Art Lovers Ann and Ken Open 'Dream' Gallery

Belfast couple's two decades together inspires new space hoped to become a prestigious platform exhibiting affordably-priced works

Whether it’s creating, collecting, curating, exhibiting or selling, husband and wife team Ken and Ann Bartley have been passionate about all aspects of art for over twenty years.

They've become so synonymous with the world of visual works in fact that they named their new gallery, which recently opened on Belfast's Bloomfield Avenue, ArtisAnn.

'ArtisAnn gallery has been a ‘when our lottery numbers come up’ dream for many years,' laughs Ann. 'We both love going to art galleries in our spare time but we find that some can be very off-putting, even intimidating. We made a conscious decision that ArtisAnn would be a modern, contemporary space that people would feel comfortable walking into, where you can just nip in to view a new artwork, browse for a while, or stay for a chat.'

Keen to showcase the abundance of talent on our doorstep, the majority of works on display in the gallery are by homegrown artists, whom Ken believes don't receive the same recognition as their international contemporaries.

'Foreign artists get most of the hype,' he says, 'but just like in sport, acting and music, artists from Northern Ireland punch well above their weight on the world stage. There’s an amazing amount of artistic talent in Northern Ireland, it’s just a pity it’s not recognised and supported the way it should be.

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'People go to London to buy expensive art rather than supporting Northern Ireland artists, because they think if it’s from London it must be good. What they forget is that a lot of the artists selling there actually started over here.'

Both Ann and Ken are eager to share their vast knowledge with gallery visitors and in contrast to some spaces, all the artworks on sale in ArtisAnn are clearly labelled and there is printed information about both the artwork and the artist. Visitors can choose to simply appreciate great art or if they do want own a piece, to comfortably know how much it costs without having to ask.

In addition to the downstairs space, ArtisAnn also hosts monthly exhibitions in its upstairs gallery, with forthcoming highlights including a Brian Ballard RUA retrospective in October and literary-based artworks for the CS Lewis Festival by Fiona Lowe in November.

Away from work, Ann and Ken’s eclectic tastes extend to collections of contemporary art and memorabilia including a pinball machine, a vintage one-arm bandit and even a coveted Dalek. They have exhibited their own drawings, photographs, videos and super 8 artworks at a range of venues, from the Royal Ulster Academy show at the Ulster Museum through to group shows at both Tate Britain and Tate Gallery in London.

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Wedding from Hell by Peter Richards and Reflections by Noel Murphy

Yet despite having such a wealth to their name, the choice of which piece the couple couldn't be stranded on a desert island without is clear: 'It would be ‘Wedding from Hell’, our wedding portrait by Peter Richards,' they both agree. 'It is very large as it is the original photographic paper used to produce the picture and it takes up most of a wall in our house, so we could probably build a shelter (or a boat) with it!'

Together the pair have travelled widely pursuing their love of art, but cite both Tate Modern and the Vatican Museum Gallery as their favourite galleries in the world to visit. 'The Vatican has an unrivalled collection,' says Ken, 'from ancient Rome through to contemporary art, including some surprising inclusions such as Francis Bacon, so their art collection does not just reflect the views of the church, but those that criticise it.

'The Tate is the perfect art gallery,' he adds. 'It makes the gallery accessible and welcoming, but does not dilute the quality of the artworks. It is possible to obtain very detailed background information about the artists and the artworks, but these are not forced on the public – who can just come to enjoy the ambience of art in a spacious, pleasant environment.'

As they set off on their own gallery adventure, Ann and Ken share the same dream for ArtisAnn: 'We hope it will be the ‘go-to’ place for those wanting excellent quality work at reasonable prices; that eventually, saying they’ve had a show in the ArtisAnn gallery will add to the kudos of any artist; that we can help emerging artist take a place on the world stage, and obviously, that we can make a living from it.'

ArtisAnn will exhibit Brian Ballard – A Backwards Glance from October 6 - 29, followed by Fiona Lowe: The Life and Lines of C.S.Lewis and Literary Legends from November 3 - 26. For further information on the gallery, including opening times, visit www.artisann.org.