29-year-old's journey from pro tennis player to art gallery owner

PUBLISHED: 14:15 10 January 2017

Artsist and gallery owner Hannah Ivory Baker at Highgate Contemporary Art Gallery. Picture: Polly Hancock

Artsist and gallery owner Hannah Ivory Baker at Highgate Contemporary Art Gallery. Picture: Polly Hancock

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BRIDGET GALTON talks to Hannah Ivory Baker who is taking a new approach since taking over Highgate's art gallery aged just 29

By her own admission, there can be few 29-year-olds running art galleries, but Hannah Ivory Baker’s route to the job was far from conventional.

Just over a decade ago, she was on course to be a professional tennis player, with a gruelling training regime which left little time for her passion for art.

But while working as a coach at Georgians Club in Crouch End, the self-taught artist started to exhibit her oils of landscapes and seascapes in various UK galleries.

“I’d always loved drawing and painting but from the age of nine to 18 I was playing for 25-30 hours a week,” says Ivory Baker.

“But as you get older, unless you are in the top few in the world it’s so expensive it’s impossible to financially sustain without supplementing your income. In the end you have to make a decision about whether you can afford to continue.”

Ivory Baker says “it was the next obvious choice of career to be an artist” and started to get serious about painting when she moved to Crouch End 12 years ago.

She had built up 8,000 Twitter followers when Laurie MacLaren the owner of Highgate Contemporary Art in Highgate High Street got in touch.

“I had exhibited there before but out of the blue I was offered the opportunity to take over the gallery. Laurie had been there for 15 years, I don’t know why she chose me but I shadowed her to get up to speed with how everything works.

“I took over in April and it was a complete baptism of fire. I needed twice the amount of time to learn everything.”

Now Ivory Baker receives scores of requests from artists seeking representation. But as someone who came to the artworld by a roundabout route, she empathises with emerging talent.

“It’s very hard, unless you come from the RA or the Slade it can be difficult to get a look in. But whether they trained at a prestigious academy or have just picked up a brush I have to like their work. You have to grow a thick skin to put your work out there in the first place so if they are not quite there, but I think it’s really got something, I offer constructive feedback because I know they are going to produce something that’s really good.”

Set across two floors of an 18th Century Georgian property, the gallery has operated under various names since the 1950s and is well supported by local art lovers says Ivory Baker.

“The people of Highgate have been really nice. The gallery has a lot of local support with people who buy in each show. I very much try to keep a local feel and make sure there is work by north London artists.

“The next exhibition is by Alexander Debenham, a young traditional golden age painter from Dartmouth Park who trained in Florence and paints still lifes and landscapes. His work is very beautiful.

She adds: “For me the draw is to work with art that I really like - some of these artists are people I have looked up to for years.”

Highgate Contemporary Art is at 26 Highgate High Street Highgateart.com. The current exhibition of winter sculpture and ceramics Noel Noel runs until January 15 then Alexander Debenham runs Janaury 18 until February 4.

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