Brighton is renowned for its thriving and diverse art scene. However, with a lack of funding affecting art spaces nationwide, it’s a good time to take stock of our city’s free-entry, contemporary galleries. It is easy to overlook the benefits of a quick pit stop away from the bustling streets, stepping inside a gallery and making a real-life connection with a piece of art. We’ve picked out six of our favourite galleries, and found that the message is loud and clear: all visitors are welcome and valued whether you’re just browsing or intending to make a purchase. From homespun and well-established Brighton artists to international exhibitions, there should be something to suit everyone’s palette in the chosen six, but this is merely a snapshot of what is out there to discover.
The Open Studios
168 Kings Road Arches, BN1 1NB
Stepping downstairs, under the old arches, is all part of the charm when entering this labyrinth of 15 creative studios. The work on display here spans a vast range of styles, from fine art, ceramics and drawings through to textiles, mixed media and puppetry. Within a characterful art school-esque ambience, visitors have the freedom to explore and personally connect with artists running their units. The Open Studios was founded some 40 years ago by ceramicist John Dunn, making it one of the oldest art spaces in Brighton. The studios are currently co-managed by Brighton-based painter Nate Cordery, whose paintings are inspired by local landscapes and nature. Other highlights include Laura Callaghan, a newcomer to the gallery, with her brightly coloured beach and seascape collage paintings. It probably helps that she can hear the sea from her stand. While you’re there, make sure to check out the fascinating puppetry work of Michael Fowkes, a designer and performer who started out at London’s Little Angel Puppet Theatre.
58-67 Grand Parade, BN2 0JY
The Centre for Contemporary Arts is part of Brighton University, but don’t be fooled – this large, airy, newly refurbished gallery is easily accessible at street level and is perfectly located to draw in passing punters. A high standard indeed, this gallery invaded The Guardian’s top 10 Pick Of The Year for their Bill Lynch exhibition in 2022. We popped in to see ‘A Quiet Fire’ by the Malawian textile artist Billie Zangewa. It was an impressive exhibition of silk, hand-stitched, colourful collage tapestry works, with messages conveying the artist’s thoughts on identity and exploitation. Unfortunately, the university recently announced it had made the awful decision to close the gallery as part of a wider programme of controversial cuts. All future exhibitions, including a show by Helen Cammock, have been cancelled.
Liberation Art Gallery
38 Meeting House Lane, BN11 HB
Tucked away in The Lanes, and well worth getting lost for, Liberation is the newest gallery on our list. The door is left open for a reason: it was founded by Caroline Pendray, a Brighton-based art therapist who explains their ethos is all about welcoming the public, promoting connectivity, sustainability and healing through art. Exhibitions rotate quarterly, just launched is ‘Art In Bloom’ which runs until July 22nd. It’s an immersive experience: a large blossom tree takes centre stage on each floor with floral inspired art adorning the walls and plinths. Each piece is accompanied with a backstory, which is a refreshing approach that allows emotional and creative journeys to be shared. The communication is two-way with the opportunity for visitors to write their own responses on cards, which are then fed back to the artist. Viewing aside, the artwork is all for sale with around half of the artists local to Brighton. The gallery also runs workshops, all integrated with mental health, and this is something Caroline hopes to expand in future.
Two Kats And A Cow
167 Kings Road Arches, BN1 1NB
This unit is beautifully positioned; the sea, beach and gallery merge together in a light and airy arch space ensuring a visit here is a very appealing ‘Brighton’ experience. Established over 20 years ago, Two Kats And A Cow deserves attention as one of the oldest independent galleries in Brighton. On arrival we are welcomed by the humorous and bright Toby jugs of ceramic artist Mike Levy, and lots of other works by guest artists are dotted around including some delicate and expressive animal wire sculptures by Emma Bird. This gallery was founded on a friendship between three painters: John Marshall, known for his iconic cow portraits, Katty McMurray, who also produces lively line drawings of Brighton scenes, and Kathryn Matthews who depicts colourful landscapes. Our visit transported us far from Brighton’s seafront, as Kathryn’s latest collection was inspired by British Columbia and Bali, whilst Katty has a new exhibition of paintings depicting Mediterranean vistas. There will be a brand new collection of John’s cow paintings on show this summer.
Phoenix Art Space
10-14 Waterloo Place, BN2 9NB
This is the gentle giant on our list. Home to an impressive 80 artist studios over five floors, the Phoenix offers a threefold experience for visitors to the ground floor gallery space. The main art area houses rolling exhibitions: currently showing is ‘Parachute’, a portrait exhibition by London photographer Reuben Bastienne-Lewis. The Hire Project is a smaller independent room which can be booked flexibly for a short run. Lastly, the long and narrow Window Gallery is an interesting annex that mainly displays artwork by one of the Phoenix’s artists in residence and next up is a collection of abstract drawings by Stig Evans. This space also acts as an overflow to the adjoining artisan café, making it a delightful place to grab a drink, chill and view the artwork up close.
39 Sydney Street, BN1 4EP
This gallery was opened on the same site 26 years ago by painter Tania Corbett who came to study in Brighton and never left. She describes the collection as an “eclectic mix” which has made our list because an impressive 80% of the displayed work is from local artists. The ground floor has display cabinets brimming with ceramics, jewellery and a quirky range of funky broaches. As you descend the stairs the artwork dominates the lower floor. It’s ram-packed with pictures ranging from textile collages and stylized scenes of Brighton, to linear woodcut prints by Helen Brown and Tania’s own abstract paintings. It’s our most commercial gallery to be featured, thus it has a wide range of prices to suit everyone’s budget for arty gift shopping.
Brighton’s art scene is out there for everyone to enjoy and with new pop-up galleries regularly emerging, there’s never been a better time to show your support and put a visit to an art space on your to-do list.
Photos by Bernard Mills and Rob Harris