on?

I'm not sure that we'd be so bold as to suggest that we are the first ones to think of this idea, but it seems to be gaining some traction thanks to social media. In the past, people went to galleries to discover great artwork and artistsnow they discover that on their smartphones. The gallery's role has changed somewhat from what it once was, and so either they embrace social media and utilise its power, or they fight it and miss out on the incredible opportunities it can present.

In the book, you state “the Gallery is a canvas, and it is one that is often left un-painted: an unaware act of self-censorship”. In light of this statement, what should galleries consider when collaborating with artists?

I think that artists should take more ownership of how their works are seen once they leave the studio. This isn't to suggest that curators don't have a role to play, of course they do (for one we'd be out of a job if they didn't), but rather we think that artists should have more of an interest in how their works are presented once they leave the studio. All artists should read The Curator's Handbook by Adrian George.

In the book, Daisy Parris states that if she could make one thing disappear from the art world, it would be the “exploitation of young artists”. What are the current issues for young artists in the art world?

By far the most important and useful business tool that exists for visual artists working today is Instagram. It's something that has real power and can really help artists reach a much wider audience than ever before. Alongside this though, it can contribute to feelings of insecurity, and encourage people to compare themselves to others. One of the main challenges (alongside the obvious ones like being skint) is that the extreme connectedness of contemporary society, and the way we choose to present a part of ourselves on social media, can leave others feeling inferior or isolated. No two artist's careers are comparable in any real sense but seeing only the successful parts of other artist's careers can create insecurities in our own work and careers.

In Hedley Robert’s guest essay “In Pursuit of Being an Artist”, he states that the focus of UK art education has changed from the development of creativity and the subject to the increased focus on graduate readiness for their chosen industry. Do you think this is a bad or good thing?

I suppose if anyone would know the answer to that question it's Hedley Roberts, but I think both the development of creativity, and the readiness for the chosen industry are equally important, as it's hard to forge a career in the arts without both.

To finish things off, who are your current favourite artists and why?

This is a tricky one to answer, as we don't want to deride any artists by omission so the list would be endless. Perhaps a good place to look is to the artists we are working with, as obviously we really love what they are doing.

Inspired by Navigating the Art World - Professional Practice for The Early Career Artist”? Buy it here

- Delphian Gallery Social Media: @delphiangallery

- Delphian Gallery Website:

Edited by Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor


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