June 17, 2016
In a seemingly unstoppable and swift movement—galleries, art dealers, art aficionados, trend-spotters, and urban socialites—are flocking to the Lower East Side to enjoy the charms of the experimental food scene, hip and often quirky bars at every corner, the thriving nightlife, and of course, the ubiquitous art presence. From street art, to endless graffiti tags and random public installations, the art scene is evidently booming especially as many galleries, established and new, make their way downtown to partake in the infinite energy.
Located solidly in the Lower East Side, right next to Two Bridges and a just a few blocks from the East River, Sargent’s Daughters first opened its doors in November 2013 as the joint venture of dealer Allegra LaViola and Meredith Rosen, former director of BravinLee programs in Chelsea.
The East Broadway physical location was converted from LaViola’s eponymous gallery into the current gallery space. In an area mostly dedicated to minimalist, conceptual, and experimental contemporary art, Sargent’s Daughters stands out as a gallery focusing on more traditional mediums such as painting, drawing, and sculpture with the intent to bridge the gap between the historic and classical and more modern contemporary aesthetics. LaViola and Rosen search for innovation within already established mediums, genres, and aesthetic conceptions to prove that the contemporary can have strong ties to the past in interesting and meaningful ways. Quality with a sense of tradition and lineage trump overt flash and quirky trends in this gallery space.
Owner and Director, Meredith Rosen, shares what this joint venture is all about with Art Versed as well as her views on working within the art world.
What is Sargent’s Daughters mission?
Our interest is in artists whose work combines the qualities of tradition and cutting edge.
In addition to exhibitions by represented gallery artists, Sargent’s Daughters creates collaborations as a platform for exploring new conversations within a wider context of galleries, artists and objects.
What were the motivations behind making the switch in 2013 from working at BravinLee programs in Chelsea to opening Sargent’s Daughters in the Lower East Side with Allegra LaViola?
I wanted to be able to work with artists and create ambitious exhibitions without the constraints of an existing platform. My partnership with Allegra had a lot to do with timing and instinct.
As a relatively recent space, was it difficult getting the gallery up on its feet?
Of course! To do anything well is very hard, but I love the challenge. I think the gallery model is constantly changing so as a dealer you can never get too comfortable.
Everyone seems to be saying that the Lower East Side is turning into the new gallery quarter—what were your reasons for moving into the neighborhood and has the location proved favorable to you?
We love our location. It’s a great space, across from a park and right next to the subway.
I’ve read in previous interviews that you chose the name “Sargent’s Daughters” in reference to John Singer Sargent, regarding him as a risqué innovator within his time. Can you explain this concept in relation to contemporary art and how it fits into your vision for the gallery?
We loved that John Singer Sargent was an innovator working in a traditional medium and wanted this statement to represent the context of our growing program. We exhibit work that has a strong historical lineage by artists who push the limits of contemporary art today – formally through various mediums and intellectually through their choice of content.
What kind of artists, if there even is a specific, are you looking to represent?
We aren’t interested in a specific kind of work. We are always interested in work of the highest quality whether it’s something brand new or shedding new light on an artist with an established presence.
Do you have a favorite from the shows you’ve put on?
Our last exhibition by Cy Gavin is one of our best exhibitions to date. I really feel each show gets better and better as we have more experience, reflect on past exhibitions and create a stronger dialogue with gallery artists.
What makes Sargent’s Daughters different from other galleries?
When we opened most galleries on the LES were interested in building programs with young and emerging artists. We didn’t open with a roster of artists. We started putting together the best shows we possibly could with the artists we discovered and established artists that we admire.
Do you have any future plans for the gallery that drastically differ from what you are doing now?
To hopefully grow our program and with the artists we bring to the table.
What are your thoughts on the art market today and the increasing interest and importance of art fairs and biennials?
I think art fairs are very important to build an international audience for wide range of artists. I find it very interesting to go to an event where I can see so many dealers in action. You can learn so much by example.
Who is your favorite non-contemporary artist?
What is your favorite museum (world-wide range)?
Fondation Beyeler – I look forward to seeing their exhibitions every June when in Basel.
179 E Broadway, New York, NY
May 23, 2016
Distinguished for his portrait paintings, South African born Ryan Hewett is a star on the rise. After his sold-out show at Unit London last year (Read our interview with Unit London co-founders Jonny Burt and Joe Kennedy), Ryan is preparing for his first solo show in the UK coming up in October this year. We caught up on a typical rainy day in London (not as sunny and bright as days in South Africa, noted by the artist) when Hewett shared his views on being an artist, creative transformation, life outside of a canvas and much more.
Do you remember when you realized you wanted to be an artist ?
Not really. It’s always been with me. I’ve been drawing since I can remember. There was never a point when the lights came on and BOOM I’m going to be an artist ! I was doing a number of jobs, but I kept drawing no matter what. I used to do pencil drawings with a very realistic approach to them. I was never a painter. But then I taught myself to paint. It was always something I enjoyed, it was my passion, and I wanted to take it further and see where it can lead me.
When was the first time you painted ?
I was about 20. It took me a while, but by 22 I sold my first work. And then I became obsessed with painting for the past 15 years.
Would you try any other medium though ?
I mostly have oil paintings, I also use spray paint and I want to start doing sculptures. I’d like to as I feel my paintings are quite sculptural. I’ve never done it before, it’s like I’m painting rocks and putting them together. I’m going to start playing with clay in a month or two and see where it goes.
I can see some of your works are so three-dimensional, you can actually see the thick layer of paint that you applied on the surface…
At the beginning, I tried to approach painting as I did with pencil work. It was very delicate and thin. I needed it to be neat and tidy, I used to put paint lids back on after I finished painting… now it’s a complete chaos (laughs). I use rollers, I throw paint on the canvas, and lids are never on now… I became more confident when approaching a painting and just letting it go. The textures are a lot thicker and juicier. But then again my new works with flat backgrounds are more textured, more thought-out. My earlier works are rough, low-detailed, these ones are more one-stroke, you lay it down and you leave it. Very clean.
Are you inspired by any artists ?
I never studied art history, so my inspiration came from books. Looking through and learning about artists as I got older made my taste change over time. There’s this artist Adrian Ghenie that influenced me in a figurative landscape sense of an artwork… But there’s so much art out there, you can get lost… I think, the art of Francis Bacon and Egon Schiele speak to me the most. Art has to be moving. It’s not always a pretty picture or a pretty face, it’s gotta hold you.
You first show was four years ago at Barnard Gallery in SA. Before that you’ve never thought of being exhibited ?
Most of my 20s and 30s I have been going through a rough time and painting was mostly a way to escape from all the troubles of the everyday life. I can’t even say who I was; it was a very unstable chapter of my life. Art was my passion and the means to get away from that dark place I was in most of the time.
Last year you had a show at Unit London called Untitled where you depicted portraits of famous historical figures. What was the idea behind it ?
The idea came around to put figures that in their own way changed the world together in one place. Winston Churchill, Oussama Ben Laden… Jesus… That body of work was meant for those people to be together in one room. In a certain way, they belonged together. Putin and Obama, which is still relevant today. Even after the show I thought I did a series of iconic people and got caught in it for a while.
What about your second UK solo show coming up in October, will we see portraits again ?
Not only. There will be landscapes … It’s so new to me. There are hints of landscape here and there in my previous works, where figures seem to be crashed into the flower field, for example, or a skyline. There will be movement away from portraits; in fact, I want to tell my personal story. It will be a great challenge, as I’ve been doing just portraits for the past 15 years.
Do you have any work ready for the show already ?
I’ve just started the first one (laughing). It’ll be based on landscapes I saw growing up in Johannesburg… quite colorful… It’s hard to explain, but I remember reading a book when I was young that was a big inspiration to me so it’s a flashback to that time in a way. Revisiting my styles, paintings that I did ages ago. Not to do with the painting but with the concept behind it, my darker past, memories… Going back to them and trying to put them on canvas is quite scary, as I haven’t done it. I know it’ll be a great challenge, but I feel like I have to do it. I want to ultimately show the journey that I’ve had.
What’s your favorite part of the artistic process ?
It takes time to have that breakthrough. But there are these moments when everything changes… A new idea or a mistake. Painting is a very technical process and I am kind of an obsessive painter. I’m always in the studio for long hours, painting and painting. But then you always stumble on something new. A painting created in a few hours or a few sessions moves you. Sometimes I remember a facial structure and I keep the reference in my mind, and then the face just comes together on a canvas in a matter of a few days. It’s done.
I used to just attack the canvas and lately I started to reflect on how and why I lay down that brushstroke. I get in a rhythm, I’ve a roller, paintbrushes in my hands, it’s quite chaotic, but I get focused and zoned into what I am doing. I don’t even put music on, just because I like to be in my head when I’m doing it. But I also know what to be in and out of rhythm, I am a very up and down artist.
Do you work on multiple canvases at the same time ?
I never used to. I used to work on just one piece at a time. I recently started to because I don’t want to fall into a routine or a pattern, when you go from A to Z. It becomes predictable. Now I jump from one canvas to the next. And sometimes when you throw paint on a canvas, let it be there for a while, come back to it a few days later, and you see something new. You can’t get bored of it. You can’t get bored of the process of mixing it up… It depends though, sometimes I can finish a piece in a few hours. I don’t like the statement “it has to be this way”, I used to and I broke this pattern. I just know that there are moments when you’re in tune with the rhythm, you just see it. Everything feels right. It’s not always like that, it’s not easy. I am not trying to imagine a picture before I get to start the painting. Though with my new body of work that’ll be focusing on my own journey, I do have a picture, a memory in my head and the challenge is to ultimately communicate the felling I had through a painting. And I get so much satisfaction just letting it go on a canvas and I not controlling the process. I don’t want to know what I’m getting. That’s the art of making.
Do you have any advice to young artists?
As a painter, spend more time on a canvas. It’s not just books and books, you’ve to get on the canvas. Don’t be afraid of it. You’ve to be able to throw a canvas on the floor and walk over it at the end of the day. You’ve to be ready to take those risks. Things happen accidentally. Mistakes happen, great mistakes. It’s hours and hours on the canvas; you can’t get away from it. Go explore.
Ryan Hewett Solo Show is coming on September 29th, 2016 at Unit London.
Born in Limassol, Cyprus in 1989, Meletios Meletiou studied Fine Arts in the Academy of Rome and worked also as an assistant professor during the academic year 2012-2013. Furthermore, he attended professional courses of interior design at the Rome University of Fine Arts as well as window dresser and visual merchandiser at the Altieri Academy of Fashion and Art. Since 2014 attending a second level Master in Visual and performing arts in Rome’s Fine Arts Academy.
Meletios developed his ideas and formulated his own thinking during his academic and pre-academic years and applying it in various ways in his work.
Artists of his nature are essential to the artistic practise, they offer a different perception of the current events, with a realistic and more humane approach.
- How did you enter the art world? How did you start creating?
I can recall my father from a relatively early age being exposed into the arts, and that was the catalyst that triggered me to go into a private art school for 8 years. As I was growing up, I realised that this was my field. The entire procedure of creating art defines me as a person.
- Can you share with us what are you doing right now? What projects are you undertaking?
Currently, I am working on three projects. The two of those begun last year and the last one was initiated few months ago. One of those projects, includes the new park that is taking its shape in Magliana, next to the Tiber River. I was chosen to create a sculpture through my university. This project was supposed to be exhibited last year, but due to some procedural decisions it was postponed. This project includes a rock made by travertine tiles and it is called “Transition”. The other project, was given to our team by the United Nations and it is based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be fulfilled until 2030. The last project however is the one that stigmatised me both as a person and as an artist.
I started focusing on the refugee crisis, and most importantly to the people that were victimised from the war in Syria. It all started when I was scrutinising the entire chaotic situation in Mytilini where it was filled with people urging for a better living with no organisation whatsoever; as it was a crisis indeed. “Better Days for Moria”, a non-governmental organisation, which is volunteering in the area of Lesbos in Greece is burdened by refugees helped me to visit Lesbos to dissect the situation. The initial plan was to take some photographs that I needed for this project depicting the chaos in the area and conduct some workshops with the refugees in the entertaining section that is held by ‘Better Days for Moria’.
The project however took another take. I had to change my approach to it. You have to understand that when you have to do with people, emotions are getting involved and things cannot go according to plan. Generally, this project was related to the journey of ordinary people from Syria to Greece and then from Greece back to Europe. So this included a two-journey depiction.
- What do you want to extract and focus on in Lesbos?
At first I just wanted to go, see what is going on, help, cooperate with the people there and leave. I never thought that the impact of this visit would have altered my perception and my practise. It helped tackle art in a more humane way. Most importantly it reminded me how to be a human and not just a human being. It made me erase everything I considered in the past and create my one “Simio 0” which is the name of the project I will focus on. My ultimate aim is to create an installation that will describe the present situation in Lesbos of the victims of the war and in the same time be used as a historical evidence in the future of what was going on back then. I feel that even if the refugee crisis has gained massive exposure, it is not entirely raising the awareness needed. After all, the crisis is still there. We do not learn from history. History repeats itself, but with different standards every single time.
- How did it all start and how do you visualise the final installation project?
Few months ago, more specifically in September, I started a project that was related to the Refugee Crisis. This project was a continuation of my previous studio practise. You have to bear in mind, that I usually use symbols while creating. From 2010, I am using an everyday object, what people know as clothes hangers as a symbol to depict people that are trapped into certain situations that they cannot handle themselves. I initiated this project to depict a massive issue to create awareness and this was anorexia. I tried to portray bodies that suffer from specific nutritional turbulences. As I went along, this project developed to a generic depiction of turbulences that cause humans addictions. My aim was to actually interpret bodies that due to these experiences turn out to be lifeless. I understand that this is harsh. But my objective was to put an end to it. These bodies were hooked in what I have used as a symbol – the clothes hanger. The clothes hanger turned out to be a symbol that represented the people that are hooked by certain situations. Without it, the people would have been free.
Last year, I used this symbol of clothes hangers to represent the people that suffer and are trapped from terrorism and more specifically ISIS. I called this project ‘PortaCorpi’. Therefore, through this process, this symbol became my trademark. I relate this symbol to the refugee crisis. I relate it this symbol to the life vests that are the only safety nets people have during their journey from Syria to Greece and Greece to Europe.
I don’t know if you have seen this, but when the refugees land into Lesbos, those life vest jackets are thrown away. The irony is that those life vest jackets are the only supportive elements people have. They are not even real. They cannot save human beings. It is simply an illusion for the refugees that the life vest jacket is their own protection. But its not.
I want to create the parallel of these life vest jackets to a clothe hanger. People throw the life vest jacket as soon as they see land, to get rid of the burden. To get rid of the war crime because they feel safe at least. I don’t know how to define the burden. The people that arrive to Lesbos are bodies that were forced to leave their country. They are bodies that are trapped into a situation that they did not choose themselves. Nobody wants to leave their country and that is the only thing we can take for granted. From my perception, this is what I define to be the ‘clothes-hangers’. It is the situation that keeps the hooked embedded into a consequence that they did not choose themselves. They are forced to enter the sea with the fear of dying and Lesbos becomes their zero point where they finally feel safe. Zero point in Greek means “Simio 0” which is the name of the project. As Lesbos becomes the safe haven of the refugees their bodies are finally back on track.
From my own perception, time stops there- in the so-called “Simio 0”. I want to create an installation, with hundreds of handmade wires that will be presented as hangers. This will work as a parallel with the mountains of life vest jackets that are thrown away after the refugees reach the land. As you can imagine, the situation itself is unstable therefore, things can be subjected to transform and develop as I go along.
My plan is that I will visit Lesbos soon. This journey will definitely last longer. My aim is to conduct new workshops that will focus on the ‘imaginary friends’ that refugees may have in this journey as their shoulder. These workshops will consist of handmade wires sculptures that will represent each person’s personal perspective on the matter.
- I understand you work with concepts. Why did you choose to work with the refugee crisis? Why now?
It was not an urge. It was a building process of my previous studio practise. After the ‘PortaCorpi’ concept, this project was subsequent development. The refugee crisis, had a massive impact on me, especially after the incident in the port of Mytillini, last summer. Especially when you see all these horrific images – image is so important nowadays- you understand that you need to relate further. The orange brightness verifies a vigilant sentiment. Therefore, all these images, and the development of my studio practise made me understand that this project was essential for me as an artist.
- Based on your experience, what is the role of art in a society?
As people, we tend to forget quite easily. Art is an important source of communication between people that have a language barrier. When I was in Lesbos and I was interacting with the refugees, we were communicating through sketches. They couldn’t speak English so art was our common language. Art is a language that everyone can understand, every person in this world. Thereby, I feel that art underlines memories and interaction.
- What was the hardest thing you came across in Lesbos?
The first boat. I cannot take it off my mind. I was holding two cameras and I had no clue what I was going to see there. I saw a new-born baby getting off the boat. That was my zero point. I was dashed.
- Are you usually influenced by political/historical considerations or by artistic ones?
I tend to examine historical considerations to create something that is going on in the world right now. I don’t care about visual aesthetics to the eye that much. I care that the aesthetic of the concept will delivery the right messages to the audience or make them ask questions regarding the concept I am raising. Art needs to make people think. If it is aesthetically pleasing or not, that’s not something I focus on.
- How do you approach your work?
I sketch non-stop. I analyse my thoughts. I let myself into my thoughts and research non-stop. Lesbos was a turning-point as I said before. I have seen something that I have never seen in my entire life. It made me tackle art in a more humane way.
- Who is your favourite artist?
I never felt the urge to have a favourite artist. I examine several artists for what they are doing which many of them are influential to me in their own level.
- What is the thing that inspires you?
Humans and their surroundings.
- What are your plans in the future?
I want to feel satisfied from what I am doing in Lesbos. I want to reach a point that I will feel that I have offered something else with the project that is based on the refugee crisis. The only thing I have learnt from my experience in Lesbos is that situations are subjected to alter all the time. You cannot go according to plan.
- As a young artist, what is your advice to the younger generation that aspires to become part of the art world?
Find your own form of expression. Whatever you do, do it passionately.
Harlem-based artist Jordan Casteel is one of the three current artists in-residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Her patiently detailed, large-scale figurative paintings instantly demand one’s attention with their dynamic and vibrant swaths of color. Born in Denver, Colorado she received her MFA from Yale School of Art in New Haven, Connecticut in 2014. Just a few months after graduating, Casteel launched herself into the New York City art scene with her first solo exhibition, Visible Man, at Sargent’s Daughters. Just a year later, in 2015, her second solo show, Brothers, opened in the same space.
I got the wonderful opportunity to visit her studio in Harlem and see her enchantingly monumental works in person while discussing her motivations behind making art that is at once personal and intimate as well as approachable, speaking to a broad audience.
- The Studio Museum in Harlem describes your work as “black masculinity in a domestic space.” Can you explain what drove you to pursue this theme?
I remember having this very specific reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin’s trial: I need to start becoming more proactive in making work that directly relates to a conversation I care about and that directly relates to my family members such as my twin, my father, my older brother—the people in my life closest to me. I felt I needed to make a body of work that dealt with the humanity of men in my life, black men specifically, and that would show the vulnerable, sensitive side of them that I would encounter when at home or in intimate personal spaces.
- Your first solo show in New York City at Sargent’s Daughters, Visible Man, speaks to this theme. Did it achieve what you wanted it to?
I was super excited to be given this opportunity and equally as excited to see how well-received it was. I felt like people were having the conversations I wanted them to have around those bodies, in that they were talking about humanity as it related to these black men at a time when Michael Brown had just been killed a few days before that show opened. I had been showing these bodies outside of a greater media dialogue and trying to recontextualize them into a more sensitive conversation. People were able to think about it more critically, so yes, I’d say that show went really well.
- Why did you choose to paint the men as nude?
The nudes happened initially in an effort to counteract what clothing can do in detracting from understanding the essence of somebody. There can be insignias or stereotypes that people want to project based off of what someone is wearing, which I feel blocks people from understanding who these people are. I was watching a lifetime of men being misunderstood and seen as villains and hyper-sexualized.
- And then it seems that not too long after Visible Man you were back at Sargent’s Daughters having your second show Brothers. Can you say what you were looking at differently with this show?
I was really focused on expanding the conversation on black men to becoming one about their relationships with each other. I was thinking about multiple figures—fathers, sons, brothers, and cousins. What does it look like when the space is shared intergenerationally?
- Were both of these bodies of work very personal to you?
Definitely. Most of these guys are my friends, family and people I know from Denver. I decided to explore some of the men who had been directly influencing this practice for me in my personal life, and representing them felt important in this time and space. My inspiration almost always directly relates to what I’m around and who I’m around and engaging with.
For me it’s about capturing an essence of people, their souls. One of the first things I paint in every work is the eyes because I do feel that is a very significant and telling part of the person.
- What does your work process look like?
I am very regimented in the way that I work. I am a 10-6 workday sort of person and oftentimes include weekends in my schedule. The way I make paintings is first I photograph my subjects. After, I come into the studio and create my own palate using color aids, then I begin sketching on the canvas, and slowly fill the rest in. A way for me to keep a sense of immediacy in these paintings, without having a live model, is to allow myself to instantly react to what I see and just let my hand go. There’s a wonkiness to these paintings, in that, I’m not hyper obsessed with fixing minute details or having everything completely anatomically correct. This is also the space where I allow myself to let go. There are moments where painting becomes meditative for me and then other moments when there is more of a freedom and looseness. All of the different elements of the painting manifest where I am mentally and emotionally in certain times and spaces as I make the piece. My commitment is just to see the paintings everyday that I can, to be actively in their presence within this space. They become a direct community for me, especially when they start to pop up and have conversations with each other.
- I love your rich color palate; it’s what instantly drew me to your paintings. Is there a specific reason why you work with such vibrant colors, especially in the depiction of your subject’s bodies?
I’m interested in having a conversation about color and how it relates to black skin. I am thinking about blackness as being multifaceted and how it is often times attributed to different tones and hues. I am interested in what we project onto bodies as it relates to color before we even truly see the person. Color is a fun way for me to have that conversation, and besides I just love color. My mother told me that when I was little girl, I was obsessed with rainbows.
- What is this new project you’re working on?
There is an essence of Harlem that I’m trying to capture. It’s a huge shift for me. Prior to this body of work, all my work has been inside the domestic space and this work is moving to exteriors. It’s going back to individuals and so it’s very important for me to try and make connections. Community is such an integral part of my work, so I’m trying to work on a new set of relations, here, in my community in Harlem. I am shaking people’s hands, I am introducing myself, and taking a moment to get to know who these people are.
- Has it been hard finding people to paint and then approaching them?
A lot of these people I’m running into on my walk from the studio to home. It’s taken practice but its not always easy for me. I think there is a certain element, as women in New York, to sort of look down and engage with men in a really particular way—there’s a shutting down that I have embodied somewhat since moving here, which I have to consciously counteract when doing this work. It’s hard but it’s also amazing to see how as soon as you cross that threshold with people just how much they can give back.
- Do you have an overarching aim for your work?
As many people that I can touch with these paintings, the better. I want these paintings to be a slow read of somebody. I want them to be carefully understood, respected, valued, and seen. How do you make somebody seen in a world where, in many aspects, they have been invisible for centuries? And as a woman, what does my lens add to that conversation? As a sister, as a daughter, as a friend—how do I begin to show everyone else what I see and have experienced as a black woman to my black brothers? The hope is that these works can cross boundary lines of many facets—the broader an audience the more I will feel that I have achieved a goal.
Casteel’s newest work will be shown at The Studio Museum in Harlem during their Artists-in-Residence exhibition, opening July 14th.
Can’t wait until July to see her work? The museum will be having open studios on April 17th from 1-4pm.
On a particularly rainy day in London, I made my way over the slippery cobble stone to Unit London – an artist-led gallery space in the heart of London’s Soho district. Preparing myself to meet two successful art entrepreneurs who became tremendously successful in less than 2 years since the birth of their gallery, I was nervous and excited. The second I entered the gallery, I felt like at home. Needless to say, I don’t live in Soho and don’t have paintings covering every single wall (never say never), but the ambiance, music, and art made me feel relaxed; I could have stayed for hours. Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt, the founders of Unit, are both in their twenties, laid-back and absolutely easy-going. Sitting on the couch (and when do you find a couch in a gallery?), we listened to The Killers while they shared a few inspirational ideas and discussed how they built the Unit brand though their Instagram account.
- Why art ?
Joe: We always had a big passion for art. We are both artists and we’ve known each other since 11. We took the same art class at school, so that’s where it all started. We were also frustrated with the way gallery system works. So we wanted to create something different by making art more accessible. That is the key And the way we’ve done that is in large part by using social media.
Jonny: We always wanted to do business together. We didn’t know it was going to be art. After the university I immersed myself with my own art, tried to build my portfolio, went to galleries for various reasons. At that time, a space became available in West London, and in the spirit of the moment we just went for it. It was a natural progression to start a gallery, though initially it was a pop-up. All was from the artist perspective and, yes, we wanted it to be different.
- Do you still make any art yourselves?
Joe: Managing the gallery is taking over now, so we don’t have time for most things outside of running business, and there’s no time for actually making art. Though we do use our creativity in our shows: curating the space, the marketing, the campaigns…they’re creative processes, so we do feel we’re still creating, just not in a studio.
- When you started off, did you have any connections or was it just the idea?
Joe: We had no contacts to go to, so we just did it the way we saw it and how we believed it should be done. We wanted something different, so we looked at all other galleries that are out there, focusing mostly on the UK, and saw that the majority are not serving talented emerging artists. That traditional contemporary art gallery model… You feel as if you’re not allowed to be there. Stuck in the old ways. All that old pretense that comes with what is essentially a painting on a canvas. And so we wanted to create an environment that was relaxed and friendly, welcoming for people, but at the same time showcasing incredible art. It is quite a simple idea. And it’s rewarding to see that it’s worked until this point.
- How did you start promoting your idea?
Joe: Social media was probably the main channel. We didn’t know anyone at all, so we had to go and create our own audience. Basically shout as loud as we could to anyone who wanted to listen.
Jonny: We opened social media accounts, but at that point you have no followers, you kind of begging your friends to follow and share. We made flyers and walked around a local neighborhood posting flyers late at night … that’s what we had. But it was the first show “Looking for you” that at the time was amazing, and some of those artists we still work with today. It was a good crowd at the end, and we got modest reviews in press, but it was still mostly friends and family, which is expected at the beginning. We ended up doing three shows there, and by the third show we already had our voice. And investing in the social media following was essential, because about year ago that was all we had. Now we have a network, but it is largely because of social media we are where we are today.
Joe: It was always about putting as much as possible into the brand, not the space, because the spaces we’ve had up until this point were pop-up spaces. We were very economical with our finances and were putting all the effort into building the brand, because people will follow the brand. That was the strategy.
- Why call it Unit London?
Joe: We went through a hundred names before we had this one (laughing). It was initially called “The Unit London”, because we wanted to create a collective, like this unit of artists. Then we decided to drop “The”, so it sounds less like a boy-band and more like a gallery. Our slogan is “We Exist for U”, and the U part of it is about us actually engaging with the public in conversation. A lot of the time galleries don’t like actively going out there and finding new networks, but we are eager to engage with people, so when you say “Unit London” the first thing you hear is U. We are trying to build a community around this model.
Jonny: It’s a community of artists, individuals, enthusiasts, collectors, everyone. We’re trying to draw everyone into this network and we are not catering for just a limited niche. Some galleries might invite 30 private collectors to a show, but we are trying to invite and welcome as many people as possible for ours. It all goes back to accessibility; we are not trying to cut out anyone.
Joe: It’s also about educating people who have never been to art galleries, helping them become new collectors. Social media helps to facilitate that, as you can connect with anybody across the world. In fact, some of our biggest clients are people who have never collected art before and they’ve stumbled upon the gallery, either they’ve come to the space or they found us online. They love this journey of discovery and understanding the art world. We try to create an open environment with no boundaries to entry, and new collectors – they are like the life blood of the gallery really.
- What is the difference between a traditional dealer-based gallery and an artist-led space, such as Unit London?
Joe: I think it is more in the way we market our artists and ourselves. We don’t do any of the fairs and we don’t have plans to participate in any right now. We don’t really need to at the moment. We have around 200-300 people every day coming to the gallery and a lot of the galleries don’t have this luxury. A lot of people who come in are just people from the street, who would never think about coming to an art gallery, but because it’s here in Soho and so accessible, people feel free to come in. I think we operate a slightly different model to what other galleries have. Many galleries’ sales revenue would come from art fairs. We get ours from the gallery trade and our marketing techniques.
Jonny: For us that should be the standard. People perceive us as fresh and new, but for us it’s just treating people with respect and not wanting them to feel uncomfortable walking into the gallery. Our door is wide open; music is playing. We constantly get feedback how relaxing and enjoyable people feel here. And it’s quite rare to find this in the industry, which is sad in a way. That’s what motivated us.
- So do you think that’s where the art gallery world is going, shifting from big dealer names to easy-going artist-led spaces?
Joe: That could do. I also think collectors are changing. 50 years ago it was more the elite classes that could buy art but now it’s more the upper working class, entrepreneurs, people who run their own businesses. People who work for their money. They don’t necessarily come from an elite cultural background but they have a lot of money, and they want a more relaxed atmosphere to enjoy amazing art. In that sense, consumers are changing; so that’s where we’ve been able to fit in, cater to that new collector. We are trying to lose that elitist approach, and we have a broad range of prices, so we do cater to different audiences. On our Instagram account, for example, anyone can get involved in the conversation about a piece. Some of our big collectors might comment on Instagram and then we’ll get a young artist from the UK replying to their comment… It’s an open and very public forum, which is a new prospect for this industry – being ultra-responsive, agile and being able to manage the community. For us it’s natural.
- How did you build your artist community?
Jonny: I was doing a blog when I was pursuing my art and writing about other artists that inspired my work. But I also managed to build relationships with those artists. One of them was Ryan Hewett and as a result we managed to get two pieces from him for our first show. We had 6 or 7 good London-based artists to start with and since then it evolved organically. As the brand grows, so do the artists. Now we get a lot of submissions and some of them are really good, but mainly we are on Instagram. Going through timelines and looking at emerging artists.
Joe: We’ve quite a varied roster. Artists come from all different ages, countries, backgrounds, but they’ve a similar aesthetic, which we refer to as Neo-Contemporary or Progressive Contemporary. But it’s also works that are similar to ours and we are so passionate about each artist we represent.
- Do you have a particular medium you tend to showcase in your gallery?
Joe: Not necessarily a medium. We are naturally drawn to dark pieces, as it is more reflective of our own work, like abstract portraiture by Jake Wood-Evans, Henrik Uldalen and Ryan Hewett. We have paintings, sculpture, digital art … what we haven’t done is installations. To be honest, we are not enthused by conceptual art. The artists we represent built their craft over time, there’s a technical ability and skill in the work and that’s what we value.
Jonny: For us it has to be an undeniable talent and skill. We want to be inspired by work we represent and that transmits to people.
- Due to globalization progressing more and more severely and people being online for longer hours, do you think it’s still important to have an actual physical gallery space?
Joe: Absolutely. Art is experiential. We are heavy on social media, but we always use that to market our physical space. Since we started we always had a space for people to visit. A gallery that just lives online doesn’t do the work justice. In a way, it would be a sad world if in 20 years people are sitting in front of screens, clicking on artworks and not going to shows. It’s not the same social experience. For collectors half of the importance of buying a piece is the context of how and where they bought it.
Jonny: Ultimately, social media helped us to attract large crowds of people. Even though we are trying to provide welcoming environment in our gallery, people might feel less intimidated looking through images online. We had people we’ve been talking to online for over a year and then they could do this big step and come to the gallery. One has to come in to fully experience art.
Joe: It’s the same with music. You can listen to it in your headphones, but you still want to go and see concerts. Same with football: If you’re a real fan, there’s never going to be a substitute for going to the game and having that experience. The social element is crucial.
- You represent a number of international artists. Are you thinking about going global and bringing your idea to an international crowd?
Joe: It’s on our radar. Also, a lot of our clients are international, and it makes sense for us to go overseas.
Jonny: Ideally we want our artists in museums. That’s the main goal: to build the brand, but most importantly promote the artists and help them build their careers.
- Who is your favorite artist?
Joe: Lots of favourites…probably Ryan Hewett.
Jonny: Same. He is the first one we started working with and he is a massive talent. He’s constantly evolving his work, that’s what is unique about him. We have a big solo with him at the end of the year as well and it will be the biggest show we’ve ever done.
- Tell us about the first ever Instagram-curated exhibition “Paintguide” that you had last year.
Joe: One of our artists, Henrik Uldalen, has built his own career through Instagram, but he also started another account called Paintguide, where he would share images of other artists that inspired his own work. It took off two years ago and started growing very fast. He invites other artists to takeover his account for a week and share images of other artists that inspire their work. It’s a huge global phenomenon. He wanted to do an exhibition and we thought it would be an amazing collaboration to host at Unit London. It was an incredible show: we had 60 artists and curating that was crazy. During the opening night we had a line around the block and it was testament of the power of Instagram. It was a massive success and the reach was phenomenal.
- Do you have any advice to young entrepreneurs?
Joe: Work very hard. Have a good idea, believe in it and work hard. That’s what we’ve done really. For the past two years, it’s been 24/7 for us. We made our own sacrifices to make it work. So as long as you believe in your vision, you can get there.
Jonny: There isn’t really a secret. We’ve had highs and lows. It sounds cliché, but it is true. There is no substitute for hard work. And when you do get rewards, then you know anything can happen.
Next exhibition at Unit London opens this week:
3rd March | Spring Group exhibition | Featuring a selection of works from the gallery’s most exciting global emerging artists.
February 14, 2016
Recently I had a pleasure to meet an incredibly inspirational young artist – Anouska Beckwith. Born in London, Anouska spent her early years traveling and exploring her artistic side with the help of good old photography. Moving on to pursue her degree at Speos Photographic Institute, Anouska lives and works in Paris. She is also the founder of the World Wide Women Collective. We caught up on life, art and spiritual in a pre-christmassy moody city of London that left me motivationally driven to go on and explore my inner self.
- When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?
My two Grandmother’s taught me how to knit and embroider and my mother always enoucuraged me in art classes, ceramics and photography from a young age… it wasn’t something that I decided necessarily on, but I enjoyed it a lot. Then it got to a point where I was about 22 and I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. So I thought to myself, what would make me really happy throughout my life, what is something I can do in my 80’s, or when I have a child? I live in the future, I find it quite hard to be in the present. I started taking photographs again, which I had done before but not on a specific subject, just on travels or of friends. I started looking at what I was inspired by, and by 23 I knew that was the field that I wanted to go back into. I think as a creative person, you should never say well, this is just what I am. Otherwise you get quite frustrated or have an artistic block. That’s the death of the artist, so for me I like to play with different mediums.
- So you don’t define yourself?
As just one thing, no. At the moment I’m working on two photographic series for myself, and then I’m building an installation room, which I’ve been working on with the architect, Omar Ouazzani Touhami for the past three months but I had the idea 4 years ago. Then I’m building a photographic light installation featuring my muse Flo Morrissey. The artists that I very much respect are Yayoi Kusama and Yoko Ono. Those are the people I’m very inspired by, because you look at their body of work and there’s just so much to choose from.
- Would you do performance, like Yoko Ono?
Absolutely. I would like to do a performance piece to do with dance at some point as I trained as ballerina and have always feel free when exploring that as a medium. I’ve learnt how to be in front of the camera and I’ve just done my first music video as a director for the musician Katy Rose which will be released in the next couple of months and I did a short film last year about Shakespeare’s Ophelia. It’s always about the right time and the right material, I never like to rush things. I studied photography at school, and then I studied at a Speos Institute a French school in Paris, so that was the initial starting point.
- Why did you decide to move to Paris?
I had always wanted to live there, inspired by the culture, beauty, and as a visual fantasy land, I mean, I love Tim Burton, that kind of Gothic, subtle, beautiful, but it’s not modern. Everyone still dresses like they’re from the ‘60’s or ‘70’s, and I love that style, so there’s a lot of things for me as a woman that I found very appealing. They have amazing food and culture, so I thought that if I could live in Paris and survive there with the French, I could live anywhere else in the world! I’m definitely a traveller so I like to go to different places. I believe in reincarnation, so I feel drawn to certain places that I haven’t been to, and usually if I’m desperate to go there, I end up just loving it.
- Do you get inspiration and ideas from traveling?
Absolutely, but not only traveling. I love film and literature, art and photography, poetry, I’ve got my head definitely in the stars, so I’m not somebody who’s very pragmatic, I like to be away with fairies and look at life as if its a miracle.
- Why did you decide to stay permanently in Paris?
Well I knew I wanted to move for a period of time. I’d grown up in London partly and I didn’t really ever feel very English. I’m someone who likes to see other cultures. At the end of the day if you can see as many places as you can before you die, that’s one of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself, whether or not you have a boyfriend or you’re married, or you can show your children… so I’ve definitely got the traveling bug.
- Do you just go trekking with a backpack?
It depends, if I’m going to America, no. If I go to India, I used to go with a backpack, live on a hut on the beach. Once I slept in a broom closet, I’m quite versatile with how I can travel. If somewhere is special and it’s worth going to see, I like it to be as natural as possible. I’m very lucky that I’ve had some amazing people that I’ve travelled with and who have showed me lovely places. India was an eye-opening experience from a very young age.
- Do you think the art scene is different to each other in Paris and London?
Very much. Paris is a bit behind with the art. They don’t do so many installations, they love reportage photography, so Henri Cartier-Bresson is their mecca, they’re not so into fine art, they love fashion, whereas in London, fine art, fashion, reportage, they fit all of those aspects in the same, and you have nature and geographical but that’s very specific. But me, personally, I love New York as one of the places with the best art because there are just so many art galleries, it’s just a bigger industry. But Los Angeles is definitely becoming a hubbub of contemporary artt, photography & fine art, it’s becoming quite a cool place to be an artist. You have to know where you, as an artist, are inspired. It’s about standing as an individual and developing your own voice.
- Have you found it?
To a certain degree but I think with an artist you’re always looking at your work in a way that’s slightly like torture. You’re always wanting to be better, to push yourself, and you want it to be somewhat original. We’re all slight shades of grey to begin with because we’ve had so much work in the past thousands of years that it’s quite hard to come up with an original idea. I’m not thinking that everyone’s going to like my work, that’s not the goal. It’s more to bring light and positivity and hope and beauty to people, because I think there’s a lot of darkness in the world. Sometimes I make darker work but I don’t necessarily expose it. There’s a difference with making work just for yourself or having it to show others…
- Do you remember the first time you showed your work in public?
The first work that I exposed, was when I created the collective World Wide Women, in 2012 for the ‘ Wanderer’s Eye Exhibition’ in Paris. I was quite nervous about showing work, so I set up the collective with women who were just starting out and exhibit under common themes of nature, femininity, and positivity, and the esoteric which went under the banner of the positive. It was about empowering one another and not about extreme feminism. That was the beginning of WWW and since then we’ve done eight shows in the past three years. At present we are coming up with our next theme for an exhibition and expansion for 2016-17! Then I had my first solo show Transcendance curated by Andi [Potamkin] in New York in 2015, and then I did another female exhibition at the Box Studio in East London curated by Clio Peppiatt with Female Matters. That’s been my journey so far and then next year I would like to exhibit the installation room.
- What is this installation room like?
The project’s called “I am the other you”, and it’s about human beings relationship to nature, especially trees and how important it is to preserve the rainforest and for us as humans to live in harmony with the planet. I came up with the idea four years ago after a shamanic ceremony and had the vision to do 8 rooms, called the “Infinity Series”. My good friend designer/artist Koji Tatsuno was extremely encouraging of the original idea and really pushed me to create them so I am very grateful for his belief in me.
- Where do you see yourself in the future?
I’d like to be a working artist throughout my life. I like producing work and getting it seen, promoting it through social media or having it in an exhibition or in a magazine, because part of it is to share with others, and have feedback. It’s an interaction. Everything’s so personal and subjective. I want people to tell me what they like and don’t like. That’s what’s so interesting about art – it’s so individual.
- In the contemporary art world, though, artists could be forced to create something trendy in order to sell it. Have you ever experienced this pressure?
No, that’s why I live in Paris. In London, there is that feeling of having to confrom. I think a lot of art is the emperor’s new clothes, it’s something on the wall, invisible art as an example. If you’ve got to imagine what’s on a wall… Well I can imagine what’s on a wall any time. For free. For me, nature is one of the most important aspects. I love going somewhere and finding a completely beautiful and raw backdrop and having a very simplistic form, generally it’s women because I like photographing my friends or people I’m inspired by. I’m photographing more men at the moment. I just shot the actor and musician Reeve Carney for a two projects in Dublin. After a while of having just women, it’s a bit of a challenge to take a photograph of a man or do something slightly different. So I’m always exploring other options. I like beauty, but I don’t necessarily like what commercial beauty is. I’m interested in not just the outside, but the inside as well. I’m very much a romantic person, I’m a fantasist to a certain degree. I love Dali, Klimt, Millais, John Currin and Frida Kahlo those artists take you to another place, and that’s for me what art is about.
- Do you think art is necessary in society?
100%. Personally I feel that schools try to educate people to conform to being the same as everyone else. I don’t think that’s what life’s about at all. I think life’s about being happy and finding that happiness, and if you have to work three different jobs to make your art, I think personally that’s what I’d rather do. In some countries around the world, obviously that’s not an option to even think like that, so I’m very privileged to have grown up in England where you are given the freedom to have those kinds of thoughts. I feel that art is something that you don’t have to be taught to know what the picture is about. I don’t need to be told, this is why you should like it, you either like it or you don’t. I do different Shamanic ceremonies, and I met this incredible Brazilian doctor and he was saying at the beginning of the ceremony that he used to try to define who he was, like “I’m a doctor, I’m a husband,” and he said the moment you start defining who you are, that part of you dies. And I thought to myself I can totally understand what he’s saying.
- So it’s also a power of thought?
Absolutely. I believe in manifestation, and I believe there’s a lot more to the power of mind than we’ve been given access to. Everyone likes to put everyone in a box and categorize what that person is. I think it’s a challenge not to be put into a box. I think only a small group of people can know who you really are, and those are your close friends.
- Do you remember the best advice you were ever given?
Andi was definitely very helpful. She told me to embrace my weirdness, to not be afraid of that. That’s valuable advice. I’ve not been ever one to conform, but we all like to think of ourselves as not weird, but I think to embarce the light and darker aspects of ourselves and love them rather than repress them could all do us the world of good.
- Do you have advice to young people?
You need to not give up, to keep trying, to believe in yourself.. You never know when a door shuts it will lead you to an open window. Just believing in yourself is a very important thing. Follow your dreams. Life is so short, I try to live everyday as if it’s my last, and not wishing to be doing something else. If you’re wishing to be doing something else, then you should probably be doing that. I feel very lucky that I’m at the point in my life that I can explore what I want to. Even if you’re not in that position, having hope is very important.
January 24, 2016
I had the honour to meet a great artist and, above all, a great person. Maria Aristidou is a commercial artist from Larnaca, Cyprus. Her work went viral because of her own distinctive technique: using coffee as her medium. Maria studied BA Fine Art Printmaking at the Manchester Metropolitan University, and completed her postgraduate degree in Arts Health at the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom. Maria is interested in pop culture phenomena and trends and most of her pieces are influenced by movie characters and science fiction, which makes her work even more intriguing. Enjoy her words in our tete-a-tete.
- What do you think contemporary art really is?
Contemporary art is something very personal and open. It is the opportunity of an artist to express his or her feelings so broadly using any type of medium. The exciting part of contemporary art is that it has no limits. A person that never had an experience with artistic knowledge has the opportunity to interact with any medium and create art. So contemporary art opens its doors to everyone. Contemporary art is the new world we live in. For me, the media is the new distinctive form of art. We are not depending on galleries and agents anymore. From a personal perspective – I am not implying that this is absolute – contemporary art gives the opportunity to everyone to create something masterly, creatively and cleverly and consequently, to be successful from it. It’s the evolution of the history of art.
- Where do you place yourself in the “art arena” – are you conceptual?
I was given the label of a commercial artist. So, I am a commercial artist. I do love marketing and the fact that I am commercial does not necessarily mean that I don’t belong under the umbrella of the “visual artists”. I do work with concepts if I am asked to. I am drawn into teamwork, into communicating with other artists and customers. I became known due to my concept technique, which is coffee, and I think that this is a concept itself.
- I completely agree with you. How did the coffee technique emerge?
It all started in February 2015. It was completely accidental. I was painting using watercolours, and suddenly coffee poured on my paper and when I saw the effect of coffee on my paper I said “why not?”. From that day onwards, I started experimenting using coffee as my medium. I used different coffee brands and blends. I realised that if I worked with different blends, the colour effect was altering. Subsequently, the technique I have today came out of this process of experimentation. Every coffee has a different colour effect. The Greek coffee has a very interesting effect; it is between grey and sepia. I cannot really explain it.
- Is there another ‘unconventional’ medium you would like to explore in the future?
Yes. Tea will be my next attempt.
- Do you think tea will have the same effect?
I haven’t worked with tea as my medium yet. I do have some thoughts how the effect will turn. For instance, I presume that tea will be much lighter and smoother than coffee. You can use anything that extracts colour as your medium. It is up to the artist to use those colours to make up an unconventional technique. Even ketchup would do.
- When you create, do you instantly create or do you have a specific procedure you follow?
There is a procedure. I need to observe the picture that I am painting. I have to start painting the light areas and then proceed to the bolder ones. The tricky part of coffee is that as soon as you start painting there is no way back. You cannot erase anything. So every time I start painting with coffee I am a bit restrained and then I go crazy (laughter). I start splashing, throwing and lose myself in my painting.
- Are you a coffee lover?
I am indeed!
- So basically, one day while you were painting, your coffee was poured accidentally and that was it, you went viral as a coffee artist.
Exactly. The funny part of the entire story is that the coffee that was spilled that day is not the coffee I am using today to create my pieces. I spilled my latte. I always drink latte! But now, I am not using latte as a medium. You know milk is a bit risky so I’d rather use coffee. Plain coffee. But no sugar (laughter).
- What is so special about coffee compared to other materials?
Coffee is a material that can destroy your brush easily. With other materials, if you clean it properly you can go on with the same brush for years. But with coffee, it’s completely different. Coffee can wear your brush easily. Perhaps, coffee is what draws me into a painting. Coffee gives me that vibe of roughness and toughness. Perhaps it is the entire concept of coffee. I cannot explain it. When I use watercolours the essence I get is not the same. Watercolours reflect a smoothness. It is something nice, neat and perfect. But with coffee, I can express who I really am. I simply go crazy and wild about it. It is okay to be messy with it! Perhaps it is something personal. The addictive element of caffeine probably makes me more passionate about it. I could say there is a psychological implication to it. I will never forget the day I started experimenting with coffee. It was a turning point on my own career. I can still remember one day I was asked to do a coffee portrait of Einstein and Churchill. With Churchill it was an entire different story, I was so delicate about him. But with Einstein, I went crazy. Probably, the ambiance of each personality I am painting is what alters my technique and the level of roughness I use. So I need to relate and draw with the characters I am painting.
- What is truly your source of inspiration?
My source of inspiration is social media and pop culture. Movies, celebrities, not the Kardashians though. Something that questions my mind. When I did the Star Wars series, you have to bear in mind that I am not a fanatic compared to the fanatics. What made me completely fanatical about Star Wars is the thought behind the characters, that sort of personality building process. The team, the product design, the marketing behind that character. The background story of each character is my true source of inspiration. For instance, Winnie the Pooh and Alice in Wonderland diachronically, have had a project plan, a thought behind every character and that is what excites me when I am working.
- Do you think its important for a painting to be aesthetically nice?
It is important. But I do believe that balance is the key. What is “aesthetically nice” is up to the material you are using, the concept you are deploying and most importantly how masterly an artist delivers it into a paper or canvas. Being decorative is not what makes a piece aesthetically nice.
- What are your plans in the future? Is there something that the public should not miss?
My mind is always travelling. I am working on cakes right now. I do have dreams and ideas about what I want to do in the future but I am not sure because things change all the time. The only thing that I can define as a plan is that I want to be stable. Stable not in terms of being situated in a routine. I like messiness that will help me evolve as an artist.
- As a young artist what is your advice to those that aspire to be part of the “art world?”
Just go crazy. What you do, do it perfectly and masterly. I am quoting Walt Disney: “whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” This is my advice. And most importantly love yourself.
Sitting in a building of fine and historical architecture on an art school campus, I talked to Victor Cord’homme, a young and green installation artist who is in his fourth year of art studies at this prestigious National School of Fine Arts in Paris (l’Ecole National Supérieur des Beaux Arts de Paris). As a traveller, Victor has been inspired to create installations that transform exhibition spaces into works of art and lead people to discover new spaces and possibilities. While our conversation started with his life at art school, both his artistic practice and his perceptions of the art world speak loudly to a global perspective, which has been constructed through his numerous travelling experiences.
- When did you decide to become an artist?
When I studied marketing at high school, I was very bored of it. Then, I took a gap year after high school to go travelling for 6 months around Asia. I went to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, India and Nepal. At that time, I missed painting and drawing which I did quite much during my free time throughout my high school years. So I started to think about getting into art school and start art studies. That was my first point of revelation that I started to have the idea of doing art. Then, I started going a lot to museums as my own art cultivation, such as the modern art museum of Paris and Palais de Tokyo. Paris is really a good place to get exposure to a lot of art, which gives me lots of inspirations.
- How did you get into the National School of Fine Arts in Paris (l’Ecole National Supérieur des Beaux Arts de Paris)?
After travelling around, I went to a preparatory school in Paris where I did art every day. That’s a school for people who want to get into all the big art schools. There are various art streams, like fine art, decorative art and so on. It’s pretty competitive to get into the National School of Fine Arts, like 1500 people competing for 70 places each year. At the beginning, you submit your art portfolio of paintings or photos of sculptures. After being screened, then you can enter into later stages like a writing test, a drawing test, and finally an interview panel with three professors.
- Can you share about your life in the art school? What’s the most important thing that you learn in the art school?
I feel the school is like my second home. The school is not just about getting knowledge, but about meeting people here and discussing art and our works with friends. Everybody tries to be an artist here and we’re helping and sharing with one another our views and experiences.
I think art study is not easy at all because there [are] no definite right or wrong answers and it depends on the comments of people around you. The school actually is not demanding, like around 10 hours of classes per week, but we spend most of our time in studios making art. Studying art is about investing a large amount of time while you need to have knowledge of art history. But it’s also out of passion –all the people are being here because they liking doing art. And I enjoy the process as I try to do things that are interesting.
One of the most important things that I learn here is self-motivation because nobody would push you to work. You wouldn’t be forced to do anything here. We learn art history here from many great art historians but you need to get some contemporary knowledge by exploring in museums or galleries yourself.
- Why do you focus on art installations?
Because I like experimenting with different media including painting and sculpture, and I would like to mix several smaller pieces together into one big piece of art. Somehow it’s like matchmaking –a sculpture and a painting can be compatible and even make each other stronger. Sometimes when art pieces come together, they speak a lot more. Installation is interesting because it’s about how to see and interact with space. Painting is my major art practice, but for me, it’s not enough to involve the space around. With installation, I’m trying to create an environment which gets people to discover new spaces, encounter and observe different forms of life and ways of understanding life.
- How exactly do you achieve this with your art – to get people to discover new spaces and ways of understanding life?
For example, with my diploma project in my third year, I created an interactive space that worked with sensors and computers, and there are sounds going on and when more and more people come into the exhibition space, the sounds would keep changing, and so the space would become different. Every person that came into the exhibition added two minutes of available electricity to the space.
And I like taking natural elements from the outside environment, like wind, into the exhibition space inside. Also, I would try to make all elements connected in an installation, like in our environment.
And I would not give out everything at one moment and people would have to come back at different times to discover new things from my installations. So I added lights to the installation so that the space and ambience would be different if people come in daytime or nighttime. I would like to show a temporal dimension of my works because I think time is an interesting material for doing art.
- The idea of exploring and discovering new spaces sounds like travelling. Do you travel a lot? How does travelling inspire your art making?
I had a lot of fun travelling to many countries; I’m just back from Canada where I stayed for few months. Before that, I went to Japan for an art competition and I went to Turkey last year. It’s really interesting to meet and talk to different people and to share experiences. I don’t know how to speak about all the feelings from my travelling but I would like to translate these feelings by art. Art makes it easier to share my travelling experiences and people can feel the connection through my art, maybe unconsciously. Travelling is one of the most important things for me. Being an explorer of this world has given all my inspirations for my art –every time I come back from travelling, I always have new ideas.
- Can you share your most memorable travelling experience?
When I was 19, I left my parents and I went to travel in India and met a lot of people there. Travelling there showed me the real side of life. It’s about meeting and talking to people and learning about their life. You’re in a different culture and environment. People would look at me curiously because I look different from them and some even came to me and asked if I could take photos with them.
- Any artists who have a particularly great influence on your perceptions and practices of art?
First is the Canadian artist, David Altmejd. We’re not in the same way of thinking about art, but he’s my main reference. His sculptures are dense, tell stories and give lots of information. He’s a really interesting artist. There was his exhibition in Paris last year, and I saw his exhibition again in Montreal and could discover new things from his works.
Also, I saw an exhibition of a Thai artist, Korakrit Arunanondchai, at Palais de Tokyo this year. He was making a huge installation with paintings and mannequins put in an interesting way. Actually, I didn’t like his formal way of doing art but his ideas are more interesting.
- How does your art interact with the French contemporary culture?
I think my art does not specifically interact with French culture, but rather the global culture. I don’t think art has to necessarily relate to a certain culture. I prefer to work in global culture rather than just French culture. And we’re in a world of globalisation; everything is mixing and exchanging. I’m more into exploring and mixing several cultures.
- Interesting perspective! So do you see yourself as a world citizen?
Yeah, I think I’m more a world citizen… I’m happy to say that I’m French and I’m having the colours of my flag on me. But actually, I’m French-Danish as my father is French and my mother is Danish. So I have double nationalities and I grew up in both countries, so I’m not solely French. And I also like travelling so much — I like to feel home and meet friends everywhere I go. So I think being a world citizen is more interesting; it’s about your way of acting and it makes your mind more open to different things.
- What do you think about contemporary art?
I think the contemporary art world is very different from the 19th or 20th century when there were prevailing art movements. There are now a lot of different directions happening because there are way more artists and more communication. Everything can kind of be contemporary art, it is way more diverse. Every direction can be interesting, and you need to discover and show to people new ways of thinking. Another thing in the contemporary art world is the need to deal with speculation in the art market, but I think that’s not totally a bad thing.
- How do you perceive yourself as an artist?
I don’t like to say I’m making art pieces… I think I’m kind of trying to be an artist… Being an artist is a huge thing for me and I don’t like this definition. I think I’m just someone who’s thinking and proposing something while using art to show it. I don’t mind if I’m being seen as an artist or not, and I think someone becomes an artist when everyone around sees him/her as an artist.
December 7, 2015
Juliette Losq is a London based artist, both born and raised in the city. Before taking an artistic path, she undertook an immersive training as an art historian, graduating with an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and continuing on to study fine art. Having had a number of solo and group exhibitions in the past, the artist mostly works with traditional technique of watercoloring, though adding a touch of contemporaneity to the artistic feel of a piece. I caught up with Juliette in her studio in Southwark (n.b. the artist just moved to a new location, DZ), where surrounded by a variety of her pieces we talked about art, literature, and life.
- How do you see contemporary art per say and its purpose, if there is any.
I don’t really see it’s having a single purpose. I just feel like it’s got to that point where if you’re making contemporary art you can use any medium to make it that you feel fitting to your ideas, so I don’t think anyone’s really restricted anymore to painting, drawing, sculpture…
- Do you think it’s in a way easier to be a successful artist because there are so many types of medium you can use, or are there so many different choices you can make that it’s in fact harder?
I think it’s always been hard – artists have always struggled. It’s probably more difficult to be recognized for a particular medium as a standout person within that medium because it’s no longer just about being a painter or a sculptor, or even a photographer, is it, you can mix them all together and be making work in all of them, which a lot of successful artists do.
- So be original in a way…
It’s always been difficult to be original hasn’t it, but it seems that throughout history people just look around them and see what’s come before them and then just reimagine it or reuse it in some way, so it is like the most exciting people are aware of what’s happened before or a range of things that’ve happened before and then they’re changing it in their own particular way.
- Is that something you’re trying to do because you’re using techniques of watercolour?
Technically I do look way back to 19th century painting and drawing, I look at things like the Hudson River School who are American landscape painters, and I look at the preRaphaelites in terms of their colour, not in terms of their subject matter. I look at etching, woodcuts; I just like to collect images. I must be drawn to particular things because they sort of feed into the work, if not instantly then a little bit further down the line. But I do definitely like the aesthetics of print and graphic drawing.
- But it’s still a traditional art form seen through contemporary eyes?
Sure, because we can’t avoid that. Instantly, I’m filtering it through contemporary vision but definitely I’m interested in changing historical techniques slightly so even though I’m using materials that have been used traditionally in watercolour, I’m doing it slightly differently, so I might be using watercolour more in the way that you might use ink as a drawing tool. I use modern mediums with watercolour as well, so things that have only been invented or refined into their current fom maybe in the past 50 years or so.
- For instance?
I use something called masking fluid which is a stopper, so I can stop the ink from touching the paper at all and then remove it right at the end to just have the raw paper, so it’s almost like diluted latex solution.
- So do you research these kind of things in advance?
Well it’s trial and error, really. But the way I happened upon it was because I liked the process of etching and I worked out a way of reimagining that process using ink and watercolour and this masking fluid stuff so rather than building up an etching plate I was building up an individual image in the same way you would, so you have to have a certain knowledge of materials but then you just experiment until you find something that you’re happy with, and then it’s always interesting when someone takes something to the extreme limits of how you can use it, so I guess I try to do that.
- Also, watercolour was always an artwork of a smaller scale, and you are trying to make it a largescale piece?
Definitely, I think that’s a different way of using it. Traditionally it was used as a sketching medium, but I really do enjoy working on a large scale with it and I think that’s another way of making something contemporary that’s historically been used in a different way.
- I know you studied art history first. You are an art historian. Were you always fascinated with the 19th century art practice? Did you want to be an art historian or an artist after all?
I always wanted to be an artist really but I think I was too easily persuaded out of it when I was at school. They wanted me to do an academic subject, and I did enjoy studying art history. I was drawn to particular eras, it was 18th and 19th century, because if you look at some of those 19th c paintings, the pre-Raphaelite ones are almost photographic and you just wonder, it was always fascinating to me how did they get that effect, ignoring the subject matter, the vibrancy of them… it still looks hyper real now when you look at some of those paintings.
- So would you say that they are your inspiration?
Not really, there’s lots of things that go into it, there’s literature…
Mainly British, I suppose. Things like old magazines and newspapers that I read and found and collected and images that appear in films, also objects…
- Just everyday objects, or?
Sometimes specific things I collect, I literally trawl ebay until I find something interesting, just a cover of an old newspaper or a poster for a film, and I’ve just acquired them and had a few walls of my studio plastered with pictures that could then become an inspiration for something else. There’s only a couple left up there now but like. Right now I’m quite interested in looking at traditional Chinese painting… Those artists were not bothered about whether a landscape really can make sense as we would think about it in terms of Western perspective; they’re just narrating a landscape almost, which is quite interesting.
- So that’s what you’re doing with your landscapes in terms of trying to make them realistic, isn’t it, though could you elaborate on why it is landscapes that you’re mostly interested in and what’s behind them?
I guess it’s the idea of using the real world as an inspiration for creating your own environment, and that’s what happens with the big installations as well, I’m using elements of the real world but reconstructing them to form my own…
Yeah. It is not a real place, but obviously I’ve taken elements of real places and reconstructed them, and I do the same thing when I’m making one of those installations, I take elements of a real landscape and put them back together a different way and then blow that up into a large installation.
- In terms of a viewer, are you trying to communicate something to them? Perhaps an experience?
I want them to be drawn into that world, I want it to be believable and I want them to… yeah I want them to experience… You’re looking at somewhere where society is broken down a bit and you’re just surrounded by nature, which I do quite like the idea of. I want you to be drawn into it and then find something in it that you think is a bit jarring or not quite right so it’s slightly threatening and also quite enticing at the same time. I’m often thinking about science fiction films where they’re set in these kind of broken down landscapes and certain horror films, postapocalyptic films but I’m not seeing them in that way, I’m not seeing these landscapes as being totally threatening…
- So that’s why you’re trying to make it look wild, or imperfect?
I just like imperfection, I always have done as a child being brought up in London just finding places that are overgrown because it is unusual to find an area of greenery or an area of interest, or an area that you could crawl into or make a den in in the middle of the city. I read a lot of science fiction, so for me, it’s not a reference to something, but it kind of reminds me of all the imaginary cities or buildings in the books and comics.
I saw some really nice illustrations for Jules Verne…
- He’s classic.
I saw some etchings by Édouard Riou…. it was this underwater scene with jellyfish floating like clouds, wacky things like that…
- In terms of being an artist today, do you think it’s important to finish university to be actually qualified in terms of MFA, for instance, in fine arts to be successful?
I think life is always more difficult if you haven’t been through the art school system. I do know people who have gone straight from another degree. I know someone who did a languages degree and then went into art but in a different sphere, but I just think generally, your life would be a lot easier if you studied at art school. I think an MA can help as well if it comes at a time when you’re ready to break down your work and then go back and refine your own practice, it’s also good for meeting people and getting exhibiting opportunities. But there is a whole raft of outsider artists who have not studied at art school. The Museum of Everything is a great place to see this kind of art.
- Do you have a favourite artist? Or an artist who is your inspiration?
I like Samuel Palmer, some 18th c artists, quite like Rococo design rather than painting, so things they did for designing ornaments, they call it rocaille. Contemporary artists… I like the installation artist Wade Kavanaugh. Mark Fairnington was a tutor of mine and is a great painter. I met some interesting painters through the John Moores Painting Prize – Neal Rock, Mandy Payne, Conor Rogers…
- Would you ever think about trying another medium?
At the moment I’m mainly working on paper, when I was at the RA I was doing oil painting, I tried acrylic painting as well. I definitely wouldn’t mind, I mean, I suppose for me it’s more about mixing 2D and 3D so I like doing installations and I like the way that they evolve over time and the way that they can be changed when you put them somewhere new. I like collecting objects and thinking about where those objects might lead. I’ve got a show coming up next year where I’m making a new installation which is going to be in collaboration with a furniture maker, so he’s going to make a nonfunctional piece of furniture that looks like it should have a purpose but actually it’s always going to be quite Escherlike, and then my drawing will respond to it. That’s a bit of a new direction.
- And finally do you have a few words of advice for young artists or young people in general?
I think it’s easy to be put off by people. So be consistent, put in the hours, do the work, don’t worry too much about where it’s going to end up, just have a body of work that you’re interested in, make it according to your own interests, not according to what you think you ought to be doing because everybody else is doing it. And other than that, someone gave me the advice that as long as you’re continuing to work, eventually it will go somewhere or it will feed into some other work that does. It’s when you give up and get out of the habit it of it that you can lose it.
November 30, 2015
Camden Image Gallery is a hire space gallery with 4 rooms over 2 floors situated in Camden Town, in central London. Camden Image Gallery has four rooms all with light walnut laminate flooring and clean white walls, perfect for displaying artwork; one large and one small room on the ground floor, and one large and one small room in the basement. The large room on the ground floor is fitted with adjustable LED spotlights, great for sculpture and installations. All 4 rooms have a fully adjustable hanging system with a variety of different lengths of rods to suit any artwork.
On the 5th of December until the 11th of December of 2015, Camden Image Gallery will celebrate its second year of success with a very interesting exhibition based on Mixed Media. On the 5th of December there will be a live performance by Periscope View at 7pm. The exhibition will continue from 12-7pm daily.
Let’s meet Elena Chimonas the gallery owner of this interesting hire space gallery.
1. Camden Image Gallery is situated in the heart of Camden Town, Camden Road. Is there a reason why you chose the gallery to be situated in an area like Camden Town? Do you think the area plays a role when artists choose a gallery to showcase their artwork?
Definitely. The location is definitely important. Camden Town used to be a very creative, artistic area, it still is, but it is more focused on music now. So I wanted to help bring back the artistic vibe in the area. A lot of people thanked me for it. I believe that it is important to welcome everybody, no matter on what stage his or her career is. So for me, it doesn’t matter if an artist is studying, or [has been] in the industry for the last 50 or 60 years. If they are passionate in what they do, then I don’t think age or experience matters at all, as long as they are passionate. In terms of artists choosing a space, for me it is very important to have a space next to a station for mobility and accessibility reasons. A space that is welcoming and friendly. I am very lucky to have found this place. It was perfect for what I was looking for.
2. What brought you here? What is your background?
My background is photography. I finished my degree and took full time and part time jobs and entered this space you see here into a gallery. I was very lucky to find this space. It took me a lot of time and work to turn this place into Camden Image Gallery. Initially, I found it in very poor condition, the staircases were not safe to walk down, there were no plugs in the space so I had to strip everything down and rebuild it from the beginning. The walls and the ceilings came down, the floors were renovated and we retouched the two floors. I was very lucky when I found out that there was a large space downstairs that didn’t exist when I took the property. The gallery originally had just two spaces – one upstairs and one downstairs – but then we realised that there was another trapdoor, which led to two separate hidden rooms downstairs as well. One of them was made by clay and concrete and it took us almost 4 months to renovate. We made the two rooms into one. It is actually my favourite room. It is a very long elongated room and works wonderfully for projections on the wall, great for sculptures in the middle of the room. I also have the same hanging system so artists can exhibit there as well. As it is a hire space gallery, the artist can choose either to hire the ground floor or the gallery as a whole, which includes the basement. In terms of Camden Image Gallery, as I said, it is a hire space gallery so people can hire the gallery for as many days as they wish. The gallery is open every single day, including bank holidays and weekends, especially during exhibition dates. I wanted to open a space that has this consistency otherwise it is very complicated to keep up with which galleries are open on which days – some of them are closed on Mondays, some of them on Sundays. I wanted Camden Image Gallery to be open 7 days a week, so people would know that they could always walk in.
3. Are there a lot of hire space galleries in London?
There are lots of hire space galleries and then there are other galleries that represent artists. Those galleries are the galleries that artists sign a contract for a specific time and then the gallery will sell their work through websites perhaps. Then you have hire space galleries, such as myself, where we welcome all artists. Camden Image Gallery for example, charges one fee for set-up, installation help, flyer designs, promotion, invigilating, take down. It all comes together. I wanted to open up a space that welcomes all genres of art. So I have photography, illustration, graphic design, fashion design, and painting – everything that comes under the arts. It is my job to support it. We also have poetry evenings and performance evenings so it is nice to have a space that welcomes anybody.
4. How hard is it for a gallery manager to choose the artists that will display?
It is a hire space gallery. So if the work is of a good standard and it is suitable for the space I accept them.
5. Do you have any restrictions to being exhibited in the gallery?
Generally no. But, I wouldn’t allow anything pornographic in the gallery. That is a genre that I wouldn’t allow. No matter how fantastic or talented an artist is – that is something I wouldn’t want in the space. But everything else is welcome. I have open shutters every day, so I wouldn’t want any children passing by and seeing something like that so I don’t want to accept that kind of genre. The quality has to be good.
6. What do you mean by “quality?”
I mean standard – Anything that has effort in it. Something unusual. Artists like Robin Lee; for me he is a great example of quality. He focuses on the expression of the eye. We had an exhibition a few weeks ago and I am very privileged to have worked with him. He is a great person and a great artist. I understand that it is a contested term and curators don’t tend to agree on what quality means, but in Camden Image Gallery, I stick with “standard”.
7. This leads me to my next question – were there any times when you had to differentiate between your personal likes and what the audience prefers?
Obviously, not everybody will like absolutely everything. If the artist is passionate then it all goes back to the main motto I have as a gallery owner to support artists. I opened up a space because I am passionate about the arts. There were not enough hire spaces to support artists. For example, performance art is not allowed in many galleries – but why not? If a dancer is good enough then why not give them the opportunity to showcase their work? If that is the way they express their art. I want to help. That is the main idea. I don’t differentiate. I just support. Because of that, I don’t target a specific audience; anyone can come into the gallery space. It is absolutely fine for one gallery to welcome just photography, I don’t criticise that. However, Camden Image Gallery has a different approach: to help everybody.
8. What was the hardest thing you came across as a gallery manager?
The hardest thing I came across is the lack of sleep (laughter). Generally, I am a positive person, there is nothing specific that made my life hard during these three years that I started this business.
9. What do you think is the role of art in society? Is there a role?
Of course there is a role. It is the only thing that can keep individuals creative – to keep creative minds buzzing. There are 10% of artists in the world – poets, musicians, and painters. They are the ones that keep the world more interesting. It is lovely that there are arts in the world. What would the world be without images? Imagine walking down the street without images. How boring that would be? It is fantastic to have creative things that people could view.
10. How do you think gallery owners contribute to this role?
By putting up exhibitions and by organising events. Not just that, our job is to draw [in] and engage people to contribute to exhibitions that they wouldn’t normally be subjected to.
11. Generally, the word “art industry” is contested – especially artists cannot accept that sort of label. Since you are an artist yourself, and a gallery owner, do you think art is an industry? Is it easy for you to be both? There is that general idea that the industry “exploits” the artists and it is rarely the opposite. What do you think about that?
It is very difficult to be both indeed. I am a gallery manager 7 days a week and I am a photographer occasionally. So it is difficult to be both. I have always wanted to open up a gallery that is open for everyone. A gallery that will give the voice to every artist regardless of background and experience. Camden Image Gallery is here to help and support artists, as the nature of the gallery promotes all types of genres. Unfortunately, not every artist has the ability to work as full-time artists to be able to support themselves. It is still a very hard industry to get into. That is why it is great that there are many galleries open. They make artists cater to their needs. There are curators and gallery managers that can help set out an artist. Unfortunately not many artists make their living out of art – that is why gallery managers are here to help.
12. Are there any current or future shows that you believe the public should not miss?
The Saturday of the 5th of December from 6 until 8pm will have the opening of an exhibition that celebrates these two fantastic years of Camden Image Gallery. It will be a great celebration and I believe it should not be missed. Periscope View will also be performing a live performance at 7pm. The exhibition will continue from the 6th until the 11th of December, from 12pm until 7pm, daily. Also, for the first time ever, the Camden Image Gallery is organising a charity exhibition – this will be from the 7th until the 13th of January. The gallery will raise money for Solace Women’s Aid.