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Cole’s Gallery: Not Your Typical Arts Space

Illustration: Joshua Pell

Slap-bang in the centre of Leeds, Cole’s Gallery is a small haven decorated by local artists. Founder Joss Cole talks to Yasmine Rahemtulla about how his new gallery redefines our impression of the art world by placing people, not profit, at the centre of creative places.

Like the living room of an eccentric friend, Cole’s Gallery is a nourishing contrast to the sanitised, white-washed art galleries that we’ve come to know and expect. Nestled in the energetic hive of Kirkgate Market, the gallery is a welcome island of tranquility in a sea of bartering, bargaining and trade.

But that’s not to say the market is an inappropriate location for a new art gallery. Joss Cole, the gallery’s founder, picked the location to be a lightning rod for creatives across the region in the beating heart of Leeds city centre. With trademark Yorkshire honesty, Joss is straightforward in his attitude towards the gallery: “It’s somewhere to talk about paintings,” he smiles.

He’s being humble. As if plucked from the salt-flecked shores of Whitby, this is a gallery with soul. Showcasing some of Yorkshire’s most talented artists, the walls are adorned floor to ceiling in flavours of the county, all composed in different styles, shapes and strokes. There’s a youthful, airy feel to the display space that puts you at ease as soon as you cross the threshold. The many paintings, selected and curated by Joss himself, are what sets this gallery apart.

As Joss explains, he’s looking to create a community-first, people-over-profit space where everyone can experience art at their own pace: “It’s an antidote to the grandiose commercial gallery,” he says, “This isn’t about intimidating art space, it’s about a wholesome variety that’s inclusive of new artists in the region.”

From North Yorkshire, Joss is a Loughborough School of Art and Design graduate, receiving his MA at Wimbledon before founding the gallery in April this year. His career as an artist complements his curation of this vibrant gallery, in that he’s well aware of the struggles for young creatives to achieve commercial success in the UK. Joss’ art is on the walls, but so is that of talented young people at the beginning of their careers.

In October, the gallery will be showcasing the work of Hannah Buchanan, whose soft landscape impressions caught Joss’ eye at the University of Leeds Fine Art degree show this summer. Hannah graduated this year - so Cole’s Gallery has been quick to offer a helping hand to this promising young painter.

Cole’s Gallery is a reflection of Joss’ kind-spirited belief in the potential of creative expression as a means to bond new communities together: “There are a lot of enthusiastic artists in Yorkshire,” he explains, “but a lot of it exists in pockets.” We’re sure Joss would never say this himself, but Cole’s Gallery is a golden opportunity to unite the hodgepodge of makers scattered generously over Yorkshire’s rolling hills.

But Joss is clear that his new gallery is as much about the entire community as it is about creatives. Every month, the gallery donates the proceeds from a designated ‘Cause Painting’ to a different charity; during Pride Month, Joss sent the proceeds to LGBT+ support group Stonewall. Cole’s Gallery is also a key part of the grassroots art fair that takes place at the bottom end of Kirkgate Market on the third Saturday of every month. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a haven of colourful inspiration for busy shoppers passing through the city centre.

If you want to find this jewel in Kirkgate’s crown, keep an eye out for the emerald frontage and golden lettering that gleams a stone’s throw from the M&S, on the Vicar Lane edge of the Grade-I listed market. A pleasant pit-stop for grocery shoppers or a calm sanctuary for art-lovers, Cole’s Gallery is a welcoming, independent and friendly place to stop by - worth visiting just to have a chat with Joss about his latest finds.

Yasmine Rahemtulla and Alex King

Illustrations by Joshua Pell (@pelltopsy)

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