There are just four weeks to finish work inside the expansive former Thanet Press building in Margate before it is reborn as the new Carl Freedman Gallery.
Since 2017 Carl Freedman, who has championed emerging British artists at the London gallery he founded in 2003, has been working towards reopening the site. The building will include gallery space, a base for his Counter Editions prints business and an apartment.
The Union Crescent, 1960s property was a hub of commercial activity until the collapse of Thanet Press in 2011.
The firm, which had roots going back to the 1770s from Eyre and Spottiswoode, the first printers of the King James Bible, collapsed under a large tax bill resulting in the loss of more than 70 jobs.
An application to turn the site into 64 flats, made by BHD Architects on behalf of GTL Property Management, was refused and an appeal against the decision in 2015 was dismissed.
For Carl, a former partner of artist Tracey Emin, the Margate gallery is also part of a series of serendipitous coincidences.
Tracey, he reveals, was a visitor at his new Margate home just yesterday (April 27).”It’s in Trinity Square, where Tracey lived as a little girl” he says.
She will also be housed next door to the Carl Freedman gallery, where she is creating her own studio and apartment in a part of the building that is a jumble of 1960s, Victorian and Edwardian structures.
In 2017 she told The Isle of Thanet News of her move back to Margate, prompted after losing a bid to expand her art studio in Spitalfields and the death of her mum Pam.
She said: “Margate has real energy and fantastic architecture, sunsets and seascapes and beaches. I think it has a really good chance of becoming a fantastic epicentre. London feels like it is completely crushing me.
“In Margate Turner Contemporary has boosted the whole economy and where there were boarded up shops in the High Street there are now fantastic boutiques, vintage shops and interesting restaurants.
“I do not want to wake up to London, I want to wake up and be inspired by the same things that inspired Turner.”
But Tracey is not the reason for the move. Neither is this year’s hosting of the Turner Prize by Turner Contemporary, although it is timely and relevant as Carl has partnered with a series of Turner Prize winners through the Counter Editions business.
It was simply the design of the building which drew the 54-year-old to the town.
“It was the height of the ceilings and the fact there are so few columns. So much effort has now been spent on the building,” he says, striding off to inspect another part of the site.
The three gallery spaces on the lower floor are vast, with plain white walls and Terrazzo flooring discovered during conversion works by G & W Gardner Building Contractors alongside Murray & Jones Electrical Contractors, Grummants (Heating & Plumbing Services) Ltd and Martello Building Consultancy.
There is a bespoke concrete staircase, purpose built for the entrance of the gallery, and upstairs houses the Counter Editions space and printing equipment, which already permeates the smell of packaging and ink.
Gallery and Counter Editions director is Robert Diament, who has fallen in love with Margate and is looking forward to moving to the town next month when year-long renovations on his property in Union Crescent are complete.
He has already been working with isle artists from Limbo and Open School East and is involved with the Margate Festival alongside residents such as Dan Chilcott.
The singer-songwriter, best known from UK electronic rock band Temposhark, is enthusiastic about the town. He said: “I really wanted to live, as well as work, here. I love the closeness to nature and the sense of freedom and that connection to the world. The community is amazing and there are lots of creative people coming to the town.
“The timing (of the gallery opening) with the Turner Prize is great and we have been in touch with Turner Contemporary and are doing as much as we can to link up with them. There is a great, positive energy here, it’s very exciting.”
Four employees have been taken on. Claire Orme, from Limbo, joined the team just last week.
The opening launches with a preview on May 25 between 4pm-8pm of solo show Man in the Mouth of a Cave by painter, author, poet, photographer, film maker, singer and guitarist Billy Childish.
Chatham-born Billy was awarded an honorary Doctor of Arts Degree from the University of Kent in 2014. He is known for his explicit and prolific work in art, music, novels and poetry.
The exhibition will open to the public from May 26 – August 25.
Arrangements have been made for future exhibitions but Carl is not giving anything away. “There are plans,” is all he will say.
Jonathan Viner, director of Union Crescent Property Limited which paid £635,000 for the historic building in 2016, intends to open his own gallery within the remainder of the 20,000 sq ft building, with the aim of creating an “arts district.”
Work on Tracey Emin’s studio is still underway.