BY his own admission, Richard Hindle has always been a dreamer. After leaving school and starting work as a picture framer and photographer, he dreamt of having his own art gallery. It would be somewhere that would tap the enormous wealth of talent in the region and bring art to everyone, even those who hadn’t realised they needed art in their homes and lives.

To say he has succeeded would be an understatement. Twenty-one years after it opened, Gallerina is a mecca for art lovers and has a reputation that stretches far beyond the confines of Richard’s home town of Darlington. Gallerina’s success in making art accessible even saw the gallery featured on the BBC One flagship arts programme Imagine.

As the gallery comes of age, we ask Richard about his approach to art, artists and the highlights of the past 21 years.

What was your plan when you first opened Gallerina?

Our goal, in what has been a magical time, has never altered. We wanted to create access to, and make affordable, the quality of artwork that we have been fortunate enough to represent, to help show everybody that art is for all of us to enjoy and not simply the privileged few. The gallery has gone on to achieve far more than I ever imagined it could, and the people responsible for this success are our wonderful clients and fabulously talented artists.

The Northern Echo:

What made you think it would work in Darlington?

Naivety… and a bit of bravery. We dared to imagine that if we opened the gallery that we ourselves would most like to visit, and filled it with work that excited us, that others would think and feel the same. I am from Darlington so I didn’t ever consider it wouldn’t be in Darlington.

We dared to dream big and held the hands of like-minded people and together – and this is a key point – “together” with clients who have become friends, we have been allowed to create something special. This makes me feel very proud.

What have been the highlights along the way?

The highlights are delivered daily. Mine are personal ones. I'm flattered to have been allowed to share my passion with so many people. Our lovely clients think such a lot of the gallery and our efforts that they have filled their homes, chosen to own and live with original works of art, and in doing so, many who started out as good clients have become great friends.

Another highlight came a few years ago, when Alan Yentob from the BBC's imagine programme chose to feature our gallery because of our dedication to making art accessible and affordable to all with the help of the interest-free art loan scheme known as ‘Own Art’. Arts Council England had championed Gallerina in London meetings. We were beyond proud.

A third highlight was working with the North-East mining artist Tom McGuinness, a great man and a great artist. We're proud to continue to work with his family and collection.

The Northern Echo:

Do you think it’s important that art is for everyone?

Yes, and I do think the message is getting through. More and more people are choosing to make original art part of their home and, in doing so, change their homes and their lives. That sounds a little heavy, but it's absolutely the truth: the right piece of work in the right place in the right room can have a huge effect on how you feel and think within that space.

There are not too many opportunities in our homes to express fully who we are. We all sit on similar furniture and own similar things - let's call it ‘stuff'. The music we play and the paintings we choose to live with are an expression of who we are and how we feel - an ever-changing journey.

At Gallerina, we try to bring our artists to life, to introduce them as people, to represent the person first and then their art. It helps people to relax when they’re reminded that we’re all just people; some are very talented, but sharing that talent need not be put on a pedestal.

The gallery is often filled with artists and we love to introduce them to clients, who are instantly put at ease at how approachable, warm and friendly, and dare I say “normal”, they are! This doesn’t mean they're not capable of moving us and challenging us in ways that others can’t – that part is special, a gift – but it need not be intellectualised, simply shared and celebrated.

What’s the best bit of the job?

I love visiting the homes of clients and helping to site and hang artwork, helping them to get the right work in the right space and achieve all they hope it might and more. I love this part; sharing the works we have is a thrill.

What are your plans for the next 21 years?

If I'm lucky enough to continue that long, I should like them to feel like the 21 years that preceded them. But needless to say there are very exciting plans afoot… watch this space!

What piece of art – money no object – would you most like to find under your Christmas tree this year?

This is an incredibly difficult question… For years we have sign-written the gallery Christmas window with a slogan that reads 'Art is for life, not just for Christmas'. Admittedly, that's just for bit of fun, but there is some truth there. I would like to turn more people onto the idea of owning and living with original artwork, but it's very personal thing.

I don't know that money not being an object would alter my answer at all. At the moment, my favourite painting in our gallery is an 8-inch square seascape by one of my favourite painters, Mark Johnston. If I were to find that under the Christmas tree, I'd be very happy. Here's hoping my partner reads this and takes the hint.

  • Gallerina, 1 Victoria Rd, Darlington DL1 5SJ; 01325-363635;


PAUL DENHAM, from Staindrop

I'M filled with pride whenever the opportunity to talk about Paul and his work arises. Paul enjoys enormous success. His paintings, the man and his feel for his landscape, have become an important part of what we do.

A sensitive quiet man, Paul walks alone and has for the whole of his life soaked up the landscape and its moods. He chooses to share with others, as he himself puts it, ‘a memory of landscape'. Not images of places, but feelings created by and of places, atmospheres, light and shadow. He wants us to be moved, to feel the landscape, to travel beyond our four walls. He creates paintings through which our senses can be stirred.

The Northern Echo:

His works, when hung at home, can be reinterpreted each time you see them, as though you were hanging 1,000 paintings on a single hook. Beyond atmospheric, I have seen Paul's work completely transform homes in which they are hung. They are an atmosphere before they are an image.

JAMES PATERSON, from Darlington

FROM his portrait work to his love affair and passion for found and pop art imagery, James is an incredible talent. A quiet man, now widely known, he sits at odds with the raw energy and mark-making found within his work. His works are loved by many, collected by many and their homes transformed by his colour and dynamism.

The Northern Echo:

We are proud of James; nothing fazes him and his talent is extraordinary. James has been given enormous commissions, one of which measured over 12 feet. The result? A fabulous portrait which was nothing short of incredible, with his signature high-energy and brave brushwork visible throughout. He always has a list of commissions waiting, but his commitment to pushing his work forward never sees him taking anything for granted: James's next painting will be his best painting. A London career begins soon.