Contemporary Six Gallery has relocated from the Royal Exchange Arcade to bigger premises on Princess Street

ON GRADUATING with a fine art degree from Leeds Metropolitan University at 24, Alex Reuben found himself at a bit of a crossroads - not fully confident in his ability as an artist, yet so passionate about art that a career in anything else simply wasn’t an option.

And so, after much thought and even more research, he decided to take the plunge and open up a shop in the Royal Exchange Arcade. Launched in 2010, Contemporary Six quickly become recognised as one of the region’s leading galleries. Fast forward seven years and it now occupies a two-story premise on Princess Street adjacent to Manchester Town Hall, having relocated in December last year. 

Needless to say, it was a risk worth taking. While all that research “did nothing to prepare me for the reality of actually opening a gallery,” Alex’s dedication to quality and warm welcome meant he was able to build up a loyal customer base; much of which he’s retained to this day. 

Despite this, Alex insists with a chuckle that he isn’t business-minded, still choosing works based on whether he likes them, and thinks them good enough, rather than any commercial value. It’s lent him a credibility both with buyers and artists, of whom he represents about 25-30 - many having stayed with him since the beginning.

So what are his plans for the new location? 

“I like to give artists my full attention so don’t want to take on too many more, probably four to five within the next couple of years, then every now and again after that. We’re still getting the basement floor renovated but we’ll have a lot more display space to work with once it’s finished.” 

With about six new artist proposals a week, Alex has to be selective, more often than not discovering artists himself through his research. There’s no particular theme, however, with everything from paint to print, photography to sculpture and ceramics. The majority are local artists - many members of Manchester Academy of Fine Arts - but now Alex plans to cast his net wider, sourcing talent from across the UK. 

Works currently on offer include Ann Lewis’ handmade linocuts, Claire Bigger’s figurative sculptures and Jean Hobson’s striking gouache cityscapes. Elsewhere find collective Geoffrey Keys, Kate Collins’ fantastical ceramics and Peter Stanaway’s abstracted acrylics. 

Exhibitions, as ever, will number around four annually, with two mixed shows and two solos - including Dean Entwistle, whose rare use of tempera made him one of our 10 local artists you need to know about. Entwistle is also adept in watercolour, oil and charcoal and will be showcasing all mediums through a series of Manchester cityscapes.

While Alex doesn’t yet believe that Manchester’s art scene ‘is up to its sport and music,’ he agrees that it’s growing, particularly as events like the Buy Art Fair are showing collectors they no longer need to visit the likes of London to purchase investment pieces. 

And, with ever more galleries popping up - from the centre to the suburbs - buying art for pleasure has never been easier, particularly with initiatives like the Own Art Scheme, backed by Arts Council England, allowing customers to spread the cost of artworks over ten months interest free. Contemporary Six joined recently, meaning you can now buy works such as Bill Ward’s photography through instalments equivalent to a monthly phone bill. 

It may not have yet reached the leagues of Madchester and football in notoriety but Contemporary Six isn’t the only thing upsizing: Manchester’s art scene is undoubtedly on the up too. 

Contemporary Six, 37 Princess Street, M2 4FN