Apollo Magazine

A gallerist with an eye for art and the desire to make a scene

Betty Sims-Hilditch explains how a background in set design and a commitment to emerging artists inform her new roaming gallery project, Artground

Installation view of ‘Meet Me on the First Floor…’, featuring works by Helena Lacy and Nathalie Hollis. Photo: Melanie Issaka; courtesy Artground

Betty Sims-Hilditch has always had an eye for art. The gallerist recounts a high-school memory of entering her older sister Daisy into a youth art competition at Saatchi Gallery, and their excitement when her work was selected as one of only 10 nationwide finalists. ‘That’s where it started,’ Sims-Hilditch says; the ‘it’ being a desire to help artists share their work – something she has turned into a reality with the establishment of a new roaming gallery, Artground.

I first became aware of Artground last November after an advertisement for the opening of its inaugural exhibition ‘Meet Me on the First Floor…’ popped up on Instagram. Held in an artist-run space in Whitechapel, the show featured the works of eight artists selected by Sims-Hilditch (who is also Artground’s sole curator): Gerry De Banzie, Lucie Gray, Nathalie Hollis, Melanie Issaka, Barnaby Lewis, Helena Lacy, Wink King Moe and Meryl Yana. The presence of a live DJ, David Foster, made the event feel relaxed and accessible. This energy was key for Sims-Hilditch: ‘The main thing about Artground is that I want each show to be a very communal, inclusive, welcoming event for anyone to come and experience the art, have a great time and share stories and have conversations with other interesting people.’

The gallerist Betty Sims-Hilditch. Courtesy Betty Sims-Hilditch

Sims-Hilditch is one of a number of young gallerists striving to make their mark on the London art scene, other examples including Ell Pennick of Guts Gallery and Helen Neven of Neven Gallery. However, Sims-Hilditch’s background is unlike many of her contemporaries. She has spent the past 10 years working in the film industry, having earned a degree in set design for screen at Wimbledon College of Arts.

A career in set decoration is something Sims-Hilditch has pursued with vigour. She scored her first proper film gig by approaching former BBC Film head David Thompson on the London Underground. Currently, she works with Oscar-nominated set decorator Katie Spencer, whose recent projects have included the international blockbuster Barbie.

Though working in film continues to be ‘an amazing journey’, Sims-Hilditch wanted to set up her own business and used the time off during last year’s screenwriters’ and actors’ strikes as a ‘pushing point to go and get [Artground] started’. The original idea for the gallery came almost a decade ago, after Sims-Hilditch saw artist friends in university struggling to find a foothold in the professional art world. With Artground, she hopes to remedy this problem.

Installation view of ‘Meet Me on the First Floor…’, featuring works by Gerry De Banzie and Barnaby Lewis. Photo: Melanie Issaka; courtesy Artground

Thanks to her experience sourcing objects and artworks for films, Sims-Hilditch finds the process of choosing who and what to include in Artground exhibitions ‘instinctive’. There’s ‘no particular formula’ to her curation, nor criteria the artists must meet; the last show, she says, ‘almost felt like completing a jigsaw puzzle that weirdly didn’t make any sense until I knew it was complete’.

There is, however, one firm requirement. Sims-Hilditch is committed to involving artists in her exhibitions who ‘don’t have a huge following yet’, giving them an ‘opportunity to show their work, [bringing] more emerging artists to the public’. For ‘Meet Me on the First Floor…’, the degree shows provided ‘a good starting point’ and Camberwell College of Arts is where she first saw the colourful oil paintings of Gerry De Banzie. More unusual methods included a chance encounter with ceramicist Helena Lacy at a framing shop and lengthy searches on Instagram which led her to metalworker Barnaby Lewis. Other artists, such as Nathalie Hollis and Lucie Gray, were already friends whose work felt ‘right to include’.

Installation view of ‘Meet Me on the First Floor…’, featuring works by Wink King Moe and Nathalie Hollis. Photo: Melanie Issaka; courtesy Artground

The nomadic nature of Artground is a ‘big part of what [Sims-Hilditch] would like to keep developing’ and she plans for each future instalment to take place in a new location. Beginning her career outside the ‘formal’ gallery world, she explains, has left her feeling untethered to its conventions.

Next on Artground’s agenda is an exhibition/supper club hybrid event, during which guests will have the chance to meet the artists whose works are hanging on the surrounding walls. The centrepiece of the year will be a bigger exhibition towards the end of summer. Sims-Hilditch has ambitions of taking Artground international in the future, expanding its reach to New York perhaps, and hopes to use her film experience by making documentaries focusing on how a single artist works. Given the energy and tenacity with which Sims-Hilditch has approached Artground thus far, she has every chance of success.

Exit mobile version