Angela Flowers, who celebrated her 80th birthday this month with ‘Angela Flowers at 80’, a survey of the work of selected of artists associated with the gallery from its humble beginnings, to the present day, is finally getting the acknowledgement she deserves. As one of the leading contemporary art dealers in the UK. She established her first gallery in an attic space above a left wing co-op in central London more than 40 years ago. Flowers Gallery now operates internationally out of three spaces: Shoreditch and Mayfair in London and Chelsea, New York.
Angela is credited with an intuition that has seen her pre-figure the BritArt explosion and trail-blaze the artistic route to East London. She is one of few gallerists to have succeeded in guiding her business through five recessions, and on the way has helped to promote the careers of artists including Anish Kapoor, Anthony Gormley, Ron Mueck, Jake and Dinos Chapman,Tony Cragg, Richard Long, Marc Quinn and Anthony Caro. She was the first UK galleriest to show Lucian Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Sleeping and, always at the forefront of the Avant-garde, was staging exhibitions of performance art, installations and colour photography long before they were embraced by the wider art world.
It was Angela’s belief in the power of new ideas that set her among the first to embrace what is now commonplace: an online gallery presence, and this same belief that led her to launch ‘Artist of the Day’: a single-day exhibition of work by one artist selected to show at the gallery by another artist, which continues to this day.
By the time she opened her first gallery Angela Flowers had already studied to become a singer, worked in film, photography and advertising, proposed to photographer Adrian Flowers and given birth to three sons and a daughter.
Angela’s introduction to the professional art world came when her husband was asked to take photographs that would illustrate the catalogues of a group of artists living in St. Ives, among them Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Roger Hilton and Terry Frost. Often paid in artworks rather than cash, the couple began to amass a collection and around this time people started to assume that Angela was somehow ‘in the business’.
A stint as Bookkeeper at the Institute of Contemporary Art followed before Angela set up the Lisle Street gallery. By September 1970 she had met and fell in love with the management writer Robert Heller. Heller and the theatrical impresario Michael White both became early Directors of the gallery, White commenting that he would back Angela whatever she did. With their help, Flowers moved to a more spacious gallery on Portland Mews.
Angela’s divorce from Adrian came through on her 40th birthday and led to a period of estrangement from her son, Matthew, who is now Managing Director at Flowers. In 1973 she became pregnant with Rachel Heller, who was born with Downs Syndrome and is now a successful practising artist.
The subsequent years have seen Angela go from strength to strength, moving her galleries to larger spaces, becoming a Senior Fellow at the Royal College of Art and being awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of East London.
Angela Flowers will turn 80 years old in December; in celebration the gallery will launch a new website and open a special exhibition, running from 4 December 2012 to 9 February 2013, which will present works by a large cross-section of artists she has worked with over the years. In showing this wide number of artists, practising in varying mediums, Angela will bring together some of the many strands of Flowers’ colourful history; the exhibition is both a nod to an exciting past and a reminder that more is yet to come.
Angela Flowers established her first gallery in 1970 on Lisle Street in London’s West End. In the 1980s, the gallery was one of the first to open in London’s East End, in a former laundry/fur storage facility in Hackney, and the space became known as Flowers East. Matthew Flowers, Angela’s son, took over day- to-day operations in 1989. In 1997, the gallery expanded further with a Los Angeles space, at Bergamot Station. There are now two gallery spaces in London: a West End premises on Cork Street opened in 2000 and in 2002 the gallery moved from Hackney into a 12,000 sq foot industrial space in Shoreditch, East London. The US business relocated in 2003 from LA to New York on Madison Avenue, and then in 2009 moved to West 20th street in Chelsea.
Angela Flowers at 80 is both a homage to a colourful past and a demonstration that, after more than 40 years, Flowers continues to find relevancy as gallerists with unwavering passion and commitment.