Interview Gallerist and Publisher Hannah Watson
In 2005, she joined publisher Trolley Books, working alongside its legendary founder Gigi Giannuzzi until his death in 2012. Established in 2001, Trolley quickly gained a reputation for publishing award-winning and unique stories in photography, photojournalism and contemporary art, championing the likes of Adam Broomberg, Oliver Chanarin and Paolo Pellegrin – and publishing many of its artists’ first books. In 2005, Trolley was even recognised by the Kraszna-Krausz Book Awards for its outstanding contribution to photography book publishing, and the awards have kept on coming ever since. It will be celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year.
Watson and the late Giannuzzi also founded their London contemporary art gallery, TJ Boulting, when they relocated from Shoreditch to the landmark Grade II-listed Arts & Crafts building that inspired its name in Fitzrovia in 2011. As its director, Watson oversees a programme that supports and represents emerging contemporary artists in all mediums, including Juno Calypso, Maisie Cousins, Stephanie Quayle and Boo Saville. TJ Boulting has also hosted the British Journal of Photography International Award since 2015.
Watson’s responsibilities don’t end there – she is chair of the board of trustees of The Fitzrovia Chapel, the former chapel of the Middlesex Hospital and now a secular space for arts and the community, and chair of the Young Patron Committee for The Photographers’ Gallery. Here, she shares what is the proudest of her many achievements…
THE WICK: Tell us about a typical Monday.
Hannah Watson: I quite like Mondays because the gallery is technically closed so I get to go out and about and do things such as studio visits or see shows in museums – it’s a good way to start the week. Most of the time, I will probably still come into the gallery. I’ve recently started cycling and have found a great route from Hackney to Fitzrovia, which is pretty, and isn’t terrifying. Every first Monday of the month, I go to a book club at a friend’s house, where we go through her library of photobooks and choose ones to talk about. As a publisher I resist talking about the ones I see of mine! Although every book has got a lot of stories behind it, good and bad…
TW: This year marks the 10-year anniversary of TJ Boulting. What are your proudest achievements so far?
HW: I’m proudest of the relationships I’ve developed with the amazing artists I represent. I’m biased of course, but they are amazing. When I see their names altogether it makes me very happy. I am also super proud of some of the exhibitions that have taken place in this hidden-away basement in Fitzrovia, how they have given new life to this beautiful and strange old building. And, of course, some of the artists that I have shown here, from long-term heroes such as Alice Neel, Barbara Hepworth and Lee Miller to outsider artists like Judith Scott and younger artists that I now work with like Juno Calypso and Maisie Cousins. Ten years has gone by very quickly, but slowly too; when I think about how much has changed since Gigi Giannuzzi and I founded it when it was all ahead of us, followed by his death a year later, and the way it has all kept going and evolving, I hope he would be proud too.
TW: How does publishing inform your role as a gallerist?
HW: The gallery and books, in general, follow their own paths and have different programmes – some artists I make books with and others I show in the gallery, but I do like it when they can cross over. It’s great to be able to offer an artist two very different ways of presenting their work and ideas. We print all our books inland from Venice in the prosecco region, so it’s also usually easy to persuade them to come and make a book too.
TW: The Fitzrovia Chapel has undergone a beautiful restoration. What are the plans for the space?
HW: We are always striving to make the chapel more open and accessible, for the local community and beyond. One of the ways we do this is by our exhibitions that relate to either the Middlesex Hospital (that the chapel was originally part of), or Fitzrovia and the rich, cultural history it has. Next year, we will have exhibitions of Leigh Bowery, who died in the Middlesex on New Year’s Eve 1994 – a display of his fantastic costumes against the gold mosaic ceiling will be very special. The Middlesex is famous for having the first dedicated AIDS ward in London, and Leigh died of AIDS, so it will be a celebration of his life and work but in a poignant setting. This will be followed by Caroline Walker, who is currently doing a residency at the maternity wing of nearby University College London Hospital, and the show will be her paintings of midwives and nurses, doctors and cleaners, which are mainly women. Later in the year, we will show iconic photographer Lee Miller’s images of medical life during WWII.