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Creative Spotlight: Q&A with Danny Hughes of Unit 44

In this blog series we're putting the spotlight on some of our favourite creatives. This time we speak with Newcastle-based art collective, Unit 44.

Our first creative spotlight of 2021 goes to the incredible Newcastle-based art collective, Unit 44, who recently celebrated their 10th anniversary with their first virtual gallery.

We spoke to gallery curator Danny Hughes about his background in art, his thoughts on the local scene and his advice for aspiring creatives. Here’s what he had to say…

To those just being introduced to Unit44 / 44 Creative, how would you best describe what you do?

Ah man that depends when someone asks. If we’re in an elevator I’d say we’re contemporary art sellers, with a sprinkle of project curation, and occasional creative consultants. If we’re in a bar (remember them?!) and the conversation is flowing I’d certainly bend your ear about ten years of projects, installations, gallery shows, brand collaborations, and international creative collaborations.

What first inspired you to get into art?

I’d always reference Hip Hop culture as my entry point into this world. As a youth I was obsessed with all facets of that scene, from breakdancing to graffiti. It really was synonymous with that movement and expression. This was really galvanized with spending time in the capitol and introductions to artists such as Remi Rough, who stood to kick the door wide open into a subculture that blew my mind.

Congratulations on 10 years of Unit 44! You recently celebrated this milestone with the virtual gallery “Hidden In Plain Sight” – how did you find the experience of putting on a virtual show

This will become a long-lasting feature in our output. We’ve always been a fringe gallery in the North of England, and that certainly has its challenges. However, with this technology our audience grew exponentially. Customers and supporters were able to view the exhibition from literally anywhere. This has truly levelled the playing field for us.

However, the experience for the team was certainly a strange one, so much work into something that nobody could truly enjoy in the flesh. And although this is the way the world is going, we still strive for that human contact and genuine in person reaction.

As a key part of the art scene in Newcastle, how would you describe the change in the local scene over the past decade?

It’s definitely a double-edged sword. Over the last ten years we’ve seen a clear step away from the region with regards to galleries and projects. The likes of Lazarides and Opus were responsible for some incredible shows in Newcastle, with artists that wouldn’t ordinarily be found here. They are a miss. Matter of fact is that this is a hard model to crack, we’re trying our best. We find comfort in the fact that the scene is thriving at the roots, with new artists continuing to emerge from the region, inspired by established artists such as Candice Tripp, Prefab77, and Hush.

We began this series of interviewing different creatives with Mysterious Al, who you guys brought to Newcastle in 2019. What are your memories of that show?

That was a great time, and maybe it’s the lockdown talking but revisiting these projects makes me miss people so much. Everything came together on that one and it was a real celebration. Projects like that don’t feel like business, the rewards are far deeper. The fact that the wall still stands relatively untarnished is a great monument to that experience.

What advice would you give for aspiring creatives and artists, and those who are graduating later this year?

I think the narrative is truly challenging, but don’t be deterred, the opportunities are out there, they are just under different rocks. For us 2020 and 2021 witnessed a much more defined move to online, and this was an essential step for our business. The audience still exists, the clients are still there to be made, and the projects are still rolling. You just need to keep your hat in the mix. And if you think I’m talking garbage, ping me your CV and we’ll do what we can to help connect those dots. ‘Shy bairns get nowt’ and all that jazz.

All creatives have different approaches to receiving a brief or starting on a piece of artwork, do you have a typical process for when creating your artwork and projects?

Bring the brief to life. It’s the start point for everything we do. We believe people don’t necessarily invest in the end result, instead they fall in love with the story, and invest in being part of that activation. This goes for artwork and projects. Add your audience into the ingredients and you can’t miss with the pudding.

What are you currently working on? Any projects in the pipeline?

We have a super exciting project bubbling with Cinelli and Backyard Bikes. This along with some new printmaking activations and regional collaborations. We’ve started moving beyond the traditional constructs with our artists, collaborating on products for the home, and somewhat unconventional pairings. Whatever it takes to keep things interesting.

Obviously, the pandemic rolls on, so we’re not planning anything face to face as of yet, but you can bet we’ll be back in the digital sphere.

This series is all about putting the spotlight on different creatives. Are there any creatives who you have recently come across that you would recommend?

I show genuine bias, but worthy of merit in their own right. My brother (Ben Hughes) recently launched a new clothing brand ‘Cafe Mountain’ with Lewis Wilson formerly of Nigel Cabourn. They are making some beautiful steps adhering only to their creative impulses. Inspired by a love for the planet and finding all that gooey good stuff in collaboration. Check them out.

Thanks, Danny!

It’s been great to get a perspective of the local art scene and we look forward to seeing what 2021 brings Unit 44.  Here’s to the next ten years eh!

You can check out more of Unit44’s work here, or over on their Instagram.

We’ll be back next month with our next creative spotlight, so keep an eye out for that one.

In the meantime, we share some of the cool and creative stuff we spot over on our Twitter. Give us a follow here.