It’s been a busy time at New Light recently with a new CEO taking over the reins from Annette Petchey and a new committee in the offing. Annette will still be involved as a board member but has handed over the day-to-day running of the charity to Emerson Mayes. A practising artist, Emerson has been a Director for New Light for the past two years. He will be assisted in his new role by recently appointed Operations Co-ordinator, Penny Hartley.

We caught up with Emerson and asked him about his involvement with New Light and the plans he has for the Prize Exhibition, the Collection and the charity more generally.

What first attracted you to New Light?

It was definitely the chance to give something back in a profession which has provided me with so much enjoyment and satisfaction. I especially liked New Light’s focus on the North of England; as a Northerner myself, I really value the opportunity to shout about a part of the country I feel incredibly passionate about. Once I’d seen the enthusiasm of Valeria Sykes, our patron, and Annette Petchey, the founder of the charity, it was impossible to say no.

What will your new position entail?

Overseeing all three arms of the charity; finding and dealing with potential and existing Prize Exhibition venues; working with schools and other public institutions on our exciting new venture, the New Light Collection; finding funders; the list goes on… Of course, there’s also the important aspect of keeping an eye on the finances. It’s absolutely crucial when you’re a small charity that you get the best possible value out of every pound you spend. We’re also constantly on the lookout for new and interesting ways to grow New Light and further promote the great art being produced in the North.

Emerson’s ‘Jaunty Jay’ from the New Light Collection

Which aspect of the role are you most looking forward to?

Making funny speeches! Actually what I’m really excited about is working with talented Northern artists – ones that I already know and the new ones we’ll discover along the way. Annette’s hard work over the past six years and Valeria’s continuing generosity have provided us with an excellent foundation to advance to the next level, and I’m looking forward to all the challenges that’ll bring.

Do you think being an artist yourself informs how you approach the role?

It certainly gives me an insider’s knowledge of the ins and outs of an artist’s life, and the pressures they face, be they creative, administrative or financial. I hope it also gives artists confidence in New Light and what it offers.

Why do you think artists need a charity like New Light?

A couple of things spring to mind. Firstly, there’s great talent in the North of England which is often overlooked and under-represented in a London-centric art world. Secondly, we want to highlight and promote those artists whose practice is rooted in a skills-based approach, from purely abstract print-makers to highly representational portrait painters, many of whom are currently deemed ‘unfashionable’ in certain circles; celebrating art where the actual finished object is as important as the intellectual concept behind it.

Mayes_Emerson 'From the White Horse' oil on panel, 60x60cm (High Res)

‘From the eye of the White Horse’ 

What are your plans for the coming year?

We’ve got a busy year ahead, probably our busiest yet as we kick off another two year cycle of the Prize Exhibition and all that entails, from the call for entries and the judging to the open night at the Bowes and touring, including a big show in London towards the end of 2018.

Alongside this, we’ll be launching the Collection which has grown to an incredible 50 pieces of work thanks to the generosity of all the artists who have kindly donated paintings, prints and drawings – and Service to the Arts in Leeds who gave us the money to finance the project at the outset. We’re also aiming to increase our Art for All work, introducing more children and adults to contemporary art and the pleasure it can bring, and we’ll continue to look for innovative ways to raise the profile of New Light and Northern art and artists across the country.

What is your vision for the charity longer term?

Visual arts and the arts in general have a very important role to play in society today, which is why it is depressing to see them becoming marginalised in the school curriculum and falling prey to Government cuts. In this challenging environment, it’s up to charities like New Light to step up and fill the void. We particularly want to continue increasing accessibility to contemporary art, particularly among those groups who encounter more barriers than most.

Emerson at work in his studio. Photo Credit: Sam Toolsie

Why do you think it’s important to hold a New Light Prize Exhibition?

I know through my own experience of winning awards that they build your self-belief and bring you to the attention of art buyers and other important people in the art world, both of which are crucial for success. In fact, I got my first solo exhibition soon after I graduated as a result of winning a Prize Exhibition.

Do you have a favourite Northern artist?

Like a hungry-eyed child in his favourite sweet shop, there’s simply too many to choose from. One of the pleasures of being involved with New Light is seeing the amazing quality and variety of work which continues to be produced by today’s artists, quite apart from the big names from the past.

What was the first piece of art you bought?

A Yorkshire etching by Norman Ackroyd. My parents and brother all contributed towards it for my 30th birthday. I clearly remember the thrill of going to the gallery to choose which one I wanted and eventually leaving with my chosen work tucked under my arm!


And finally …  Curly Wurly or Sherbet Fountain?

Has to be a Curly Wurly every time!

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