RACHEL SIMKISS – From dance studio to art studio

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Rachel Simkiss is the director of the Clarendon Fine Art Gallery located at 46 Dover Street, Mayfair; the heart of London’s premier art district. The gallery specialises in British and international contemporary painting and sculpture, catering for both established and new collectors, and is market leader in the work of Laurence Stephen Lowry R.A. The gallery holds an impressive museum-quality inventory of Lowry’s finest prints, drawings and old paintings. It has developed an international reputation for numerous leading artists working in a wide variety of styles and genres, ranging from the semi-abstract to the impressionist, including Danielle O’ Connor Akiyama, Sherree Valentine Danies, Fabian Perez, Jeffrey Pratt and Gibraltar’s leading artist Christian Hook.

The gallery presents around twelve varied solo exhibitions throughout the year, including exclusive private views with each artist. The gallery launched in May 2010 and is part of the successful DeMontfort Fine Art group. The Chief Executive Officer of the group is Helen Swaby.

Rachel is a Gibraltarian by marriage which makes her a hundred per cent pro-Gibraltar. She is married to Ralph Smith whose mother Tessa is the daughter of Maggie Trico. They married in May 2012 and have a three year old daughter Sophia, to whom Christian is godfather.

Rachel was born in Leicestershire and educated at the Portland House School for girls. She was an outstanding netball player, representing the East Midlands and playing in the England trials. An agonising decision was taken when she gave up ballet and university sport for the arts. After completing her A levels she went to the de Montfort University in Leicester to read for an arts foundation, and later went on to Southampton University to be awarded a BA (Hons) degree in Fine Arts.

From an early age, Rachel was attracted to the world of art and hoped to find a career in Fine Arts. She did some painting, but soon discovered that this was not for her. She would rather be the person behind the scenes. Now after 20 years she appreciates what her strengths are and they lie in the areas of curating and management. Today, rather than putting on her own exhibition of paintings, she organises the shows and manages the business affairs of Christian and other artists. She said: “This is my comfort zone and where I feel that I am performing at my best.”

After graduation, a close family friend introduced her into the world of making and producing musical videos and commercials. She started as a runner for Tsunami films in Poland Street, Soho and worked there for four and a half years. She was then promoted to producer and was involved in working with popular artists such as Madonna and David Guetta.

A brave decision was taken to leave this exciting industry as she needed to get back in to world of the arts. Luckily, two cousins started up a photography business and she ended up working with them, but suddenly her comfortable life was upturned when in 2004 her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Rachel continued to work fewer hours in London and spent more time in Northamptonshire taking her mother to various treatments and therapies. She decided to do anything she could to help. She got in contact with Cancer Research and offered to help in any way possible. She relayed her skills and her belief that her strengths lay in organising events to raise money. Rachel started with a small event in the Ralph Lauren store in Chelsea and an impressive sum of £10,000 was raised.

It was at this time that Rachel was headhunted to launch the marketing department for The Halcyon Gallery on Bruton Street in Mayfair London. It was here that her love of curating and working with talented artists truly began. Her first major show was the very talented British artist Mitch Griffiths.

Alongside her daily working life Rachel decided to set up a charity called the Silver Pearl Trust and continued to hold many fundraising balls in order to raise money for Cancer Research UK and Maggie’s Cancer Care Centres in Oxford and London Charing Cross. The more she learnt about cancer, the more she quickly realised that no amount of money was going to be able to cure her mother or others living with the disease. Dealing with the emotional side of it on a daily basis was at times really very hard.

The main objective of the Silver Pearl Trust was to provide natural complementary therapies for people who are suffering from, or have been affected by, cancer. Rachel decided now was the time to leave her career in the arts to set up a beauty clinic business whose profits would pay for and allow people who had been affected by cancer to come and enjoy what she referred to as ‘nice treatments’. The beauty clinic was dependent on referrals from hospitals such a St Bart’s and the Chelsea and Westminster. There was a dramatic take off with the referrals growing to about thirty a day. It was a tiny clinic and demand was huge. It achieved its objective of providing a sanctuary for cancer patients to come to. Rachel is enormously proud of setting up this charity as it enabled her to give something practical to the community. She has now left actively working in the clinic but still continues to raise money for cancer charities.

In 2010, having achieved the charity’s dream of helping lots of people, Rachel’s love of the art world drew her back in and a meeting was held with a managing director who was keen to discuss ideas. A new flagship gallery, Clarendon Fine Art, was shortly to open on Dover Street and she was offered the job of marketing director to set it up from the absolute beginning. She accepted and has never looked back. After three years she was appointed the Gallery Director.

Seven years later, the Clarendon group consists of the flagship gallery in Mayfair, five boutique galleries across the South of the United Kingdom and three galleries on Cunard’s Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2. One of Rachel’s first challenges in 2010 was to set up the gallery on the Queen Elizabeth and have it ready in time for the maiden voyage. A year later she flew to Fort Lauderdale to open Clarendon on Queen Victoria and a few months later on Queen Mary 2.

Rachel predominantly oversees all areas of Clarendon Fine Art at their flagship and manages some of their biggest artists including Christian Hook. Clarendon has twenty six artists under contract. A boutique has opened in Wimbledon and another will open next month in the King’s Road.

Rachel went down to see the exhibition by five Gibraltarian painters in the East End and was impressed, especially by the works of Paul Cosquieri.

Rachel and her husband Ralph in 2012, on a visit to see his grandmother and other members of the Trico family, walked down Irish Town and went in to have look at Dylan’s art shop. There was an amazing painting hung on the wall called ‘The Culprit’. On closer inspection it was revealed to be a Christian Hook.

She is always looking for something new and this was different. Upon returning to London, contact was made with Peter Canessa and a meeting was arranged at Gibraltar House. The upshot was the Clarendon Fine Arts prize for 2012. The main prize was a year’s contract being managed by Clarendon. There were 143 entries and CEO Helen Swaby and Rachel adjudicated the paintings and twenty were selected for exhibition with Christian declared the winner. His first solo show was in 2013 and the next year he entered and won the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the year 2014.

Christian’s recent sell out solo show The Darwin Series has been a huge success with every painting sold and over £75,000 raised for charity. He decided to give the proceeds of the sale of a painting to two charities that are very close to him and Rachel.

Christian presented a cheque for £37,500 to Sarah, Duchess of York for her charity Children in Crisis founded in 1993 and remaining the life president. It is a non-profit organisation aimed at improving the lives of children and women from under privileged backgrounds in third-world countries. The other cheque for £37,500 was presented to Clare Mathias for her charity the Hummingbird Foundation established in 2014 by the Mathias family. Its objective is to support innovative community action in preventing human trafficking in west Bengal, India. Christian is now off to Bali for three months rest and relaxation and in March flies to Abu Dhabi with the British Polo team.

Life carries on at a giddy pace for Rachel as no sooner had the Hook exhibition finished she turned her attention to work on the solo show by their Argentinean painter, Fabian Perez.