The Alchemy Experiment is a new gallery, creative hub and coffee shop on Glasgow’s bustling Byres Road, just south of its junction with University Avenue. First opened in October 2020, the venue is looking to become firmly established in 2021 as we look towards the Glasgow arts scene re-emerging after lockdown.
I visited on a bright sunlit morning to see all that the venue has to offer. The nearly all-glass ‘shop front’ allows abundant daylight into the ground floor space, with two tall windows at the rear of the space augmenting this. There are stripped back walls and timber floors, beautiful exposed rich red/brown brickwork, exposed structural columns and retained plaster cornicing. A neon sign in the front window announces ‘The Alchemy Experiment’.
To mark its re-opening this May, the gallery commissioned a large-scale spray painted mural by Glasgow street artist Mark Worst. Occupying one complete wall, it has a big impact in the space, highly colourful in reds and blues and beautifully depicted subjects. Mark cites influences of manga series Akira and French Romanticist Eugene Delacroix in this work, his response to ‘Love & Chaos’, which is currently the theme for an open call for artworks by the gallery. Mark says of the work, ‘I was given total creative freedom with this piece to launch myself into a chaotic composition and embrace my own divergent influences.’ The mural is on show until 30th June.
On the opposite long wall, a series of recycled skateboards is on display. Produced in collaboration by skateboard makers re:ply and No Comply, the boards have been inlayed with unique geometric designs making interesting wall art.
The bespoke pink concrete clad café counter, fabricated by Myatt-McCallum, is a sculptural work in itself. Pink profiled concrete is also used in the front door handle and shop frontage. Similarly architectural concrete planters/sculptures cast in the shape of fluted columns displayed around the floor space are for sale along with prints and paintings, plus magazines, clothing and bags.
There’s good coffee and baking to sit and take time over, gallery space and flexible space for events over the two floor levels, street and basement. Baristas are also ‘in-house’ artists, currently a mix of painters and photographers.
A selection of paintings by Brigitte Bregagna, Helen Lee Robinson, Angel Mitov, Alchemy founder Denis Houlihan and photography by Peter Clark is currently on display in the downstairs space, along with video of the venue’s recent Panther Milk DJ takeover night. Downstairs the walls and ceiling are all white, to maximise lightness in the basement. Brigitte Bregagna’s works are precisely painted, a mix of portraiture and surrealism and Helen Lee Robinson’s figurative drawings and paintings tell stories in ink and mixed media. Denis Houlihan’s works are figurative, in mixed media and charcoal.
The venue’s creation has truly been a family collaboration, the original inspiration came to Denis Houlihan in his down-time at a solo exhibition of his paintings (entitled ‘Alchemy’) in late 2018. The architecture of the venue is by daughter Bethany with programming and ‘building the brand’ now being taken forward by sons Pierce and Tom. Denis’s aim has been ‘to create an arts centre that is accessible, contemporary and inclusive’.
Currently there is an open call out for works to artists for ‘Love & Chaos‘ which will lead to a publication in July and an exhibition in the gallery in October. This call has been extended to 14th June 2021. This new theme follows on from the ‘Love in the Time of COVID’ exhibition and first Alchemy ‘zine publication.
Part of the proceeds from events and publications will contribute towards the ongoing Alchemy Creative Fund, set up to support emerging and underrepresented artists and groups and to continuously provide a platform for them.
As the team at the Alchemy Experiment now look forward to long-term regular activity, the venue is sure to become a valuable addition to the Glasgow arts scene.
With thanks to Gordon Reid for this review and photos; thanks too to Pierce from the venue who supplied additional photos, as marked.