StrayArt with Johnny Messum: The Inside Story


Last updated Nov 23, 2020

StrayArt is a monthly column written by Johnny Messum, Director and Founder of art gallery and centre, Messum’s Wiltshire, London and Harrogate. Johnny’s passion is for contemporary art and sculpture.

Each month he will look at art, exhibitions and events across Yorkshire and sometimes further afield with the aim of guiding and inspiring us.


Setting out to write for the Stray Ferret – which I am delighted to see is going from strength to strength – I had in mind that my articles would look first at Art in the landscape in its last flush of autumn and then look at Art inside. I had not appreciated that we would all follow these instructions so assiduously!

Our home may be where our heart is, and it is also a place that is playing an increasingly important role in our lives, acting as the location of not just living, but work, and often indeed of socialising, which is done increasingly on-line nowadays. There is even a subgenre of interior design specialising in the perfect backdrop for your online video calls. But is your collection just for show for others to see, and if not does it really matter how it is presented? The answer is yes and no to both questions.

Glass art by Dante Marioni, Elliot Walker, Makoto Kagoshima

If you are thinking of collecting it is easier to say what you are not doing than what you are. For example, I am not interested in only buying ceramic works by British designers from 1950-1965, or I am only buying in the price range of £x, or I am only interested in furniture with mouse carvings on them.  Some of the greatest collections have been inspired by very simple principles and not always with big budgets. Most collections I have visited or taken part in designing have always had to concede to the object and give objects primacy in the visual narrative.

But how do we live with Art? I hope you will go along with me if I suggest that Art is not just the object but also the process of how it is made – and that process gives an object its beauty. I am not an interior designer but what I do look at – and very good interior designers do this too – is the materials and the craftsmanship of an object. So in that sense a contrast can work really well. For example, well made vintage furniture – Heals mid 20th Century – with craftsmanship and good design – can set off something really expressive and even unruly. Contrasting materials is really satisfying as well, and Glass is a material at the heart of European art history and yet all too rare in this country.

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Well placed objects can be an inspiration on a daily basis as we pass them or stare at them over the top of a desk top. They are portals to the world of their creative makers, to memories of when they entered your life and assets to enjoy. So think about them as characters and imagine who or what they would like to share space with and you have probably latched onto your next thing. Remember matching is pleasing but contrast is interesting.

When we come off lockdown on 2 December and you wish to look at beautiful and beautifully made objects and see how they are displayed, I recommend visits to Temple Newsam in Leeds and the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle – each offering important collections of European fine and decorative arts in room settings – real treasure houses in a county so rich in country houses.

Messums Yorkshire, 4-6 James Street, Harrogate is usually open Thursdays to Saturdays from 10am – 5pm. The exhibitions of glass artist Dante Marioni and artist Charles Poulsen are now extended to 2 January, due to closure until 5 December, following government guidelines.

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