“It’s fucking weird to be honest. I never really planned anything,” says street art gallerist Steve Lazarides. “We just bumbled along from one mistake to the next and we are still here.” This month his company Laz Inc. will celebrate its tenth anniversary with a show at its gallery in London’s Fitzrovia that will display new works by the artists he has discovered and championed over the last decade.
Prior to setting up Laz Inc, Steve had established Pictures on Walls in 1999 with artist Banksy, a screen printing company that produced affordable prints by the likes of artists Faile, Bast and Turner Prize-winner David Shrigley. “I was continually going around people’s studios and seeing these amazing paintings lying on the floor and up against the walls,” he recalls. “A lot of these guys never considered themselves artists. I thought this stuff is amazing, it should really be seen. It was as simple as that really.”
He went on to found Laz Inc, which now has two galleries in London – Lazarides Rathbone and Lazarides Editions, which was established as a reaction to the art world, in particular the way it did business and championed artists. “It’s an annoyance that will last a lifetime – the incredibly boring and corporate way that they go about business.” Steve’s concern is about putting on the “greatest show on earth” and sees his role as a facilitator for the artists he works with. He put on the first gallery shows for French photographer JR and Portuguese artist Vihls, as well as working with artists such as Jonathan Yeo, who had an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2013. “I just think its not hard to look at the traditional art world and think ‘there has to be a different way of doing this,’” he says. “I wish that there were more galleries like us, someone should have come and kicked our ass by now. There’s no rule book. Just do shit and people will come.”
“I wish that there were more galleries like us, someone should have come and kicked our ass by now. There’s no rule book. Just do shit and people will come.”
The roster of artists represented by the company defies the common perception that Laz Inc concerns itself only with urban art. The list of artists at the anniversary show includes 3D, Antony Micallef, Lucy McLauchlan, Oliver Jeffers, Stanley Donwood and 24 others. “I look at it like running a record label back in the day, when you would buy something from a record label knowing the kind of music they made,” says Steve. “So I pick artists because I like what they do. I’m not going to tell them what to make.”
If the art takes care of itself, Steve is interested in the spectacle – he lists the highlights of the past ten years as the “out of gallery spectaculars.” Hell’s Half Acre, Minotaur and Bedlam all occupied the Old Vic Tunnels beneath Waterloo station in London, and in 2013 he collaborated with the Vinyl Factory for a show called BRUTAL on the Strand. “I think you are asking for a couple of hours of someone’s time to come to a show I think they should feel entertained or challenged and take something away from it. Rather than being handed a warm glass of chardonnay and leaving with an empty bank balance,” he says. “I learned a lot of clients coming to the shows could go anywhere, do anything and buy everything. What they were really looking for was an experience and something interesting to come out to.”
Of course, there is the small matter of money, Steve is not a philanthropist but a businessman – last year he sold around 30 works by Banksy through Bonhams auction house in London – and while the buzz surrounding street art may have dimmed, the influential clients return to him. “The ideas are tempered sometimes by having to make a bit of money by the whole thing,” he says. It wasn’t always plain sailing for Laz Inc. Steve recalls: “Doing the shows we’ve done and running the business the way we have, we have had some dark times financially. Where its been very difficult to keep going. You are coming in and worrying about the phone ringing every two minutes and people chasing bills. We pushed through and carried on, it was part of the learning process.”
Although the company is now established, Steve has no intention of resting on his laurels. When quizzed about what he might achieve in the next ten years, the desire to challenge the archaic art world remains undimmed. “I’m hoping to open a gallery in Mayfair and cause an absolute riot. Light a fire under the art world there,” he says laughing. There are plans for a new show that will up the ante from anything that Steve has achieved in London. “Hopefully we will be doing a show in the Middle East next year based on the theme of tolerance. We are going to build an old fashioned souk and let each artist take over one of the buildings and bring in musicians and food and push the boundaries of how art is viewed and experienced,” he says, enthused. “We want to push things in the confines of the gallery walls, asking what makes an interesting exhibition.”
I ask him to reflect on the last ten years and if he has any advice for young artists. His response is simple: “Paint something you believe in, not because you want to make a few quid out it.”
Still Here: A Decade of Lazarides opens at Lazarides Rathbone, London on 11 February.