ARTISTS who had their work seized by bailiffs from a North East gallery have hit out at the owner.
Paintings and other work were taken from the Art Works Gallery, at the top of Stepney Bank in Newcastle after Matt Forster failed to pay rent.
Bemused artists turned up to collect their work on Saturday but were unable to get inside after the locks had been changed.
Landlords Newcastle City Council called in the bailiffs after Mr Forster fell behind with the rent.
Artist Cassandra Harrison was among those affected. The 34-year-old of St Peter’s Basin, Newcastle, said: “I got a email from the gallery saying I had to pick my work up on Saturday.
“When I got down there, there was a group of people outside who couldn’t get in. The volunteer who was there, who was supposed to be opening up for us, didn’t know what was going on.
“The volunteer then got a phone call from Matt saying the bailiffs had been and gave him his email address to give to us if we wanted to get in touch. He only wanted to be in email contact with us, which I found strange. We started to do a bit of investigating to see where our work was and we got the police involved.
“We then found out our stuff was going to be auctioned – we couldn’t believe it. We were really upset, obviously. One lady had work in there worth £40,000.
“I was absolutely gutted. Obviously my best work was in the gallery and it was heartbreaking to think I’d lost it all.”
After nearly a week, the artists received an email from the gallery informing them they could pick their work up from Thoburn’s Enforcement Services, in Gateshead.
“The email was not very apologetic or sympathetic,” said Cassandra. “It simply said ‘sorry for the inconvenience’ at the bottom.
“All our work was stacked up in a warehouse. It was so upsetting to see it all like that – the room was just packed full. I had no idea the gallery was even in trouble. The icing on the cake is that Matt is at the Art Fair this weekend at the Sage. He’s making money with his paintings, while we didn’t get the chance to go as ours were stashed away in a warehouse.
“It’s incredibly unfair. Some people who had work in the gallery live down south. It’s going to be awful for them getting it back.”
Nick Rowley, Newcastle City Council’s head of property services, said people had until October 21 to retrieve their work, after which it could be sold.
He said steps were being taken to retrieve rent owed by Matt Forster, who ran Art Works Galleries but started to fall into arrears in 2007.
Mr Rowley said Mr Forster had expressed an interest in establishing a gallery in the former Tyne Tees TV warehouse in 2006.
The council, keen to support the arts in the area, had agreed to take on the lease from the landlord, Tyne Tees, which runs until next June. To collect their work, artists must contact the bailiffs at Thoburns Enforcement Services, Gateshead, on (0191) 477-0296. Alternatively, they can email council surveyor Chris Healy on firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr Forster was not available for comment yesterday.