Our North East editor Lesley Guy headed west (via zoom) to chat with Rebecca Larkin, the Assistant Curator and Projects Manager of Cross Lane Projects in Kendal.
Lesley Guy: Tell me about Cross Lane Projects. How did it come about?
Rebecca Larkin: Cross Lane Projects is an independently run contemporary art space in Kendal. It was founded by Rebecca Scott, who is a painter, and Mark Woods who is a sculptor and photographer. Rebecca grew up in Cumbria but spent twenty years in London working and studying. They moved back up here in the early 2000s and I think it’s always been an interest to have an exhibition space that isn’t restricted by the rules or regulations of bigger bodies. Cross Lane Projects is in an old warehouse, it’s actually the old mint cake factory. They bought the space and converted it. On one side is Mark’s studios where he practises and it’s also art storage for Rebecca’s paintings. And on the other side they created a really beautiful white, bright box gallery space. We’ve got all this space, but we’ve also got walls that we can build in and take out, so every exhibition we’ve done over the past six years has been different. The walls go up and the shape of the space changes, which makes us quite unique in that respect, we can be quite creative with how we curate and show work. The very first exhibition was Paula Rego and Rebecca Scott with prints from Paula and Rebecca’s paintings, called Female Trouble. Now we show three exhibitions a year. One of them is the Mark Tanner Sculpture Award. They are based in London, but we work with them alongside a few other venues. Every year the previous winner tours their show, and it gets reimagined with us. We’ve also worked with the Kendal Mountain Festival and with the Lakes International Comic Arts Festival. So, it’s a really exciting space for us to try and show the art that you wouldn’t necessarily get to see up in Cumbria.
LG: What does the cultural landscape of Kendal look like? Is there an art scene?
RL: There is! It’s a relatively quiet area but there’s a lot going on with the arts. We are home to quite a few collectives and collaborative artists. Not everyone is professional, some people just do it because they love it. Kendal itself has got places like the Brewery Arts Centre and Abbott Hall, which are also pretty forward with their arts and crafts exhibitions. It was nice to be able to create something that continues the art scene in Kendal.
LG: Looking at your archive online I spotted a number of interesting talks and events. Are they popular?
RL: Even though we are free our audience sometimes needs a little help to get them through the door and we’ve found the talks really help. People are genuinely curious about how art is made, and we get lots of questions about the art works, and the ideas involved. It has helped us to build some really nice relationships; the local college is involved and some of the schools come through which is good because it allows young people to access contemporary art without having to travel to the big cities. It is a chance for students to speak to an artist and ask the questions they wouldn’t normally get the answers to.
LG: It’s always interesting to hear about the impact an art space has on the local community. Do you work with local artists?
RL: We’ve shown a range of artists. The most recent big exhibition we had was Landscape of the Gods, last year, which we are now going to take to the London Art Fair, and we had Julian Cooper and Martin Greenland who are two big names up in Cumbria. We’ve shown a lot of sculpture and quite a lot of contemporary painting, but with Landscape of the Gods we’ve been able to curate some of the more traditional paintings alongside the contemporary so it’s something we are trying to build. We want to work with a range of different artists, and we are excited to work with local artists.
LG: Would you call Cross Lane a commercial gallery?
RL: We are a commercial gallery, the work is for sale, but it is quite difficult up here. I think a lot of artists struggle to sell in the north, especially with the current climate. The majority of our contacts and even social media followers are based in the south, so we are hoping to bridge the gap by having two galleries. It’s about widening our audience and having the space in London helps massively. Everything is curated by Rebecca and the team a year in advance. We have the three big exhibitions, but we have housed a few smaller ones.
LG: I’m particularly interested in Cross Lane Publishing. Is that something you’ve always done or is it a recent development?
RL: Yes, it’s very recent, although we’ve always printed our own little catalogues, designed by me, to go with the exhibitions. They usually include an interview, either with the artist or from some other context. For the Margaret Harrison and Conrad Atkinson catalogue we transcribed an interview from Woman’s Hour that Margaret had done. For the last couple of years, we’ve done two massive shows over the summer. In 2022 we had a show called High on Hope. This was a beautiful memorial exhibition dedicated to Gerald Hemsworth, and Rebecca thought it felt right to do a bigger catalogue – a book – so we found a book designer who is based in Edinburgh, and we collaborated with her. We commissioned some writers to write a couple of pieces on the theme of High on Hope, and Rebecca wrote a short essay to go with it. The book is a really beautiful replica of the exhibition. After that we thought it would be a nice thing to continue, just do one book a year but build it into a really nice collection.
LG: What advice would you give someone interested in starting an art press?
RL: You’ve just got to go with your gut and try it. Sometimes things don’t work; we’ve had catalogues printed that looked horrendous with the colouring, and sadly with books it is quite a costly project but if you can find the right designers and printers, it’s about establishing the right contacts and building the professional relationship. For everything else, our posters etc., we use a local printer who are brilliant, and having a rapport with them makes the biggest difference.
LG: Are you looking forward to the London Art Fair? What are your plans?
RL: In 2021 it was a digital fair, all based online, which was quite unusual but interesting because obviously you couldn’t see the work in real life. Last year we took Nicola Tassie and Lawson Oyekan, two ceramics artists. And then we decided this year that we wanted to try a bigger stall in the main section, and we wanted to take paintings, so it made sense to take Landscape of the Gods. We enjoyed doing this exhibition over the summer and the group of artists worked so well together and they’re all amazing in their own right. We did the British Art Fair back in September with Rebecca’s work, so we are just building up our experience doing these different fairs. We were in Encounters Section last year, which was relatively new, but we thought we’d go big this time and see what we can do with the space and the location. It’s such a big fair, I was really surprised last year how big it was, but it was such a pleasure to work.
LG: After London Art Fair, what next for Cross Lane Projects?
RL: The next exhibition, which starts in March is Lee Holden, the winner of the Mark Tanner Sculpture Award for 2022-23, and his exhibition is called Universal Bridge. It’ll be very interesting; it is going to take him a couple of weeks to install. The show was just at Standpoint Gallery, which is a small corridor style gallery compared to ours so he will have to reimagine the entire exhibition to fit in our space. That’s what we like about the Tanner, whenever it comes up to us it looks different to how it was in Bury or Standpoint, and it’s really good for the artists to learn how to adapt their work to different spaces, especially if the show is going to tour. In May, Rebecca is going to have a solo show, so that will be a big painting show, and then in the summer we are going to do another sculpture exhibition, a selection of previous winners of the Mark Tanner Sculpture Award. It will be their 20th anniversary and we’ll be putting on a big show so do come over and see it.
Lesley Guy is an artist and writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She is currently working on a PhD at Northumbria University titled, I Am An Us: Exploring the boundaries of a shared art practice.
Visit the Cross Lane Projects website to learn more.