Like his most famous client, Banksy, art dealer Steve Lazarides is a little wary of the press.
Since the late 80s, when he used to put on club nights and “look after the affairs” of his artist mates, he’s quickly become one of the figureheads of London’s booming street art movement, with a high-profile gallery on Soho’s Greek Street, another in Newcastle, and a third which opened on Friday on Charing Cross Road. But he’s not prepared to spill any secrets about London’s most famous anonymous artist.
“I have no idea who he is,” he says, deadpan, when I ask how Banksy’s success has affected his fortunes. There’s an awkward silence. “I’m not going to talk about him. What he’s done is there in black and white for everyone to see.”
It’s not that he doesn’t want to be associated with him. “It’s just he’s not here with me, it’s impossible for him to answer, and I’m not going to answer for him. His success is well documented and has helped lots of other people.”
Fielding questions about Banksy, it seems, has become a full-time job for Lazarides, who first started selling artworks out of car boots. On the FAQ bit of the gallery’s website there’s a whole section devoted to him, with terse answers to questions such as “how do I contact Banksy?” and “can you tell me if my Banksy artwork is authentic?” (the answer to both these is to email email@example.com and stop bothering Steve).
Outsiders, the inaugural show at Lazarides Charing Cross, features Banksy’s work, but that’s not the only draw. You’ll also see art by the likes of Tank Girl and Gorillaz creator Jamie Hewlett, Brooklyn graffiti collective Faile, and rising British star Antony Micallef (interviewed below), whose recent LA show sold out in two hours to clients such as Brad Pitt and Christina Aguilera.
The idea is to have a rotating group show of emerging artists, to “introduce them to the world, see how things are going” and to chuck in new stuff by bigger names “without the pressures of a solo exhibition”.
“Outsiders” is a term Steve prefers to “cult art” – even though it’s a phrase that pops up on his own gallery’s publicity material. “A lot of these guys are self-taught, they exist outside the art world. It’s quite rock and roll because people get on and do their own thing, and it’s not funded by anyone, we’re not answerable to anyone.”
There’s no denying that art with an urban aesthetic, combining subversive messages with references to pop culture, is hot right now: rock stars and Hollywood royalty are lining up to buy graffiti-style paintings.
“I think it’s because it’s so accessible to an awful lot of people,” Lazarides says. “People don’t feel stupid when they come in and look at it, and they don’t feel like they need an art degree to appreciate it.”
But he won’t offer a retort to critics who see the popularity of Banksy as an example of art’s dumbing down. “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” he says. “They can stick to their own art world. We’ll just keep entertaining people and making them happy.”
With works changing hands for six-figure sums, buying a Brangelina-style investment isn’t an option for everyone, but Lazarides insists it’s not hard to get into buying future classics. “The prints are still within the price range of ordinary people,” he says. “When it’s around £100 for a print, most people can afford to buy.”
Names Lazarides tips for big things include Faile, as well as Parisian graffiti artist JR (“very much part of a new, up-and-coming movement”) and Paul Insect, whose recent show was bought in its entirety by Damien Hirst.
What he’s not interested in is what school an artist went to or who they know on the scene. “I think my thing is, ‘do I like it or do I not?’” Lazarides explains, “and hopefully if I like it, then so do other people.”
It’s a philosophy that’s worked, judging from the sell-out shows Lazarides has put together, but the gallery owner has no grand plans for world domination. “We don’t want to keep expanding,” he says, “we just want to keep putting on interesting shows and keep the spaces we’ve got in London. Keep it going, not fall flat on our arse.”
Outsiders, Lazarides Charing Cross, to 28 Jun, 121 Charing Cross Rd, WC2, 020 3214 0055, Tue-Sat 11am-7pm, free, www.lazinc.com
Source: The London Paper