Gallery owner Tony is still sharing his love of East Anglian art

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Almost 20 years ago, when Tony Coe opened his art gallery at the Waterfront, very little development had taken place in the area.

It was very much an industrial, working docks.

There was no marina and no luxury boats and yachts moored up.

There were still commerical ships arriving with coal and wood, occasionally, and trains on tracks on the quayside.

He admits he wondered if he made the right decision, at first, to move down from the town centre.

“I have been here at the Waterfront 20 years. The Waterfront is the jewel in the crown of Ipswich now,

“There was hardly anything here, apart from the pub next door, and no restaurants.

“We are the only commercial art gallery in Ipswich.

“Now we are probably the oldest standing contemporary art gallery in East Anglia. A lot of others have come and gone.

“We don’t sell re-productions.

“We are dealing with professional artists. Each has a distinctive style and every piece is unique.

“I have always dealt with East Anglian painters, from Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshires, painters and printmakers.”

The historic former warehouse in Wherry Lane, part of the Isaac Lord complex, provided a blank canvas for an art gallery, he said.

“There was a lot of wall space, and we had to put in doors and windows, but it was much better than taking a high street shop unit with a shop window.”

Tony, also a well known local musician from the local scene in the 1960s and 1970s, met jazz legend George Melly when he was playing professionally.

And George Melly officially opened the John Russell Gallery for him.

Maggi Hambling, who had been at Ipswich Art School at the same time as Tony, was among the guests.

“We were absolutely heaving,” he said, “both in here and in the alley outside.”

Tony studied at Ipswich Art School under Colin Moss and then went to the study print making and design at college.

“I have always specialised in print making and lithography,”

He worked at Ipswich printers Cowells before following his passions, music and art.

The relationship between artist and gallery owner was an important one, he said.

“I have been working in the business for 40 years and I still enjoy it, 24-7.

“You provide the backing and the marketing for their works and you seem them develop. They work hard for 40 years before becoming an overnight success!

“Michael Coulter is 75 now and I have backed and promoted a book of his work this year.”

Some of his regular artists are in the veteran stage now, like Constance Stubbs, Ken Cuthbert and John Brunsdon.

Unique pieces of contemporary art were in the reach of a wide range of customers, he said.

“we don’t sell to them, they buy from us.

“I deal with some very nice people.

“It could be the guy in his mac, with a roll of £1 notes in his pocket. Art is a very individual thing. It is all about personal taste.”

Among his customers over the years have been Sir Hugh Casson of the Royal Academy and rock star Bill Wyman.

The next main exibition is by Suffolk printmaker Michael Carlo which runs from February 17 until March 15.

The John Russell Gallery, 4-6 Wherry Lane

Open from 9.30am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday

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