Interview with Steve Lazarides, Celebrating a Decade of Lazarides Gallery, London

Interview with Steve Lazarides, Celebrating a Decade of Lazarides Gallery, London

In February 2016, Lazarides will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a group exhibition from the gallery’s most celebrated and pioneering artists. For the landmark exhibition, the gallery has invited back those artists who have helped shape it to take over their flagship space in the heart of London’s Fitzrovia. Visitors to the gallery will be invited to view unique originals across the three floors of at Lazarides Rathbone by over 30 artists significant to the gallery’s legacy, who have formed the backbone of Lazarides’ mission, each challenging the norm of what is acceptable within the art world, providing art that is free and accessible to an international public without discrimination.

Over the last decade, Lazarides has assumed a pivotal role promoting those artists thriving outside the conventional contemporary art market. Since Steve Lazarides’ conception of Lazarides in 2006, the gallery has spanned international territories and undergone myriad transformations that echo its artists’ constantly evolving and progressing practice. Since the inception of the gallery’s current space on Rathbone Place, Lazarides has hosted diverse exhibitions, including JR’s Crossing (2015) featuring his latest film ELLIS, and 3D’s Fire Sale (2013), a retrospective of imagery paying homage to Massive Attack’s visual history. Lazarides continues to be a forerunner in revolutionary off-site projects and immersive art experiences – from Los Angeles to New York, Frankfurt, Moscow and Istanbul – as well as taking part in art fairs and collaborating with museums, partner galleries, art fairs and private collection around the globe. We speak to Steve about his approach and the future of the gallery.

A: It’s the 10th Anniversary of Lazarides gallery, congratulations! Could you give us your perspective on any changes in the art market you’ve witnessed over the past decade and how  this has impacted upon the gallery?
SL: Somebody actually asked me a similar thing the other week. I think that money has become the be all and end all of the whole thing, and it seems that for everybody from the artists through to the collectors and everyone in between, money is the main motive. When I started out, it was just for the sake of it, because we only wanted to make art. The artists I represent, like JR, they are how they have always been.

I used to work as a photographer many years ago and then I went on to represent other photographers, and they were just obsessed with copyright. Maybe you want to find yourself taking a good picture and then we’ll worry about copyright. It’s a bit like that in the art market. Let’s concentrate on making some great work and putting on a great exhibition and then we’ll see what happens after that. I’ve never been massively interested in the money side of things. I’ve been more interested in helping artists fulfil their dreams and put on a great show.

A: With all the funding cuts to the arts in recent years, how do you feel it’s affecting the practice of less affluent artists, start-ups and smaller projects?
SL: It’s nothing that I have had any involvement with, we never got given any money, we never got anything. I think if you’re good enough and strong enough, then these are the kind of things you have to fight for to get what you want. There’s a million artists out there, it’s not just about how good someone is, it’s also about how much desire they have. A lot of the artist’s I’ve represented years ago, the ones I trusted the most, were artists that had another job. They’ve all worked while trying to put their careers together. I am the biggest Labour supporter, I love Jeremy Corbyn. However, I don’t think you can just sit back and wait for grants to come in.

A: What’s your approach to finding new artists to represent?
SL: I have no set criteria. I’m not looking for any one specific thing. I don’t even tend to look as much anymore. If things come through or recommendations, it can spark something off. It’s as simple as that. I also have to like the artist, because I came to the conclusion many years ago that nobody’s that good, having worked with one of the biggest artists in several generations and split with him because we just couldn’t get on. I just decided life’s too short to work with people you don’t want to work with. You have to believe in them and believe in their art to be able to sell it in the first place.

A: What’s your starting point when devising themes for a show or do thing evolve naturally?
SL: The thing about my gallery is, I pick out artists that I trust and I like. I feel it’s a bit like providing a gig venue. You know, you invite a band in because you like what they do; you’re not going to suddenly turn round and ask what their playlist is. And I think I’m a bit like that with the gallery. Sometimes it backfires and sometimes it doesn’t. You have to give people the freedom to do the best they can, to truly find their feet.

I think that’s the policy here with things like the Old Vic tunnels and the other ridiculous projects I’ve got going on, really sometimes something just pops into my head. It could be a one liner or an idea or I read it in a book… and this forms the basis for some evil seed of madness in the back of my mind.

A: Do you have any similar events to the tunnels coming up?
SL: I do, there’s potentially one later on in the year here in London. I’m just waiting on that to see whether it’s still going through. I’m really excited, I’m planning one for the Middle East in the early part of next year based on the theme of tolerance. I’ve been out in Istanbul quite a lot recently. I think getting artists and musicians together, putting on a whole thing, it might get some discourse started somewhere: people need hope. When I was growing up Islam was seen as the gentlest, kindest religion.

A: How will this take shape?
SL: What I’m trying to do is rebuild an old fashioned street and repurpose some of the shops. Poetry I never realised is a massive part of federal culture. The one in London comes off from me reading stupid books that my kids are into, mythology. So I picked up a book on North Mythology and became really interested in Loki. I think it’s important for people to be, people hate when I say this, entertained. It’s easier to get messages across. To get people to stay longer, look harder, if they are still having a good time. I think it can’t always be white walls, polished concrete floors and warm chardonnay. But I understand that that has its role, and I’m part of it with the gallery, although it’s in a slightly different manifestation. But I also think that I will never stop putting on those shows, I will never stop trying to change the way art is viewed.

A: Have you noticed a difference in the production and exhibition of art between East and West?
SL: I haven’t explored as much as I’d like to. When we were in Istanbul, I was opening a show there and a bomb had gone off two days before and then the president’s daughter showed up because it was a good thing for her to come to. She was very engaging: there is so much more involvement in politics, in death, in life, in what’s happening in the Middle East then there is anywhere else, artists are really trying to get a message across.

A: Who are some of the more unusual artists you represent in terms of the materials they use?
SL: You’ve got JR’s murals. We’ve had people making stuff out of some weird jelly; they just wobble through the live shows. Banksy uses live animals. Pretty much the whole gamut really. To be honest I’m quite a traditionalist, that’s why I’ve always shied away from overly conceptual art.

Still Here: A Decade of Lazarides, 12 February – 24 March, Lazarides Gallery, 11 Rathbone Place, London, W1T 1HR.

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1. Doug Foster, still from Fortuna’s Wheel, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Lazarides Gallery.