Finding the next artistic genius has moved into the laboratory where secret pigments are being concocted, to an artist’s specification and who knows, the resulting creative effort might indeed herald a new star. The nondescript white five-storey block backing onto the busy A40 in west London belies the creative machinations inside. On the top floor are a group of discreet men and women in white lab coats mixing up the next big discovery in pigments and looking to unearth the next hot property of the art world.
- Read more: Winsor & Newton timeline
Welcome to the headquarters of Winsor and Newton, purveyors of the best artist materials to some of the world’s most accomplished artists; LS Lowry, Edvard Munch, JMW Turner and John Constable. It was founded in 1832 by British painter Henry Newton and chemist William Winsor in what was considered a marriage of science and art. The collapsible tube first launched by the firm based at a small shop in 38 Rathbone Place in London’s Fitzrovia made on-site painting possible and fuelled the impressionist movement in Europe.
Heritage: [Clockwise] JMW Turner collaborated with Winsor & Newton, the firm’s products, LS Lowry painting; the artist used the firm’s materials, a Turner painting and the company’s factory
The duo continued to break new grounds with their Rose Madder pigment producing the world’s most light-fast grade to a recipe from 1806, using madder root from Iraq and Turkey. Other pioneering list of artists’ materials soon followed; Carmine pigment, the traditional crimson dating from the 16th century produced from female cochineal beetles; Collapsible metal tubes which replaced pigs’ bladders in the 1840s, ‘Fat Oil’ (sun thickened linseed oil) a non-yellowing oil developed in the 19th century to speed up the drying of oil colours and moist water colours first invented in 1835.
Now with a huge chunk of the worldwide market for allied arts materials used by established and emerging artists, art students, crafters and children, the firm has now turned its attention to finding the next big names in the art world. In 2012 it set up a gallery and the Griffin Art Prize, a six-month residency for the winning artist and an endless supply of all the goodies Winsor and Newton produces.
Becca Pelly-Fry, Director of the nascent Griffin Gallery, named after the company’s mythological dragon symbol says the company is not unduly worried about getting into bed with artists. She explains: “We think art should be an organic process between us and the artists who use our products.” And what better way to bring on the next generation of artists than to support them at the early part of their careers through the annual Griffin art prize now in its fourth year. One of the perks of the residency is the opportunity for the winning artist(s) to work with the firm’s in-house chemists to explore new materials and techniques. In a bid to discover the next watercolour wonders the firm also sponsored the Winsor & Newton’s Water Colour Revolution at The Saatchi Gallery last year.
She however acknowledges setting up a gallery and establishing a voice in London’s crowded arts scene has been challenging. Before she arrived, Winsor and Newton ran the gallery space as an ad-hoc venture and left the space to the whims of artists. But the gallery has gradually begun to find its niche promoting the work and practices of artists who use traditional methods and craftsmanship to produce their works. Pelly-Fry says: “I am not a big fan of unmade beds.” She believes strongly in the ethos of the contemplative artist who mulls over minute details and produces a well-honed piece of work.
The gallery’s 2014 exhibition titled, Perfectionism signposted its direction of travel. A collection of works ranging from etchings, drawings, watercolours, and works on acrylic and paper mainly from a select group of artists using traditional and established methods favoured by the firm. Its follow-up presentation, Perfectionism II, seeks to investigate the act of repetition in creative endeavours and how it might lead to the perfect work of art.
Tracey Emin need not apply.
Perfectionism II is at The Studio Building, 21 Evesham Street, London W11 4AJ, from 8 October – 13 November 2015.