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Hanging at castle
The O3 Gallery, housed in a circular stone tower in the Oxford Castle complex, has hosted a new exhibition nearly every month since it opened in May 2005. It showcases the work of artists just beginning to make a name for themselves and giving them a great chance to show - and sell - their work to a wider public.
The split-level gallery space, although not huge, is atmospheric, with rough-textured painted walls, stone floors and versatile, high-tech lighting and hanging systems that make it suitable for showing a wide range of work.
Glass cases of delicate tissue paper sculpture by Belinda Durrant, Peter Lavery's bold, almost hyper-real photographs of beautiful, decaying flowers, and colourful architectural prints of Oxford and Cornwall by James Vinciguerra, are just some of the exhibitions that have impressed visitors.
O3 has recently recruited a new manager, Sophie Egleton, who aims to increase its profile and triple current visitor numbers.
She studied both art history and arts management, has worked on curatorial projects for galleries on the south coast, and did work experience at Pallant House in Chichester, an acclaimed gallery that earlier this year won the £100,000 Gulbenkian Prize for museums and galleries.
Miss Egleton stresses that O3 is not a shop-type gallery, but an exhibition space that offers a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere for all visitors, whether or not they are in the market for art.
So if you are waiting for the start of a theatre performance, or have just finished a meal at Carluccio's, you can wander in for a look at the latest show.
It is, nonetheless, a commercial gallery dedicated to developing a buying market in Oxford and helping artists sell their work.
Preview evenings are important, because these are when most work is sold. Creating the right kind of mood and inviting as many potential art collectors as possible is the key to success.
To date, the average price of works sold has been between £450 and £1,000, so they appeal to people who are not super-rich, but have some spare cash to invest in contemporary art.
A major benefactor of Pallant House, the architect Colin St John Wilson, purchased his first art work with his £35 Navy demob payment in 1945, and built up a fine collection by buying works from artists such as Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi early in their careers, while they were still affordable.
Some of the stars of tomorrow may well be exhibiting at O3.
Miss Egleton would like to develop links with local business people who are interested in purchasing art works, perhaps to make a bold statement in their reception area.
Certain works, because of their scale or style, are more suited to this kind of setting than a domestic interior. The gallery is also available to hire for business events.
The intention is to generate just enough profit to cover costs and make O3 sustainable. Its real purpose is to act as a launch pad for artists.
As a result, the gallery charges just 20 per cent commission, compared to the more typical 40 per cent of many galleries.
O3 was established through a partnership between Trevor Osborne, the developer of the Oxford Castle site, and OVADA (Oxfordshire Visual Arts Development Agency), which in 2005 set up an innovative gallery in Gloucester Green, and is helping local artists to develop a strong, supportive network and make a living from their work.
Miss Egleton is encouraging submissions from visual and applied artists who want to be considered for exhibitions, suggesting they come in first to look at the space.
"The idea is to have a whole range of artistic practice - textiles, ceramics, glassware, jewellery, etc - not just painting and sculpture," she said.
Priority will be given to artists based in Oxfordshire and the South East. Every year, Artweeks exhibitions and open studios demonstrate the wealth of talent that exists in the county.
She will also be talent-spotting at local college and university degree shows.
O3 offers its chosen artists lots of support when putting an exhibition together. A show has to have a theme and coherent structure, so works are chosen carefully.
Miss Egleton will also help artists with pricing, assist with any special technical requirements, and work with them on their artist's statement.
Publicity and marketing includes targeting visitors to Oxford Castle and cross-marketing with other venues, such as Modern Art Oxford.
O3 also provides work experience for local fine arts and arts management students.
"I'll be looking for students who are interested in developing their skills in gallery management, curating exhibitions, and marketing," said Miss Egleton.
Some people in the art world believe that it is impossible to develop significant buying markets for art outside London.
Cities such as Brighton, Manchester and Oxford are beginning to prove them wrong.
n Contact: Call 01865 246131, or visit www.o3gallery.co.uk