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David Falconer & twelve years of the New Millennium Gallery

Peta-Jane Field


One day at the end of August 2008, David Falconer officially passed on his considerable artistic legacy, The New Millennium Gallery in St Ives, to Joseph Clarke, of Goldfish in Penzance. It was a day that marked the end of an era. But it also hailed a beginning.

Twelve years after David Falconer and his late partner Michael Holloway first opened the gallery, it has acquired an unassailable reputation for exhibiting some of the very best contemporary non-figurative art created in Cornwall.  Sadly Michael passed away after the gallery’s first year, and David has been assisted by Beatrice Brandt ever since 1998.

During his time at the helm, and with unerring taste, David has created a lively chapter in the colourful history of art in St Ives. His gentle manner and the kindness with which he treated his artists and his clients helped to create a gallery where people learnt to appreciate and understand art which some might consider difficult or challenging. It is good to know David is still living in St Ives, and with his expertise, will doubtless not be absent from the art scene for long.

In 1994 when David and Michael first visited St Ives, they had been collecting paintings for a number of years. In the Royal Cornwall museum’s recent exhibition of work by Henry Scott Tuke, David noticed one painting which he once owned that now belongs to Elton John. This, he feels, is in some way affirmation of his sound judgement - and the ability to be one step ahead of the game - a place where he resolutely remained.

When David and Michael first saw the building in Street-an-Pol which now houses the New Millennium, they were still living in Brighton and it was being used as a Christian Science Reading Room. David recalls, “Initially Michael had looked at another smaller building in the same street, but when I saw the building where the New Millennium is now, I just loved its size and proportions and thought it much better suited to become an art gallery. It was set in a superb location, too, opposite the Guildhall with a magnificent sculpture by Barbara Hepworth in front of it - what could be more fitting!”

At that time, there were only three commercial galleries in the town, Wills Lane, the Salthouse and the New Craftsman. Although Penwith Society of Artists and the St Ives Society of Artists had their own gallery spaces, these were run as charities rather than on strictly commercial terms. David and Michael wanted to create a serious gallery, based on their experience as collectors. Having had business dealings with London galleries, they believed they had the drive and vision to replicate the very best practice in St Ives. They felt the area and its artists deserved a thoroughly professional approach and this ethos has been the underlying strength of the gallery ever since.

Although in the beginning, the exhibitions were mixed, in 1997, Terry Duffy’s solo exhibition marked a significant turning point. “People forget now, but in the beginning, it was very hard!” David remembers, “People would comment on the lovely space and make appreciative remarks about the work but at that time, we were very innovative. We started having catalogues, which in the early days were only little A5 brochures and then as time passed, we began to use Brian Stanley as our designer and we learnt how to produce what you see today together – it was a huge learning curve for all of us!”

David is a talented amateur musician. He plays the clarinet and flute and has always appreciated and enjoyed modern music. “I think this prevented me from being intimidated by non-figurative painting because listening to modern music taught me a new way of interpreting what I heard and I have simply translated the audio into the visual – it’s all about learning how to look at something differently – maybe not initially try too hard to understand it, simply let the emotions a piece evokes come to the fore.”

This gift may have given David an insight into understanding contemporary art, its ellipses and forms, its negative and positive spaces, its balance and rhythms. However, maybe it is his interest in his artists as people which has been an important factor in the gallery’s success. Indeed, convinced that nurturing talent is tantamount, over the years, David has acted as a stalwart advocate for many a fledgling artist – work by Magrit Clegg, Sax Impey, Richard Nott and Marion Taylor formed The New Millennium’s first exhibition in April 1996 - all of whom were young in terms of artistic status. “I was always delighted to think whenever I sold a painting for an up and coming artist, I was making a positive contribution which would enable them continue creating new work.” Today, many of ‘his’ artists are now very well-established, including Jeremy Annear, Trevor Bell, Clive Blackmore, Judy Buxton, Neil Canning, Ralph Freeman, John Hopwood, Louise McClary and Mark Surridge.
The success of the gallery is due to David’s firm resolution to remain true to what he believes is pure and good, and his commitment to living artists. “I can’t deal with ‘dead’ art, I needed to have a connection with the artist, to develop a meaningful working relationship in order for me to make sense of their creativity.”
Naomi Frears is an artist who has benefited enormously from David’s tenacity to persist in working with artists in whom he had faith, and his belief that an artist needs time to develop their visual language. He relished discovering new talent for the gallery, believing different approaches and styles enhanced it. Over the years, people have learnt to trust its reputation, and many collectors marked their calendars with the dates when their favourite artists were due to have their next exhibition.

David was Chair of the Friends of Tate St Ives for four years, and he recognises the Tate's importance. “Had Tate St Ives not been in existence when we first thought about running a gallery in St Ives, I doubt we would have owned one at all. Tate St Ives gave us the confidence to open - it attracted some interesting people to Cornwall and indeed, it has given the whole town a fillip. I felt it acted as a catalyst, and local business responded accordingly, changing to meet the needs of different clientele.”

Interestingly, and ironically, the controversial Art Now Cornwall exhibition which caused such a furore early in 2007 included work by six of his gallery’s stable of artists, yet much of the debate was fuelled by the new owner, Joseph Clarke, whose gallery in Penzance was not so well represented. However, David believes that it was time for the winds of change to blow through the New Millennium and Joseph’s fearlessness will bring a welcome breath of fresh air into it and St Ives. Moreover, he will continue to run The New Millennium as a serious gallery.

David has no regrets, saying “most of my artists have become good friends.”


Photos from top to bottom: Richard Nott, 1996 inaugural show; Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham, 1997; Terry Duffy and Peter Hayes, 1998; Mixed show for Marion Whybrow's book 'Another View of St Ives'; Naomi Frears, 1999; David Falconer, 2008