Back in 2016, just as he was celebrating having his London gallery for 10 years, outspoken art impresario Steve Lazarides upped the ante (and reasons for celebrating) by announcing he had received a very significant investment from Qatari art collector and magnate, Wissam al-Mana. So significant was the investment that it meant he could open a brand new gallery in London’s art capital; Mayfair. The new premises, to be known as ‘Lazinc’, on Sackville Street is massive, set over three huge floors with four-metre high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows. The opening show is on 12th January with photographer of the moment, JR. The pair are good friends and Steve actually put on JR’s first ever gallery show back in the day.
It’s been a long and eventful journey for Steve from co-founder of the seminal Pictures Of Walls print house and famously working with Banksy for the early part of this century, to opening his first gallery in an old S&M dungeon in Soho, London, then moving to a townhouse on Rathbone Place and now finally to this latest venue where he’ll be rubbing shoulders with some serious art buyers.
I went for a look around the new place and spoke to Steve about this new chapter while he wore an original 1968 Parisian riot police helmet and brandished a baseball bat with nails sticking out of it – a gift to him from Sage Vaughan.
Josh Jones: So you’ve got a brand new place Steve – what are you going to do with it?
Steve Lazarides: I looked at the stature of the artists we work for and what they produce and what they sell for, and I just thought, fuck it, we deserve to be in Mayfair, the artists deserve to be in Mayfair. Even if it's for the validation of the artwork for them; I'm not looking for anything for me. I am looking for something for them. They've been living in this half world between being a street artist and a 'real' artist and they're kind of slipping down this gap in the middle. I think that by bringing them here, you've got no choice of what to think of them. We're in one of the fattest galleries in Mayfair. It's not just the fact we've come here, we've come here Laz style. Or should I say we came here Laz and Al Mana style.
Is that why this gallery’s known as ‘Lazinc', rather than the previous ‘Lazarides’?
Yeah. Funnily enough Lazinc was the original name that Banksy told me I should call the gallery. It was that at the beginning and then it changed to Lazarides. Then with me and Wissam coming together we've brought it back to being called Lazinc again. I think Mayfair's going to be interesting, I think things will look different here and I think we'll do different kind of shows and it will encourage the artists to really push themselves. I'm now only interested in the best. I want the best that we can get for this gallery. Like the Basquiat screen print [pictured]. I couldn't afford to buy any kind of Basquiat original, however we could go out and trade this amazing screen print, of which there are only 24 and it's hand-worked. It's one of those things where I'm trying to encourage the artists to be the best they can be and for us to be the best we can be. Things were flat-lining for a while and just needed grabbing by the scruff of the neck and pulling back up again.
(Lazinc, 29 Sackville Street, London)
How did you two meet?
My young assistant came in one morning and ran up the stairs to my office saying that a guy had come to the door but as it was a Monday he’d told him we were closed and to jog on. But he'd given my assistant a business card and it looked like he was a Qatari billionaire. I called the number on it and arranged for him to come back. I'd ridden my bike to the office, still had my shorts on and was dripping with sweat. Next thing I know Wissam Al Mana had arrived and he was with a lady. She turned around and it was his then wife Janet Jackson…
Talking of your artists doing bigger and better work, you have to be super proud of JR?
I am so proud. He's one of those artists – the first time I saw his work I thought that this kid has some talent. I love the fact that he still is happy that we gave him his first ever gallery show. We supported him in those early years, other people have come in later and scooped him up but he's still true and honest to us. When he stood up in front of the Louvre telling everyone about what he's done apparently someone asked him how he got into art and he said it was down to me. Which is really nice. He's loyal and he does what he says he's going to do and I couldn't wish to have a better friend, or a better artist.
His work over the past year has been amazing…
I'm massively proud of JR, same as I am with Vhils. There are some artists that are really starting to shift through the gears and I think guys that might not be catching up Banksy in monetary terms, but in reputational terms, within the art world. And they're all doing different things too – no one can do what Vhils does as it's his thing. Yeah, same with JR. I've always represented artists like that, I've always represented innovators. From Banksy with the stencils, Invader with what does, Zeus with what he does, Vhils – they're all unique in what they do and that's a rare thing within the street art movement. We've always represented far more than just the street art movement.
How do you think the Mayfair world will take to you turning up?
I'm intrigued to see what the community will have to say. We're already part of the area – there are loads of other galleries and I know a lot of people here. A lot of people from this area knew of us but they wouldn't travel up to the previous gallery on Rathbone Place. You walk around Mayfair and look on doors and every other one of them is a financial company that you recognise the name of. I think those kind of guys are more likely to come by and have a look in here or go for a lunch than walk up to Oxford St, cross over it and go to Rathbone Place. I'm quite happy with this place – we've got four-metre high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows. When I point at something and say it's worth £650,000, people aren't going to question it. In Rathbone Place it would get completely different reaction.
(work by JR)
Other than the investment, what's Wissam brought to the table?
Do you know what? It's really enjoyable. It's lonely doing it on your own. I'm not joking. You've not really got anyone to talk to. Your staff are still staff at the end of the day, no matter how long you've worked with them and how friendly you are. But when the shit's really hitting the fan it's nice to have someone to sit down with and discuss things. I trust his eye very much, which is rare for me. It's like he's a breath of fresh air really.
How involved is he? Where does he live?
He's an internationalist! He's back and forward between various places. He's pretty involved actually. He's involved with the show programme, and he's involved with what we're buying. It's like having another version of me, as terrifying as that might sound. I want that. I was actively looking for an investor that could bring more to the table than just money. And he certainly does that. A lot of people have gone into partnerships and hated it but I'm 18-months down the line and I'm genuinely enjoying it.
Are you just going to be doing paintings or will you be bringing sculpture in now you've got the space. You always touched on it with Rathbone Place.
We're going to do some more cultural shows each year. So what we're going to do is change the programme to have six shows a year – the best that we possibly can. Sculpture-wise, within the programme we've got Mark Jenkins. I just love the thought of Mark in somewhere like this. I don't think he's ever been given the right arena to show his work. I think if you show him in somewhere like this, then it's a different fucking ball game. There are a couple of other sculptural artists that we're talking too as well but I can't talk about them as yet!
Tell me more about these cultural shows.
On the cultural level we're going to try and do a couple of shows a year that are just one week long. So people have to turn up. You know Estevan Oriol, the photographer who did all the gang stuff in LA in the 90s, I'm going to try and do a show with him for a week and I also want to do a poster show on the power of the poster. I've got an archive here – I've got Paris '68 posters, I've got Sister Corita, I've got Black Panther stuff, and North Korean posters and I've just bought the whole collection of Oz Magazine and all the stuff that went with it as well as all the other counter culture magazine of that time. It's all in the ‘60s and I want to do a snapshot on the power of the poster and how it meant something. And, I guess it still does – Shepard Fairey's still cited as one of the people who helped a black man get voted to President of the United States; that's a pretty powerful position for a poster to be in. So yeah, I want to do some cultural shows to keep alive the DNA of the gallery and just to make it a bit more interesting and free flowing.
Lazinc's first show in their new Mayfair location will be JR's Giants, opening January 12—Februrary 28, 2018.
Portraits of Steve Lazarides by Tom Medwell