The Monthly talks to Gallery 545 owner Francesca Biondi and her upcoming exhibition at the Sea Holly Gallery – Part 1

What are your earliest memories of being interested in Art?

As a child I loved to draw and to paint. Growing up in Italy, in Tuscany, art was everywhere. There were paintings and statues everywhere, in my house, in local buildings, just walking around the streets we could see art. Where I lived, in Livorno, and I think this is true of Italy in general, art is revered. We live and breathe art and we take pride in our painters and sculptors.

The Lazaretto At Livorno, Tuscany, Italy: Panoramic View; Wellcome Collection;

Did you do art at school?

I did a little bit of art at school, I did drawing. I did enjoy painting when I had the time to do it. I didn’t go to an Art college. I gravitated towards art history and in my early 20’s I started going to exhibitions and art galleries and I haven’t stopped doing that since then. I also love to read about art and artists.

You moved to London to study?

I was studying Arts Management in London. Art isn’t as much in the open spaces in London as it is in Italy, but there are a lot of galleries. It was also at times the centre for showcasing contemporary art and I was drawn to that as well.

You then moved to Belfast?

I moved to Belfast around 2000 where I worked for Community Arts Partnership. I was one of the founding members of Platform for the Arts and I worked for Queens Street Studios. I am still involved in supporting local artists.

Why did you set up Gallery 545?

In setting up Gallery 545 I brought together all my strengths and areas of expertise: art history, my love of art and visual art, arts management, I worked in arts management for more than 15 years, and also supporting artists and arts organisations.

Ronan Bowes, The Grass is Always Greener, 2016, oil on canvas, 163 x 147 cm

And the name?

I was looking around and saw that many galleries have a name of the owner and I didn’t want to do that, and then I noticed that some galleries were using numbers and so I used the coordinates of Belfast, 55 degrees West 5 degrees North.

What lead you to setting up this project?

I left full-time work to spend more time with my children but I also looked to develop my education. I wasn’t quite suited to simply staying at home; I wanted to do other things.

I studied for a Master of Arts in Art History at the Open University, and while I loved doing that, I can say that you are pretty much on your own and you don’t have a lot of support. But I was able to pursue my passion and I did enjoy the reading and the process of understanding and interpreting the world of art and how it fits with society and developments in society.

Around about the same time I started to help artists put on exhibitions. I did this for fun initially, in fact I think I am by nature, an organiser, and I was always interested in supporting local artists.

I think it is important to say that it can be quite difficult to find the work of local artists in Northern Ireland.

Why do you say that?

I am focusing on, and Gallery 545 specialises in, contemporary art in Northern Ireland because I think there are so many talented artists here.

I think, and this is my experience it is quite difficult to find the works of local artists in Northern Ireland, because generally galleries don’t explicitly promote the artists they showcase as artists based here, but instead they promote them as contemporary artists together with other artists from elsewhere. Many talented artists are also not represented by commercial galleries, and exhibit their work only occasionally.

I felt that seeing local artists’ work was like being on a treasure hunt. Where are they? It was as if you were looking for clues. And I know how hard it is for artists. I think local artists, actually artists generally, have a huge struggle to produce the art in the first place, and then to find the time to promote, market, organise to exhibit their own work; all of that is very difficult. If you don’t have the support of a gallery it can be very time consuming and very expensive. I wanted to be part of doing something about that.

Wendy Ferguson, Pink Sky Delights, 2019, oil on canvas, 80 x 60cm

But you also have an international element to what you do?

The orientation of Gallery 545 is also on developments in the international arts scene. I am always looking at what is happening in London and in New York.

I saw that galleries were promoting artists in their own regions and that shops and galleries were struggling. I could see that more and more galleries were selling work online and that made me think that perhaps that would be a good idea here. I was thinking that we needed to find new ways to bring local art to new audiences, to look at using new venues easily accessible to people of all ages and with different lifestyles like restaurants and coffee shops.

If all of that is added together, my background, my expertise, what is happening internationally, the lack of opportunities for local artists and my desire to help and support them, especially given I think there are lots of talented artists based in Northern Ireland; that lead to the setting up of Gallery 545.

Part two of this interview is here

Francesca Biondi
Gallery 545
M 07960 130414

artist forms link
New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.