Lawrence Alkin has been a key influencer in the development of the urban art movement that we know today. The CEO of the artrepublic Gallery in Brighton, he has built up the gallery on Bond Street to become one of the country’s top urban art spaces and has launched the careers of many an artist.
He is also the first guest on our new podcast. A collaboration with artrepublic called ‘Art Related Noise‘ it’s about getting under the skin of the art scene of today and speaking to the people who really make it tick.
Needless to say that Lawrence was the ideal first choice. Running galleries and selling art since the early 80’s first in Dublin and then across Ireland before then coming to the UK and finally settling in Brighton where the flagship gallery on Bond Street has just doubled it’s space.
The journey to where we are now hasn’t been straight forward. Forays and experimentations into the art world with some business dealings which worked and some which didn’t, “I’d make money and I’d lose money” says Lawrence. He also might rightly be called an internet pioneer, recognising the power of the web to sell his product which at the time were posters. That was in 2000 and it’s hard to look back nowadays and realise just how innovative that actually was back then.
“There were three big things that happened” he tells me when I ask about the moment when he knew things were really starting to take off for the gallery business. Centered around the work of three artists, Jamie Reed whose iconic work had appeared on the cover of the Sex Pistols albums, Jimmy Cauty formerly of the KLF and of course Banksy.
“We sort of recognised that this was a bit of a phenomenon, something special” he says of Banksy. Eventually selling over 8000 prints over a three year period the irony is that at first there was not much profit in selling them. “You sold something for 95 and you made a tenner and you can’t run a retail operation on those sort of margins” says Lawrence on the early days of trying to sell a Banksy.
In one big event, a collaboration with Pictures on Walls, Alkin took over the 5000 sq ft space of the Argus Lofts in Brighton as part of the 2004 Brighton Festival, a place now better known as the Basement he would end up Banksy prints at a £70 a pop. “We just stuck them on the wall, they were just cheaply stuck on the wall and you’d just pick one” he tells me.
Lawrence is just as excited about the new talent coming through. We walk around the gallery and he stops at works from the likes of Lucy Sparrow who we know well and Magnus Gjoen who we’ve really got to know this year. He tells me about the importance of integrity and how important it is to work with people who you can rely on. “You can’t grow with anybody if they don’t have integrity and if they don’t treat their work professionally. It’s not just about imagery, it’s about the whole attitude, presentation and how you conduct yourself.”
The gallery itself has also undergone a number of big milestones recently. The shop next door has been expanded into, effectively doubling the amount of wall space and allowing for much more creativity in the curation. The opening also marked the 25th anniversary of the gallery itself, a statement if ever there was one about how the gallery intends to continue in the future.
Curation is important says Alkin and being able to use the space more imaginatively seems to be something that excites him. Already the gallery space is packed full of art but now he is able to experiment more. “I’ve always wanted to display an alphabet of Peter Blake” he states whilst proudly showing me exactly that. “I hate decor” he tells me and indeed the Laura Ashley style of curation is not what you’ll see in the gallery. “It’s juxtaposing, it’s different things together, it’s the energy that one hits of the other.”
“I’m a huge influencer on the type of art I do” says Lawrence, “I never followed a model, we are our own model. We’re innovators not followers”.
Finishing the interview, Lawrence goes straight back to work and immediately starts to interact with the customers. “I work my business” he tells me, “I’ve never been in an office, I work in the front I always work in the front”. It’s being this close to the action which has given him a unique ability to spot talent. “I have a feel, I have a feel for style and you can feel the temperature of what’s going on.”
The full interview with Lawrence Alkin can be downloaded from itunes or on android just search for ‘Art Related Noise‘. The interview is the first in a series of podcasts with the artrepublic gallery in Brighton where we’ll be talking to movers and shakers from within the art world.