The Biscuit Factory
16 STODDART ST | NE2 1AN | MON – SUN 10AM-5PM | SAT – 6PM
At the top of the Ouseburn Valley, The Biscuit Factory stands as a pretty good summation of what most of the places in the Ouseburn try to combine: art, food, and a nice time. The Biscuit Factory is the UK’s largest independent contemporary art gallery, majestically stored in a converted Victorian warehouse – a bit like a mini Tate Modern. Of course, it has nothing near the big name pulls of the Tate, but it’s a lovely place to wander around for an hour. It’s the largest part of the Biscuit trinity of venues / art galleries in the Ouseburn; The Biscuit Factory, The Biscuit Room and The Holy Biscuit. There’s also a very famous culinary appendage to it, the restaurant Artisan, but I haven’t been there yet so watch this space on that one.
Part exhibition space, part shop, The Biscuit Factory showcases the art, craft and design of over 250 different artists each quarter year. The displays range over the two floors; from jewellery to prints, paintings to crockery, sculpture to homeware. It’s the kind of place that makes you wish you had unlimited funds, so you could fill your life with all these pretty things and give presents of them to all your friends. It makes for a lovely daydream.
The collection sits against a mixed backdrop of red brick, white plaster and wood. It feels surprisingly natural inside, and very relaxed. There’s no air of pretension; simple, laminated printouts sit alongside each artists’ section, explaining their work and history.
Currently, the Winter Exhibition and a showcase of Craft Scotland are on until mid-March and February respectively. A couple of things particularly caught my eye. At the open top of the stairs, Peter Sales’ lacquered steel sculptures are bright and powerful. Chunks of steel with fluted edges are layered together to create wonderfully naturalistic impressions of ducks, storks, and penguins. His mandarin duck is a glittering rainbow of colours, as though it were sitting on the water, glinting in the sunlight.
Claire Caulfield’s prints of Newcastle reminded me of Quentin Blake’s style of line drawing, as pops of colour are put into the prints through her use of the complicated technique, chine colle.
From the archives of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Sally Spens’ Japanese inspired etchings are calming and delicate. Spens and her partner are the only westerners in history to have been granted the privilege of collaborating with a Japanese company on kimono design. The textile influence is palpable in her soft etchings, which blur the divide between fine and applied arts.
I’ve always thought the nicest books and jewellery are found in the shops of art galleries. Sadly though, it’s often overpriced because of where you are. Like all things in the Ouseburn though (and lovely Geordies generally), The Biscuit Factory doesn’t take the mick and the lower floors exhibit a carefully curated selection of contemporary jewellery and a teeny treasure-trove of literature, and it’s all reasonably priced. I picked up Albert Camus’ 23-page pamphlet, The Sea Close By, a sensual celebration of the natural world, for £1.99. It’s lovely.
I don’t really know how to talk about art properly, and don’t want to try to because it’d be a car-crash, so I’m not going to say anything more other than that I liked being in the place and being surrounded by the lovely stuff inside it.
One last thing though – mugs. The Biscuit Factory exhibits homeware that means you can’t help fantasising about the ulterior universe you’ll live in when you’re older, when £45 on a mug makes perfect sense, and you can have those kind of mugs that aren’t just mugs but are wonderful pieces of art themselves, that surely will bring light and happiness into your life in a way you didn’t think a mug could, but wow, it can.
There’s also a café on the top floor, the Biscuit Kitchen, which serves an array of student-priced lunch options, afternoon sweet treats and brunch all day (!!). There are also 10% and 20% student discounts available. After an hour of looking at pretty things, the m&m slab hits the spot.
Watch this space for a look at the real-deal kitchen, The Biscuit Factory’s restaurant, Artisan…