40 Stories | New artists and new art in Portsmouth, Les Buckingham

New artists and new art in Portsmouth

"When I arrived as first director of Art Space Portsmouth Aspex in September 1984, Greg Palmer, one of the artists at the Brougham Road studios made a drawing showing 'Binky' Buckingham in full flying gear parachuting towards Art Space as if to save it from the Philistines! PIC 1

But the artists who founded Art Space did not need a saviour.  Their list of achievements was already formidable: they had taken over and largely rebuilt the Methodist chapel, established the studio complex, invented a gallery (ASPEX=Art Space Exhibitions), applied for funding and established a limited company. After the commitment shown by the County Council and the City, the Arts Council were able to fund the organisation but the question has to be asked: how had recent graduates tapped into the 'zeitgeist', a moment in time when social, political history is now being written – watch this space!

In the beautiful new space on the first floor the new tenants were equally ambitious, showing the most innovative art in the UK, with sculpture playing a central role. The 1970s had seen the definition of sculpture immeasurably extended both in terms of form and content and UK sculpture was being integrated into the European avant-garde. Rachel Fenner had been appointed City Sculptor in 1980 with a brief to see how sculpture could be integrated into architecture and this, along with huge input from one of the liveliest sculpture departments in the UK at the polytechnic (now the University of Portsmouth) led to exhibitions of unparalleled originality.  Fenner's was the first show at Aspex. PIC 2

Richard Wilson showed one of his first molten aluminium pieces in 1983, PIC before going on to become the father of installation art in the UK and beyond. His fascination with liquid forms, which led to the great black lake of oil, 20/50, 1987 ADD Link to Saatchi website (bought by the Saatchi brothers for a million pounds) can be traced to the aluminium seen here.  

Helen Chadwick painted the walls salmon pink forEgo Geometria Sum, in 1984. PIC  Helen went on to become one of the most influential artists of her time. She was always supportive of Aspex, allowing me to borrow work from her later in her career before her untimely death in 1996. 

Reflections, 1983, was a show devoted entirely to the work of women. Mona Hatoum, PIC,now considered one of the world's greatest living artists, performed a piece about Palestinian identity during the show. The artist spent time in a transparent container filled with wet mud, like a spider caught in the bathtub. The piece prompted one of those shock horror stories about contemporary art in the local press, with no-one connecting the red mud with the red earth of Palestine and the symbolism of the fight for freedom there that still goes on today.

This strategy of showing the newest and the best continues to this day and has become the legacy of Art Space Portsmouth and Aspex Gallery."

Les Buckingham (Director 1984-1999)


PIC 1 - Greg Palmer, BINKIE, Pen and ink drawing, 1984 (source LB phone)

PIC 2/3 - Rachel Fenner ‘Sculpture & Drawings 1973-1980’, 1981

PIC  4 Richard Wilson ‘Viaduct’ 1982 

PIC 5 Helen Chadwick ‘Ego Geometria Sum’, 1984

PIC 6 Mona Hatoum performance, 1983

PIC 7 Newspaper coverage of Mona Haloum performance, 1983