Graduates have got the art gallery bug!

Petra York and David Allsopp at the Orchard Centre, West Bar
Petra York and David Allsopp at the Orchard Centre, West Bar
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THEY are being called the lost generation - thousands of graduates leaving university with degrees and ambition but, in the current economic climate, no jobs to go to.

For Helen McIntosh and Thanasis Andronikus, however, the solution was to simply follow their art.

The pair have eschewed what is fast becoming the traditional route of applying for nonexistent jobs while slogging their guts at unpaid internships - and instead have opened their very own city centre gallery.

“There were no jobs out there,” says 21-year-old Helen. “So we created our own.”

And just a month after Heartbeat, in West Bar Green, officially opened, visitors numbers are booming, all exhibition space is taken, and the pair - both art management graduates from Sheffield Hallam University - are already looking to extend the one year they have given themselves to make the project work.

Lost generation? Not here.

“There didn’t seem to be anyway we’d finish university and get a job, either as gallery curators or anything else related to what we’d studied,” says former Stocksbridge High School pupil Helen. “We’d run a successful exhibition as part of our final year, and we got thinking we could open something permanently. There are a lot of galleries in Sheffield but our idea was to make something unpretentious and welcoming which would be popular not just with the traditional art crowd but with audiences who perhaps wouldn’t normally go to a gallery.”

Certainly, so far it seems to be working.

With the centre’s expanse of windows looking onto one of the city’s busiest roads, they estimate they’ve had more than 250 people through the doors; from children attracted by the unusual sculptures (the giant upturned bug by Sheffield-based artist David Allsopp is particularly popular) to the lads on a night out who passed by and popped in for the free wine being served at an open evening.

“They were really interested,” says Helen, of Cavendish Street, city centre. “Although we didn’t manage to sell them anything.”

There was also the white van man who the pair hired to transport equipment before the opening.

“We got talking about what we were doing and, although he said he’d never been to a gallery before, he was really enthusiastic” says Thanasis, a former software engineer who moved from Greece three years ago to take up that degree. “Then he turned up to the opening night. That was a big moment because that’s exactly the environment we want to create, where people feel comfortable just walking in.”

Not that being comfortable doesn’t mean some of the work isn’t...ahem, challenging.

From local artists (David Allsopp is joined by fellow Sheffielder Peter York in the current display) to the international (next up will be work by Radhika Agarwala and Luna Lee, both graduates from London’s prestigious Goldsmiths College), this is uncompromisingly modern art.

“It can be challenging,” says 36-year-old Thanasis, of Mowbray Street, “but it is also anti-elitist”.

For these two members of the lost generation, things are looking decidedly found.

Heartbeat gallery opens 11 - 6pm Tuesday to Saturday.

Works at Hearbeat include...

1 Untitled by Radhika Agarwala

THE name doesn’t give much away but, whatever this alludes to, you can be sure it is ‘officially good art’ - Agarwala went to Goldsmiths College.

2. Birds and Snakes by Peter York.

A PIECE inspired, not by a bad LSD trip, but by the desire to explore the woodcut process beyond just inking the surface. It’s large, colourful and geometric.

3 The Mystery Dance by David Allsopp.

NOT a scene from Saturday night at The Leadmill but an acrylic painting inspired by the duality of a playing card. There’s also a snake and apple, hinting at Biblical overtones.

4 God Box by David Allsopp

MORE Biblical referencing from David. “Blimey, I sound right religious,” he says.

The piece is a wall sculpture made of wood, glass and wallpaper. It’s designed to make bad taste look beautiful.