A conversation about life and art with Beth Junor of the Junor Gallery
By Helen Cameron
Last semester I sat down with Beth Junor, owner of the Junor Gallery on South Street which opened last year, to learn about the ins and outs of running a gallery and discuss some of the fabulous art that the Junor gallery is home to. Not only is Junor passionate about the diverse collective of artists whose work she exhibits in her gallery, she also possesses an impressive wealth of knowledge about art and working in the art world. Junor attended St Andrews for her undergraduate degree in Fine Art, before the Art History Department went academic as it is now. She loves St Andrews, describing the town as a ‘friendly, positive place of coincidences’ where there is always someone to bump into, and something to look forward to just around the corner. We discuss how this is an environment conducive to innovation and the arts, and how it seems each year the town is ‘upping’ its game. The combination of locals, international students, skilled athletes, amateur golfers and visitors that make up the patchwork of St Andrews a lively one for art dialogue and appreciation. Our town is small but it is packed with internationally-minded events, music and visual arts; she highlights the Byre, On the Rocks and StAnza as just a few hubs of impressive talent and is also thrilled about the development of the V&A in Dundee. It is the right time and place for her gallery and herself to be.
When discussing the reasons for the strong roots and links to nature in the art scene in Scotland, Junor highlighted how deeply the patchwork history of the country has always been embedded in the arts-and-crafts scene. This is particularly true in Fife, as locals and tourists alike become easily besotted with our charmed literature and history. The unpredictable and dramatic weather, ancient monuments and unique spirit of the people leave an impression on visitors and artist alike.
When I visited the gallery several works focused on the physicality of maps. The map print with stencil painting above caught my eye and I asked Beth the significance of the wolves and their clashing colours and directions - did it have any reference to Rome’s foundation myth? Beth tells me that Manning is coy about the exact meaning, but the dates in the bottom right and Gotenberg (the largest city in Sweden) do have significance. The viewer is left to mull over the work and piece together the message like a puzzle. The piece below is Brexit Passport Map by Yanko Tihov (45cm x 45cm) Tihov’s work involves filling the shapes of outlines with their related passports and makes for a thought-provoking image, imagining the separation of Scotland from England and the unification of Ireland in a post-Brexit context, but unified by the running frame of the Scottish, Irish and English and Welsh passports as a border.
In addition to the artistic sensibilities and message of the gallery, we discussed the practical side of the gallery business, which often dominates the day-to-day activity. As someone who would eventually like to open my own creative space, Beth gives me sound advice; sometimes you can miss the creative part as things like paperwork and calls pile up to take a large chunk of your energy. Something in particular, which many tend to forget, is how much work is involved after a sale is made. Every job obviously has more to it than meets the eye, but in galleries this is particularly true. It takes a lot behind the scenes work for the smooth lines and clear walls that make a gallery space an interior haven for the artwork to flourish.
The role that galleries play is important, as visiting them can form the basis of our artistic sensibilities. When working in London in a demanding work environment, Beth says she ‘survived by going to galleries’ like the Courtauld, Wallace Collection, the National and small commercial galleries in the West End. This experience is all too familiar to many who love art but just are not able to work in the field. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to spend time on creative pursuits or artistic appreciation but what is important to remember is that whether one is heavily involved or not, the arts are for everyone; for respite, relaxation or inspiration. As many of us taking art history classes know, you can sometimes feel guilty for doing a degree so enjoyable or even finding yourself explaining exasperatedly why ‘it’s so great’. Visits to galleries and analysing paintings not only trains the eye, but trains your mind to make connections between movements, historical figures and imagery, all with an exposure to political and social issues through artistic expressions of the past. It is good to remember that the critical thinking and reflection that comes with this degree is an asset, which we can apply to all of our exciting post-grad plans.
My conversation with Beth was a lovely reminder of how great a place St Andrews is to study because of the resources and opportunities available for an art lover. Make sure to pay a visit to the gallery and see some of the works for yourself! Something exciting to put in your diaries is the upcoming solo show by the French artist Laurent Dessupoiu. According to the gallery website ‘many of Laurent’s text-based works take poetry quotations as their subject matter, so his exhibition was planned to coincide with StAnza.’ This will be the first showcasing of Laurent’s work in the UK and is not to be missed! The show runs from 3rd March – 2nd June. The gallery is also supporting the StAnza poetry festival, 8th – 11th March, with an excerpt from the inaugural exhibition, Maps of the Imagination. Yanko Tihov’s Passport Maps series merging with this year’s StAnza ‘Borderlines’ theme.