New Ingleby Gallery is a work of art

Work by Callum Innes at the new Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh
Work by Callum Innes at the new Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh
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In the former ‘Kale Kirk’ on Barony Street, the Inglebys have found the perfect exhibition space

Noon is the magic hour at the new Ingleby Gallery. If the sun is shining at midday in the new exhibition space – a former religious meeting house – the coloured glass in the octagonal cupola casts a perfect circle of golden light on to the back wall. It’s just one of the things the Ingleby team are discovering about their new home.

When I visit, the finishing touches are being put to the space in time for the opening on 12 May. There’s still a stepladder on the stairs and some of the offices lack desks, but in the main gallery, the first show is complete: a group of five paintings by Scottish abstract artist Callum Innes.

“When we got the scaffolding down and let the light in, we realised it’s basically a sundial,” says Richard Ingleby, proprietor of the gallery with his wife Florence. “The contractors who were working on this building loved it because every single line is perfect. It’s the most incredible building; a lot of thought went into it.”

The former Glasite meeting house on Edinburgh’s Barony Street is the latest home for the gallery, which sold its Calton Road premises in 2016. The Inglebys opened the gallery in 1998, one of the first commercial galleries in the city dealing in contemporary art, and ran it for ten years from their Carlton Terrace home. In 2008, they moved to much larger premises in a former nightclub on Calton Road, but later admitted they had over-extended at a time of financial downturn. The business returned to Carlton Terrace, but they kept a look-out for a new space.

Tucked away on a residential street a stone’s throw from the thoroughfare of Broughton Street, this is the sort of building one could pass without noticing. From the outside, it looks almost domestic in scale, although the large meeting hall had seating for 700 in tightly packed box pews.

The Glasites were a presbyterian sect, founded in the 1730s in Dundee by a maverick clergyman, John Glas, and once had meeting houses all over Scotland. They broke their lengthy services for kale broth in the “feast room” upstairs, earning them the moniker “the Kale Kirk”.

The Grade A listed building, designed by Alexander Black in the 1830s, stopped being used for religious services in the 1980s, and the office spaces were occupied by architectural heritage organisations, but the main hall (still with its pulpit and pews) was largely unused. The transformation of the space by Helen Lucas Architects, in partnership with the landlords, Scottish Historic Buildings Trust, opened it up again, walling off the “wings” to create a perfect cube. Natural light pours in through the ornate cupola; even on a changeable day in May, no artificial lighting is required.

One of the first people Richard Ingleby brought in to see the new space was the artist, Callum Innes. “I wanted to see if I was being completely mad or not,” he says. Innes grins. “And I told him it wasn’t mad at all. I should have taken it as a studio!”

Innes, who is one of Scotland’s leading abstract painters, has been a friend of the Inglebys since his work appeared in their very first exhibition 20 years ago. (“We’ve both aged very well,” he quips.)

Richard says: “There was no doubt in Florence’s and my mind that the first thing we wanted to see in the space was an exhibition of Callum’s paintings.”

In the rest of the building – the feast room and offices – a show called TWENTY celebrates other artists who have been shown in the gallery

in the last two decades, a list that includes Howard Hodgkin, Alison Watt, Sean Scully, Charles Avery, Jonathan Owen and Francesca Woodman.

Innes’ show, Byzantine Blue, Delft Blue, Paris Blue, is the first time he has exhibited his signature “exposed paintings” in Scotland for some years. The five paintings are part of a body of work which has occupied him for the last two years exploring shades of blue.

Made by adding and removing layer upon layer of paint, the paintings are an interplay between the physical graft of the artist and an element of chance. The longer one spends with them, the more one notices: the paintings change with the shifting light, revealing shades and textures.

Although Innes’ work is sometimes described as minimalism, it is anything but simple. The clear geometry of the paintings seems to hold an emotional distance from the viewer, but there is an intense physicality to the work. “It’s not reduction,” he says, “it’s more like adding. People think I remove things but I actually add all the time. It becomes quite complex, from something very simple. There’s a fragility to them.

“I tend to work more and more with spaces, thinking about how the work will sit in the space. And this is a great space to show in. Some white cubes are sterile, but this isn’t, it has a bit of human fragility to it. When people go to any show, it’s important that they spend time – we live in a time when people take photos all the time they don’t actually look. Hopefully this building affords people an invitation to pause and look and experience.

“It’s important for Edinburgh that a gallery like this exists, a commercial gallery that’s working on an international level. Hopefully, Edinburgh will wake up to the fact that contemporary art is important and should be supported.”

Housing Innes’ five paintings, the space feels intimate and contemplative. The next exhibition, for the Edinburgh Art Festival, will be very different. The Inglebys are curating a group show, Jacob’s Ladder, in partnership with Edinburgh University’s Centre for Research Collections, inviting contemporary artists to work with texts and ideas focussing on the cosmos from the 15th century to the present day.

The show will include wall-based work, sculpture and film by artists in the Ingleby stable such as David Austin and Katie Paterson, as well

as others including Cornelia Parker and Marine Hugonier. Richard Ingleby says: “We haven’t

deliberately selected women, but there is a strong group of women artists in the show, which is mirrored in the rest of the Art Festival, with shows like Tacita Dean at the Fruitmarket and Lucy Skaer at the Talbot Rice.”

In the face of a very different challenge, one suspects the space will transform again, and might just have some further magic yet to reveal. n

Callum Innes: Byzantine Blue, Delft Blue, Paris Blue and TWENTY are at the Ingleby Gallery, 33 Barony Street, until 14 July, www.inglebygallery.com