Garth Gratrix

Garth Gratrix is an artist and curator living and working in Blackpool with his cat Jilly. He creates work that responds to existing material or spaces that he has worked in and is interested in abstract and minimal art as a way to explore identity from the perspective of LGBTQIA+. His work predominantly references and advocates for coastal culture, its playful euphemistic charms, its familiarity and opportunities to escape and looks at things from new and more relaxed perspectives.

Clancy Mason asks Garth some questions about his practice, films, influences and his hometown. 

 

CM:  Can you tell us a little bit about your work/practice? 

GG: I have an international portfolio with exhibitions in the UK, Norway, Iceland and South Korea. I established Abingdon Studios- a leading artist studio and project space provision in the heart of Blackpool, with programmes including WORK/LEISURE, an international residency scheme, SCAN (a new seaside curators and artist network) in development and The Coast is Queer, the first residency platform in Blackpool to support and develop LGBTQIA+ artists from across the UK. I have previously delivered programmes of activity that bring artists together to collaborate in empty spaces as part of my nomadic curatorial platform titled In Collaboration With (ICW).

I have supported over 200 artists over the last 5 years and most recently curated the UK Young Artist of the Year Art Prize in partnership with UK New Artists, Robert Walters Group and Saatchi Gallery.

My last solo exhibition was titled Shy Girl, installed at Grundy Art Gallery and supported by Arts Council England.

Shy Girl (2020) at Grundy Art Gallery, supported by Arts Council England.

CM: What is your involvement in the WGFF 2020?

GG: I have been invited to curate a collection of footage sourced and adapted from the LUX and BFI archives; in particular, to explore how LGBTQIA+  themes or past unseen footage can be seen, perhaps for the first time, or in a new way for audiences in Blackpool.

CM: If you could share any pearls of wisdom with anyone trying to get a career in the arts off the ground, what would it be?

GG: I am learning that the best way is to crack on and get something up and running yourself. Most of the work I have achieved has come through my own initiation and determination to see an idea come to reality. However, you need other people’s help, you can’t do it all yourself. Ask questions, invite people into your ideas and see how they become stronger and more realistic through shared learning. 

Understand where you fit, or where your idea comes from. That may be through history, through current politics out of frustrations about what you feel is missing culturally. However, understand that and communicate it clearly and concisely. This helps other people know how they actually can help and why you have approached someone in the first place.

Don’t chase money. Develop and progress the thing you genuinely love and have passion for. Others will feed off that and usually want to help someone that is authentic and shows personal commitment and drive. Never expect anything, none of us are entitled to something, just because we feel we have put the most work in, or we live there. It is often a game of chance and luck, but be ready and confident in your ability for when your time comes, and it will. 

Treat someone as you would want to be treated yourself. We are all always learning on the job, there is not one way to work in the arts. Be kind. Unless you are 100% financially solid on your own and can fund an lifelong career, you’ll need ongoing working relationships that are positive. Nobody likes to be or feel used in the moment, work with people you actually like and stay connected with them in a way that is mutually beneficial. 

Garth Gratrix, Cheeky Felicia, 2019. Colour installation, Abingdon Studios Project Space as part of The Fortnight with Harry Clayton-Wright

CM: Are there any career highlights you are particularly proud of?

GG: Ignoring, the above humility, I’ve done some amazing things! In all honesty I would say curating an exhibition of young artists from across the UK, in Seoul, South Korea. It was possibly the most stressful and demanding exhibitions to date, but taught me so much about communication beyond my comfort zone, flying solo in a new place and having confidence in myself to do something well that also supports others.

Also, I was particularly proud of my latest solo show, Shy Girl. It was the first time I achieved my own funding application and it created some really exciting new ideas for me and my work moving forwards and some great new collaborations with other artists I admire. It ticked a number of items of the bucket list in one go and I have a book to mark the achievement.

CM: What is your connection to Blackpool? What are the challenges and highlights of living and working here?

GG: I was born and raised here, moved away, then came back like a moth to a flame (or Illumination). My family is of football heritage, with my Grandfather, Roy Gratrix, being considered a legend player for Blackpool FC. Blackpool also has a gay community that I see as culturally significant for the UK, and one where I feel safe and welcomed. 

Challenges: Convincing the world around you that Blackpool is culturally relevant and not just a thing to reminisce over or look back at its former accomplishments. People think they know the town before they visit, this creates a difficult crowd when trying to show them something more altruistic and opportunistic as a destination that is affordable to live and work as a creative. With this in mind, it is a challenge to just be the artist you might want to be. It is still a hard career to get accepted as such, a career. It often feels like you are 20% artist and 80% convincing others that you can be an artist here. The town can take creative people for granted and can misplace its culture versus tourism priorities sometimes (in my opinion), so the trick is trying not to become free added value for others getting paid.

Seeing more artists moving here and having spaces to be able to show and develop work is something of a highlight to be involved in and help grow.

Highlights: Soooo many! Being part of a small arts ecology means you can be focussed and develop work that takes new risks, it isn’t over-influenced by a self-congratulatory circle that you might find in established art scenes and be the best version of yourself. Being able to be in an art studio five minutes away from our famous promenade is a dream come true. Seeing more artists moving here and having spaces to be able to show and develop work is something of a highlight to be involved in and help grow. Being invited to be involved in some wonderful and ambitious projects over the years and meet so many incredible minds living by the sea is a bit of a hidden gem and I’m just pleased to be part of it all.

CM: Covid-19 has been challenging for everyone. How are you managing to remain creative during this time?

GG: When covid-19 hit the UK, literally within a week, I had lost all existing contracts for 2020 (except WGFF and The Coast is Queer residency programme in development). Thousands of pounds of income removed, without warning. It was and remains difficult. However, what it has forced upon me is much need respite. Artists rarely take time off (it’s virtually impossible for self-employed creatives to do so), so I have been able to really appreciate my surroundings again and Blackpool as a place perfect for taking time away, a home from home. 

I am terrible with digital interaction, I’m feeling my age as an elder of the Millennials, but finding ways for it to be useful for me. Such as reaching out to artists I’ve always wanted to work with and perhaps not had time to strike up a conversation yet. Staying in contact with queer artists outside of Blackpool via phone has been crucial to my work as an artist and for my sanity to exchange ideas and keep friendships going.

I am reading more, my cat Jilly is oblivious and loving that I am home to sit on 24/7. I am able to run errands for the family, who, although all in Blackpool, I have barely seen. So even in this climate, I am connected more with them.

As director of Abingdon, we are still pushing forwards planning activity and commissions for artists post Covid-19, so that we can open our doors to more people to engage with arts and culture again.

CM: Here are some quick-fire movie questions:

1) CM: What film do you wish you could see again for the first time and why?

GG: Titanic, because now I know what happens. and I now hate My Heart Will Go on #donetodeath.

2) CM: Have any films influenced your own work/practice? Which ones and how?

GG: I enjoy watching artist moving image pieces from artists such as:

  • Peter Fischli (b.1952) & David Weiss (1952 – 2012): The Way Things Go, (1987). 
  • Bruce Nauman (b.1941): Clown Torture, 1987.
  • John Wood (b.1969) & Paul Harrison (b.1966): Twenty Six (Drawing and Falling Things) collection of short films/kinetic performances 
  • Mike Kelley (1954-2012): Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #1 (A Domestic Scene), (2000).
  • Matthew Barney (b.1967) Cremaster Cycle (1994-2002)

All very different artists, but I get inspired by the varying ways in which they work with objects, spaces and use film as a medium to perhaps help us understand performance, character, and identity within our everyday surrounding, whether those realities are constructed or staged or more DIY and truthful.

As a gay man, quite a few films help me brush off shame and just learn to be comfortable with who I am:

  • Beautiful Thing (1996)
  • Pride (2014)
  • The Birdcage ((1996)
  • Weekend (2011)
  • Philadelphia (1993)
  • Paris is Burning (1990)
  • Mulholland Drive (2001)
  • Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
  • Call Me By Your Name (2017)
  • MILK (2008)

3) CM: Is there a filmmaker you would like to collaborate with and what would your collaboration look like?

GG: I’d be more interested in collaborating with the artists mentioned above and how we could use film as a tool to explore ideas. If Derek Jarman was alive today, there would be a restraining order with my name on it.

Gay director, Bryan Singer (X-Men), as maybe I could get a date with Wolverine.

Gay director, Kenny Ortega (Hocus Pocus), as the maker of my favorite childhood movie a) to say thank you and b) can he take me to grab a drink with Bette Midler.

Garth’s childhood favourite, Hocus Pocus (Picture: Disney/Kobal/REX)

4) CM: Can you recommend any contemporary films / filmmakers, from the last 10 years, which you think are pushing boundaries and doing exciting things with film?

GG: Steve McQueen, the only filmmaker to win an Oscar and the Turner Prize. 

5) CM: What three films would be on your ultimate Lockdown Movie Marathon?

GG: Considering my answers beforehand, I’m in need of a bit of Hocus Pocus, Devil Wears Prada and Mrs Doubtfire in these desperate times. Good switch off easy watch movies. It can all be research and sometimes I just need to eat popcorn.

CM:  Post Covid-19, do you have any plans for the ‘new normal’?

GG: Not worrying about what normal is anymore, it can all and will always change.

Stay up to date with Garth Gratrix on  Twitter and Instagram

Header photo: Garth Gratrix, Shy Girl, solo exhibition, Grundy Art Gallery, 2020.

Harry Clayton-Wright

We had a great time working with Harry Clayton Wright, who joined the judging panel of the Winter Gardens Film Festival International Short Film Competition in 2019. We asked Harry to dream up some ideas about what he might like to create for the following year’s festival.

Clancy Mason catches up with Harry to talk all things creative, recent events and what his new project might look like.

CM: Can you tell us a little bit about your work/practice?

HCW: I’m an entertainer, theatre maker and performance artist working across mediums (stage, screen, galleries, nightclubs). Playing with form not only keeps things interesting, but also allows me to experiment with how I can channel my craft. Where and what that manifests into is what best suits the idea. I try not to limit myself creatively which makes things both more challenging and exciting. 

Having spent the majority of my twenties touring internationally as a dancer and performer in cabaret spectacles, I returned home to focus on furthering my solo practice and embark on my thirties. My debut solo theatre show, Sex Education, won a Brighton Fringe award in 2017 on its debut outing and earned a Total Theatre Award nomination at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2019. Last year, I co-wrote and starred in a short film called Deep Clean – directed by GRAMMY nominated and UK Music Video Award winning David Wilson – which was selected by SXSW, The Iris Prize in Cardiff and NewFest in New York. 

Another interest of mine is that I also specialise in durational performance. The Slumber Party was my 107-hour performance (that’s around four and a half days) where I played a teenager who wouldn’t leave her bedroom and day or night you could come and see me inhabit this character who lived in a glass fronted box. This premiered at Glastonbury and has since been performed in Australia at the Adelaide Fringe. Then last year I also debuted The Fortnight in Brighton and Blackpool, which was a two-week durational performance piece where every day for 14 days I premiered a brand new eight-hour performance piece. So, as you can tell, it’s been a varied career but one I’ve enjoyed immensely.

CM: What is your involvement in the Winter Gardens Film Festival 2020?

HCW: The WGFF is such an exciting and important event for Blackpool. After loving my experience with the festival last year – being part of the jury, seeing so many great films and attending fantastic events – I jumped at the chance to be involved again. 

In regards to my involvement this year, we’re taking inspiration from both an iconic movie superstar and local queer history crafting a performance party that recreates Divine’s appearance at the Flamingo in 1986 with an event that features newly created and bespoke visuals, in collaboration with film students at Blackpool and the Fylde College, paying homage to John Waters with the party featuring a live tribute honouring the legend herself, Divine. 

Harry chats to a Winter Gardens Film Festival (2019) volunteer

CM: If you could share any pearls of wisdom with anyone trying to get a career in the arts off the ground, what would it be?

HCW: Invest in and craft good documentation of your work. Learn how to sell your ideas and form a strong pitch. Find a USP, get a gimmick, hone your style. Create your own opportunities and take the lead. 

If you wait for the gatekeepers to let you in, or the permission to make work, you might be waiting a while. Know the marketplace, stay ahead of the curve, be iconic. 

“If you wait for the gatekeepers to let you in, or the permission to make work, you might be waiting a while. Know the marketplace, stay ahead of the curve, be iconic.” 

CM:  Are there any career highlights you are particularly proud of?

HCW: Touring the world many times over and being able to explore new places and make meaningful friendships along the way is something I’m very thankful for. To have had the opportunity to perform on some incredibly hallowed stages is something I cherish. Sex Education being so well received at the Edinburgh Fringe was so meaningful and having that connection with audiences when performing the show is always special – I was invited to take the show to Sydney Mardi Gras in February of this year which was also a dream come to true as a queer kid from Blackpool. But the process of making our short film Deep Clean and seeing an act I’d dreamed up in my house fully reimagined as a Hollywood production number and sharing that experience with not only my friend, but a director as renowned and talented as David Wilson, with such an exceptionally talented crew on board, is an experience I’ll treasure forever. 

Deep Clean: a short film directed by GRAMMY nominated and UK Music Video Award winning David Wilson – selected by SXSW, The Iris Prize in Cardiff and NewFest in New York.: Photo by STUDIOGRABDOWN

CM: What is your connection to Blackpool? What are the challenges and highlights of living and working here?

HCW: I feel so lucky to have grown up in Blackpool with access to the incredible heritage and traditions of entertainment at my fingertips and it’s had a profound impact on my life and career. Only now I’m older do I realise how lucky I am that being around these historic, beautiful and wonderful institutions – the Winter Gardens, Blackpool Tower, the Grand Theatre, Blackpool Pleasure Beach to name but a few – has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. 

It’s amazing that these experiences are normalised to us in our childhoods at such an early age. Your imagination is always so stimulated. There’s fun around every corner. As I got older and realised I wanted to become a performer, while I was aware it required dedication, achieving that goal didn’t feel impossible because of the accessibility of those experiences on my doorstep. Whenever I mention I’m from Blackpool I always feel like I make sense. Plus my complete obsession with wigs, feathers, sequins, glitz and glamour can easily be traced. 

In regards to the challenges of living in Blackpool, while there’s a really exciting arts movement in the town with so many incredibly talented artists and creatives, how I’ve been earning the majority of my living over the past few years means touring and working outside of the town. Therefore, I’ve had to be away for long periods of time and as a homebody who loves to be around family that’s always very conflicting. I’ve been constantly living out of suitcases and was always on trains or planes, so trying to find and make more local sustainable work can sometimes be a challenge. But that’s why I’m so excited to be collaborating in partnership with the WGFF to craft new work, inspired by local history, and show it on home turf. 

CM: Covid-19 has been challenging for everyone. How are you managing to remain creative during this time?

HCW: I was in the middle of touring my show when the crisis hit, so initially there was a lot of admin around postponing dates and other cancelled work/plans. Since then, I’ve been putting together an online magazine experience in the form of a new zine called You Otter Know which has been commissioned by Homotopia as part of their Queer Art Always series launching mid-June. 

Then there’s been dreaming up this new work for the WGFF which in this current climate of course offers challenges in terms of when and how. But the bonus in crafting something new is that there are no rules and now is the time to think outside the box and when it’s safe and the right time to be in a room together, we’ll be ready to provide the fun, joy and escapism!

CM: Here are some quick-fire movie questions:

1) What film do you wish you could see again for the first time and why?

HCW: Parasite. One of the best films I’ve seen in such a long time. Can’t tell you how much I loved it. 

Song Kang-ho in Bong Joon-ho’s award winning film Parasite
Image copyright © 2020 Curzon Artificial Eye

2) CM: Have any films influenced your own work/practice? Which ones and how?

HCW: The films of John Waters opened my mind and inspired a love of just making the things that you want to see in the world, Showgirls (an iconic movie experience) influenced my style of dance, Ziegfeld Follies gave me a love of SPECTACLE.

3) CM: Is there a filmmaker you would like to collaborate with and what would your collaboration look like?

HCW: Chris Cunningham. I hope it’d be beautiful, funny and fucked up.

4) CM: Can you recommend any contemporary films / filmmakers, from the last 10 years, which you think are pushing boundaries and doing exciting things with film?

HCW: Parasite, The Florida Project, Climax, The Handmaiden, beautiful and exciting films, put them on your list and watch them immediately. 

5) CM: What three films would be on your ultimate Lockdown Movie Marathon? 

  • Train to Busan (if you can cope with a zombie film at this point in time, this is excellent). 
  • Rear Window (an isolation themed classic)
  • Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (a non-stop giver of joy and a personal fav) 

CM:  Post Covid-19, do you have any plans for the ‘new normal’?

HCW: Having so many plans curtailed, I’m trying to be as open and flexible as possible to what the future holds because it looks like we’re in this for a while. I’m allowing myself to rest and feel inspired, as I’m very aware that we’re going to have to approach things differently from here on out and I want to be on full batteries for that. 

Artists and creatives have long adapted to challenges and something that feels important to me is sharing in the joy of being together and creating spaces for experiencing art, so when the time is right and it’s safe to gather again, I wanna be ready to offer that. But given that not everyone will maybe be able to be in the same room, with a lot of people having to shield and social distancing measures needing to be employed, I also want to have strategies that work in tandem with what that’ll have to look like. 

Embedding digital strands into live work going forward and employing clever alternative methods of sharing projects, so that things can be experienced by as many people as possible even if we can’t all be together.

Stay up to date with Harry Clayton-Wright on  Twitter and Instagram

📸 Header Photo Credit: Rosie Powell

Hindle Wakes (1952)

11am – 12:30pm, Saturday 23 May, Opera House

Year: 1952
Running Time: 1 hour 22 mins
Director: Arthur Crabtree
Genre: Romance, Drama

This is the the fourth (and last) screen adaptation of the famous Stanley Houghton play of the 1910s. During a seaside holiday to Blackpool, mill worker Jenny meets Alan the son of the mill owner and agrees to spend the week with him in Llandudno. 
Wanting to keep this a secret from her parents, Jenny gets help from her friend Mary to conceal her whereabouts, but disaster strikes during a boating accident. When the parents find out the truth they pressure the couple to get married, but Jenny thinks otherwise.
 
Hindle Wakes’ true star is Blackpool. You’ll see a number of familiar (and since lost) locations such as the Pleasure Beach, Tower and South Shore Open Air Baths and take a nostalgic trip back in time to the Winter Gardens of the 1950s, where you can see the Empress Ballroom, Floral Hall and Grand Foyer in all their glory.

Watch out for the Lancashire mill-workers speaking in cut-glass RP tones.

Tickets £3

Buy Tickets
 

SPECIAL OFFER:  Why not stay on for a heritage talk? Get a ticket to this film and Ballroom Glitz: 100 Years of Blackpool Dance Festival in the Grand Foyer at 1pm for just £2 extra.

Ballroom Glitz: 100 Years of Blackpool Dance Festival
1pm, Saturday 23 May 2020, Grand Foyer

Rebecca Antrobus, Showtown’s Assistant Curator, will take you on a glorious waltz through time, right back to the creation of the oldest and most famous competitive dance event, the Blackpool Dance Festival.Using archive footage and exploring the stories of the people behind its creation and huge success, this talk will explain why Blackpool is so significant within the world of dance. So grab your favourite dance partner and get yourself down to the Winter Gardens.

Need to book by phone? Please call 01253 478624.

Blackpool Dance Festival runs from 21 – 29 May celebrating and celebrates its centenary this year.  To find out more about the festival visit: www.blackpooldancefestival.com

In partnership with Showtown. Blackpool’s side-tickling, eye-popping, toe-tapping, mind-boggling museum of fun and entertainment.

Ballroom glitz: 100 years of Blackpool Dance Festival

1pm, Saturday 23 May 2020, Grand Foyer

Rebecca Antrobus, Showtown’s Assistant Curator, will take you on a glorious waltz through time, right back to the creation of the oldest and most famous competitive dance event, the Blackpool Dance Festival.Using archive footage and exploring the stories of the people behind its creation and huge success, this talk will explain why Blackpool is so significant within the world of dance.

So grab your favourite dance partner and get yourself down to the Winter Gardens.

Tickets £3.
Booking is essential

SPECIAL OFFER:  Why not head in early for a film? Get a ticket to this talk and see Hindle Wakes (1952) in the Art Deco Opera House at 11am (12:30pm finish) for just £2 extra.

Buy Tickets

Hindle Wakes

Year: 1952
Running Time: 1 hour 30 mins
Director: Arthur Crabtree
Genre: Romance, Drama

11am – 12:30pm, The Opera House

This is the the fourth (and last) screen adaptation of the famous Stanley Houghton play of the 1910s. During a seaside holiday to Blackpool, mill worker Jenny meets Alan the son of the mill owner and agrees to spend the week with him in Llandudno. 
Wanting to keep this a secret from her parents, Jenny gets help from her friend Mary to conceal her whereabouts, but disaster strikes during a boating accident. When the parents find out the truth they pressure the couple to get married, but Jenny thinks otherwise.
 
Hindle Wakes’ true star is Blackpool. You’ll see a number of familiar (and since lost) locations such as the Pleasure Beach, Tower and South Shore Open Air Baths and take a nostalgic trip back in time to the Winter Gardens of the 1950s, where you can see the Empress Ballroom, Floral Hall and Grand Foyer in all their glory.

Watch out for the Lancashire mill-workers speaking in cut-glass RP tones

____________________________________

Need to book by phone? Please call 01253 478624.

Blackpool Dance Festival runs from 21 – 29 May celebrating and celebrates its centenary this year.  To find out more about the festival visit: www.blackpooldancefestival.com 

____________________________________

In partnership with Showtown. Blackpool’s side-tickling, eye-popping, toe-tapping, mind-boggling museum of fun and entertainment.