Tayah Leigh-Barrs. Photo by Alastair Strong, courtesy of Studio_Leigh
At 26, Tayah Leigh-Barrs is the latest to join a new generation of gallerists transforming London’s art scene. The former art director for fashion and portrait photographer Mario Testino opened Studio_Leigh last week, a three-storey gallery in a former Victorian varnish factory in Shoreditch, east London.
What makes Studio_Leigh different—as the inaugural show of works by 27 artists testifies—is that the gallery specialises in commissioning objects that are partly fine art and partly functional. Aaron Angell has created a fully operational wooden rowing boat (£11,500), Nicolas Deshayes has made a sculpture out of Jesmonite that connects to a central heating system (£12,500), Adham Faramawy has produced a bottle of perfume (£395 each, edition of 20) and Mary Ramsden and John Robertson have created two textile paintings that double as garments you can wrap around you (£4,000 each). The exhibition closes on 6 November.
The idea came when Leigh-Barrs was working with Testino on his different ranges in ceramic, textiles and prints. “I’ve always been intrigued by how we live with art, how it becomes part of our domestic environment,” she says, noting that Testino’s own art collection inspired her to focus on works that sit between function, interaction and art for art’s sake.
Securing the gallery building, at time when rents are rocketing in the UK capital, was an “unbelievable experience”, Leigh-Barrs says. She managed to track down the owner of the former factory and persuaded him to let her renovate the disused building; he owns a flat on the first floor but is not based in the UK. There was a “decent” split in costs, Leigh-Barrs says, adding that he continues to support the project by cutting her a deal on the rent.
Leigh-Barrs says she intends to keep commissioning new works, which she personally funds with some private backing. An exhibition of works by Mary Ramsden is due to open in December and another group show in the spring. “Commissioning is an integral part of the gallery,” Leigh-Barrs says, “but there’s also the commercial side, which now needs to pay for itself.”