There are 3 reasons why I keep going back to Maison Bertaux, the Soho patisserie currently hosting Noel Fielding’s second art exhibition. Firstly, there’s Noel’s art: a multi-coloured multi-layering of ideas and impressions that demands repeated viewings; then there’s the pastries and the cinnamon tea (which counts as one); and finally, there’s Tania Wade, Noel’s art dealer who runs the Maison Bertaux gallery. An effervescent hi-energy cocktail of warm hospitality, easy charm and strong opinions, a natter with Tania has become as much a part of my Maison Bertaux experience as the paintings and the cakes. And now, luckily for us, Tania has very kindly agreed to talk to The Velvet Onion – about working with Noel and his art show.
As a fan of Noel Fielding I’m well aware that my view of the man and his achievements may be somewhat biased, so it’s especially pleasing to have my fan’s view confirmed, and indeed superseded, by someone who actually knows him. I had a long list of questions ready for Tania, one being “What’s the best thing about working with Noel?” and another being “…and the worst thing?” As it turned out, most of the interview was taken up with an animated discussion around the first question, while the second one was dealt with in a short and not entirely serious sentence.
Tania Wade was born and raised in the West End, and still lives and works there. Friends joke that she never leaves the area; she’s the West End equivalent of a Pearly Queen, only with better connections. As far as I can tell, anyone who lives, works or regularly passes through Soho knows her. Tania and Noel’s working relationship came about somewhat accidentally. She’d met him a few times, he’d mentioned he was an artist, and they got on well, “He has such an unusual, gentle quality. He’s not heavy and loud like some people – sometimes you turn around and he’s just there, like he’s appeared out of the pavement!” The final piece of jigsaw popped into place when the Observer made Tania their ‘Rising Star Gellerist’ and she mentioned, somewhat prematurely, that she was working with Noel. “We’d better do it then” he said. Noel’s first sell-out exhibition at Maison Bertaux took place in 2007, with prices for his paintings doubling in a matter of weeks.
I asked Tania what makes working with Noel so enjoyable. “He’s not poncey, he’s unpretentious – it’s refreshing. I mean he carries his art around in plastic bags. And he’s surprised by everything. He’s exactly like he is on TV – that’s just him, he doesn’t switch it on and off.” It’s clear that one of the reasons Tania does what she does is because it’s so enjoyable: “It should be fun. It is with him, and while we both have our meltdowns, he’s an extraordinary person.”
Tania is keen to point out that Noel, who has been painting since childhood, is a proper artist and it isn’t just a hobby. She describes his creativity as an energetic, fluid process. It begins with an idea or thought which then grows and evolves, filling the canvas with bold, vibrant brushstrokes (“He’s a natural painter; when you watch him paint it’s almost as if his hand is the paintbrush.”), but then growing beyond it, perhaps to become words on the wall, or part of his stand-up routine, a tweet, even a character for a TV show…or something else entirely. Noel creates whole worlds rather than pictures, with stories and characters spanning across different channels: painting, comedy and beyond, with each one linking to and inspiring the next. The paintings themselves represent visual records of part of his ideas, but the ideas extend far beyond the edge of the canvas. As Tania said, “Noel’s aware of everything around him…and then everything comes out of him.”
In putting together his 2 exhibitions at Maison Bertaux, Noel and Tania sought to recreate this feeling. Anyone who’s visited the gallery can’t fail to have been struck by visual and mental over-stimulation; words and pictures jostling for space on every wall, combining to create a singular narrative. “It feels like you’re completely inside Noel’s world, inside his head” she said. While hanging the shows could be quite a stressful experience at times, Tania was struck by how polite and respectful Noel is, with “Is Michelle going to be OK with this?” becoming a regular query, whenever Noel feared one of his more out-there pieces could prove too risqué for Tania’s sister.
Both Tania and Noel appreciate the need to cater to his fan base. Not everyone can afford to buy a painting, so they spent time putting together a beautifully-produced set of postcards which fans can buy as a record of the show. Tania welcomes Noel’s fans to the gallery, perhaps seeing some of them as kindred spirits who have recognised something special in his work. She showed me some of the emails she’d received from fans who have travelled half-way round the world to see the show, clearly touched by how Noel’s art has moved them. “For Noel to have made people feel this way – you can’t ignore that. You appreciate it and you look after them.”
As I talked with her it struck me that Noel couldn’t have chosen a better keeper of his art than Tania. She’s as respectful of his fans as she is passionate about Noel’s qualities – both as an artist and as a human being. And on top of all that she’s brilliant fun. Noel has said of her “Tania is a totally rock and roll art dealer, who illuminates any room or situation. She’s a one-off, an authentic eccentric and completely crazy in the best possible way. I love her – I call her my hooligan art dealer.”
So is it really as perfect as it sounds, or is there a bad side to working with Noel? “He’s the biggest pest ever!” She laughs. “But he’s my favourite pest.”
Noel’s show ‘Bryan Ferry versus the Jelly Fox’ continues at Maison Bertaux, 28 Greek Street London, until 5th January 2011. From February 2011 Tania will be hosting an exhibition of Diva Zappa’s work. For more information, visit Tania’s website.