Toby Paterson on the Hatton Gallery commission for a touring pavilion

Toby Paterson has delved in to the history of the Hatton Gallery and found an archive of inspiration that is close to his heart. When an open call was made for artists to present proposals for a pavilion that would tour Newcastle and Gateshead whilst the gallery undergoes a £3.8million refurbishment, it was a call he was always going to answer.

Drawing on seminal works from their illustrious collection, his modernist design has fended off rival proposals from Catrin Huber and collaborating duo Harriet Sutcliffe & Jack Mutton to see him named as the artist selected for the Hatton Showcase commission. The three final shortlisted designs are on display at the Laing Art Gallery until 23 October 2016, where Corridor8 went to find out more about the project and meet Glasgow-based artist, Toby Paterson and Julie Milne, Chief Curator of Galleries at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums.

Nestled within the grounds of Newcastle University, and comprising part of their distinguished Fine Art School, the Hatton Gallery has a culturally significant history that dates back over ninety years. Often perceived as a hidden gem, Toby Paterson explains he has had a long-held interest in this intriguing gallery ever since a return trip from Victor Pasmore’s Apollo Pavillion (1969) in Peterlee took a slight detour.

“This was back in 2000 or 2001, on the way back north I stopped off at Newcastle and went to the Hatton Gallery and looked at the Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Barn Wall (1947) and some Pasmore prints that were up at the time. That was the first time I had really visited the gallery and it completely cemented it in my mind as this place that has this historically significant connection with 20th century art, it is quite unusual, you come across it in quite an unexpected way.”

Paterson says this idea was confirmed when he began exploring the breadth of work held in the gallery’s archives and learned more about Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton’s involvement, both of whom also taught within the university’s Fine Art Department.

“I’m a painter with a specific interest in architecture, yes, but underpinning that is an interest with what happened with modernism I suppose, and what is continuing to happen with modernism in art and design terms, as well as in a purely architectural framework. And when you come across people like Pasmore and Hamilton and you look at them in context, they’re completely salient to that whole moment, not just in the UK, but internationally as well. It’s just the Hatton has this feeling that underpins a lot of significant history, in a general sense and for me personally as well. It’s somewhere I’ve really had a growing connection with for the last fifteen plus years, so it’s great to have a chance to delve in to it a bit more.”

Julie Milne previously worked on the 2004 refurbishment of the Laing Art Gallery, the Chief Curator of Galleries at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums discussed how the pavilion is part of the Hatton Showcase, an offsite programme that is aimed at developing a wider vision for the future of the gallery.

“It’s an opportunity to reach out to a broader audience by positioning the essence of the Hatton in different kinds of cultural locations. Part of this is an aesthetic representation of what the Hatton is all about and a new vision for the Hatton, which is based on key artists who’ve worked in the Fine Art Department producing innovative artwork or like Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Barn Wall – which Richard Hamilton and Fred Brookes rescued from Elterwater and brought to the university. Pasmore and Hamilton are major international British artists, so there’s that key moment in history when they were doing innovative things in terms of art practice and that’s kind of the basis for exploring the history from the modern period to contemporary practice now.”

The work of Pasmore and Hamilton has had a big influence on Paterson developing his own identity as an artist. When asked to explain what draws him to the avant-garde duo he says “one thing, in terms of taking them as a pair, is their seeming incompatibility. They disagreed about so much, which I think is really interesting. Pasmore was definitely on this kind of more, certainly latterly, maybe humanistic, spiritual end of seeking a symbol, working towards trying to develop this independent language of painting and visual art. Whereas Hamilton had all these machine age come pop cultural interests that on paper, you ask how could this pair ever actually agree on anything? But then you can imagine the dynamic between them when they were both teaching at the university being really amazing, because in many ways they’re kind of poles apart and that can be great. A very productive tension can come out of that relationship.”

“I studied at Glasgow school of art in a period when there was still this big hangover from that sort of eighties new expressionist painting thing and I was implacably opposed to that. Richard Hamilton has kind of blazed a trail of objective and intellectual nature that is much more akin to the work that I am interested in. And then I kind of came across Pasmore towards the end of that period, in the late nineties I guess, and he on the one hand represented this thing, abstract, what’s the point in abstract painting in this day and age? Then I found out, ‘but wait, he designed a town?’ ”

Paterson is speaking of Peterlee, the home of the Apollo Pavilion and a small town in County Durham that Pasmore had a role in designing during the 1950’s. “Ultimately what’s fascinating about that is the absurdity, and you know I’m so delighted that it happened, it’s such an unusual place, problematic, but fascinating; an abstract painter designs a town. That’s worth exploring, and starting from a position of being quite critical of him and his ideas, I’ve basically been seduced by his work and his approach to being an artist, as much as I historically have been by Hamilton. These are kind of figures who you just learn a vast amount from, even if it’s not visibly impacting on the work that you’re doing.”

Tasked with drawing on inspiration from the Hatton’s collection, Paterson’s design resonates with Pasmore and Hamilton’s seminal works An Exhibit (1957) and Man Machine and Motion (1955). Incorporating modernist and abstract elements, his strikingly beautiful design is purposefully open to invite the public to pass through the structure on their day-to-day routine. Three separate large coloured metal panels will be used to display a series of posters that profiles the gallery, which was part of the brief that Paterson explains called for a fusion of many ideas.

“It’s got to be an artwork with a degree of integrity itself, it’s got to address this historical context, it’s got to address a shift, a changing public context, and it’s got to relate back to another space, and it’s got to exist in these public situations in a way that it’s not just this thing dumped, hence this idea of having it change day to day by applying posters from the archive. In addition to these reproductions, there will also be a series of new posters that I am going to be developing out of my engagement with the works out of the Hatton collection. So there’s a lot going on within it, and the brief called for quite a lot going on within it, but it’s how to synthesise all that in a way that’s not going to just look like a complete dog’s dinner is the challenge!”

Architect firm Harper Perry will be collaborating with Paterson to make his vision a reality. Current plans are to have the pavilion spend a period of time at Baltic Square, Newcastle University, Saltwell Park in Gateshead, outside of the Laing Art Gallery and Grey’s Monument – with the possibility of an additional venue near Newcastle Central Station. Commenting on the challenges this in itself will pose, architect Claire Harper says that “you can see from the model it’s quite well resolved in terms of what Toby wants it to be and it’s very elegant and fine in detail. So it’s keeping that whilst also making it so it can be taken down and rebuilt and that can happen multiple times without it looking really knackered by the end of the run.”

This is just one element that makes this project very different from the previous pavilion Paterson designed for Potters Field Park in London, a work that he says is his favourite public project to date. “I think what was interesting about the Powder Blue Orthogonal Pavilion (2008) was that it was very consciously functionless in a way. It was a very physically and visually light thing that landed in amongst all these incredibly sort of instrumentalised architectural images of Tower Bridge and City Hall and big commercial developments, HMS Belfast on the Thames just a couple of hundred yards away, and the Tower of London on the other side of the river. So all these incredibly heavy symbolic things and then in the middle of it, in this public space is this little light thing. Those who took that route on their way to work would say ‘what’s that? I’m not sure what that is? It doesn’t appear to be anything.’ ”

“Then there was one day in 2008, in the summer, the pavilion was there, I came down to London for other reasons, I went to check on it and it was a beautiful sunny day. The more London adjacent commercial development has these sort of Bordeaux, Barcelona style fountains that come out the paving. There’d been a load of toddlers playing in the fountains, their Mums had hung their t-shirts up on the pavilion and I was like, ‘Yes! We did it!’, and that’s the point at which I thought it had worked and I couldn’t, wouldn’t, of dared hope for anything as good as that to happen.”

Whilst there is a promotional aspect to the Hatton Showcase pavilion that his previous work did not have to embody, it is not difficult to envisage this pavilion also becoming a multi-functioning communal space for the public. The model on display in the Laing Art Gallery provides a representation of exquisite, yet minimal detail, even showing how light and shadow will play across the structure and change as time and location moves on. Just like An Exhibit (1957), various perspectives will form unique compositions, something that Paterson said was an intentional design.

“The kind of parallax thing that happens. Yeah, absolutely, that was a consideration with the pavilion in London too, which in scale and intent is the precedent for this, but it’s also about the view from within the structure out to the surrounding environment, which is a reference in a way back to the Apollo Pavilion. The first time I went there I climbed up and got inside it – this is way before its renovation – I thought how it was as much about how it frames its context as you’re looking out from it as it is looking at it as a sculptural object and the London pavilion did that. It kind of visually defined its surroundings, so you’d look towards the city and you’d get a pillar-box view with the Gherkin sticking up. In a relatively small scale in the built environment, these sort of objects can help define their surroundings as much as they’re defined by what surrounds them.”

Once constructed, it will be intriguing to see how the pavilion frames the context of each venue when it begins its tour of Newcastle and Gateshead in March 2017.

Images: Hatton Showcase: Designs for a Touring Pavilion, 2016. Installation view, Laing Art Gallery. Catrin Huber, Toby Paterson, Harriet Sutcliffe & Jack Mutton. Photo: Colin Davison; Toby Paterson. Photo: Johan Nieuwenhuize; Toby-Paterson, Powder Blue Orthogonal Pavilion 2008. Courtesy the artist and The Modern Institute and Toby Webster Ltd Glasgow. Photo: Richard Green.

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Published 19.10.2016 by Rachel McDermott in Interviews

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