Monumental Art

Southampton born artist Sarah Misselbrook is the first exhibitor in the City’s new Bargate Monument Gallery. Sarah took a break from setting up to speak to BBC Hampshire about her new collection of work.

The Bargate, the ancient gateway to the old city of Southampton is about to begin another chapter in its 900 year history.Back in 2004, the a space gallery took up residence in the Bargate, and have spent the last two years transforming the interior of the building into a impressive white walled gallery, with the help of £70,000 from SEEDA.

It’s difficult to imagine, but the Bargate’s lofty ceilings and large south facing windows provide a surprisingly bright and welcome space. “It’s deceivingly large isn’t it?”, said Sarah Misselbrook, the first artist to exhibit in the newly named Bargate Monument Gallery.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to says ‘How on earth do you fit a gallery in that space?’ But actually, because you’ve got the ceiling height and all the openings and everything – it just works brilliantly.”

The Bargate stands in the heart of the City’s shopping area, a familiar landmark to most local people and a symbol for the city’s proud heritage.

“It’s a huge privilege because I was born in Southampton”, said Sarah. “I came back here after studying and I’ve been here ever since. So it’s actually a privilege to be recognised by a local gallery rather than them looking elsewhere – nationally or internationally.

“But it’s also a huge pressure because not only does it reflect on me but it’s also reflecting on everybody that’s worked to get this place open. We all obviously want it to be a huge success.”

Titled ‘Affirmation’, Sarah’s work reflects on consumerism and the cultural pressures (on women in particular) to aspire to certain unattainable ideals. The work is a mix of painting, sculpture, photography and video and provides a sober and sometimes startling contrast to the widespread preoccupation with shops and shopping just outside the gallery doors.

“I’m not preaching to anybody”, added Sarah. “Obviously there is a strong agenda behind the work and a message, but it doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t understand it fully. It’s probably more interesting if they bring something new to it.”

Sarah has also just received further acclaim from Southampton City Art Gallery, with the news that the piece she entered for a recent open exhibition is to be added to the gallery’s main collection.

“It’s absolutely amazing”, she said. “One of the stipulations [for entry into the exhibition] was that the work couldn’t exceed a metre in any direction…. So I penciled it onto the floor and cast my body curled up into the foetal position”, she said.

“The idea of actually having a piece of work in a major public gallery is probably something I  wouldn’t have dreamed of having… and it just proves that the established galleries around are supporting this type of venture.”