Friday, 8 April 2011

Debut Contemporary- Interview with Samir Ceric

Samir and Zoe at Wolf and Badger

I've been lucky enough to work with some amazing artists in the last few years, and none have been as talented and lovely as Tinsel Edwards and Twinkle Troughton. After spotting their work at a tiny show about 4 years ago, I interviewed them both for Dazed Digital, and went on to work with them on a number of projects- they designed my website and Twinkle kindly lets me use her 'The Greatness of England' piece as the header for this blog! So when I heard they'd both been chosen to be part of a Debut Contemporary by what The Times describes as 'one of the UK's most powerful couples in fashion and art' I was really happy for them. I also wanted to know more about the project, and who better to tell me than Samir Ceric, one half of the power-couple who worked on the launch of brilliant boutique Wolf and Badger with the Graham brothers. Samir and his wife, Zoe Knight are running Debut Contemporary as an affordable exhibition and mentoring platform for emerging artists, who pocket 80% of the net sales from their artwork- a far bigger percentage than most galleries offer. The aim is to introduce artists to collectors,whilst at the same time teaching them about the business side of the industry and preparing them for the future.

When did you decide that you wanted to do something more Art orientated?
Samir: When working on Wolf and Badger, we aimed to give fashion and product designers support in terms of professional development and placement, but we realised that they actually have more understanding of the business side of things than artists. Through our work at Salon Contemporary- taking artists straight out of college environments to big, international exhibitions -we realised that artists and the artworld needed a professional development and mentoring platform more than the fashion world. So it was an organic decision, when we felt we had achieved what we wanted to contribute to Wolf and Badger, it seemed to be the next step.

Is it harder to sell art than it is to sell fashion?
Samir: Absolutely. It's harder because fashion is a lot more identifiable as a lifestyle. Art education is playing an important role in showcasing art to a wider audience; it is a lifestyle choice; scientific research has shown that if you're surrounded by art at your workplace or where you live your standard of living improves. I have made a prediction actually- I'm hoping that in the next 20-30 years, as every household today has one or two cars, every household then will have a few pieces of art. The role of patrons is very important, and people wrongly assume that you have to be incredibly wealthy to start collecting art, but you can pick up amazing pieces at degree shows or lesser known galleries for £100 or £200. This way you also establish a relationship between buyer and artist which has a huge influence on how the artist grows.

In an age of recession and funding cuts, artists getting to keep 80% of the profit from sales must be a huge help to them- do you hope other galleries will follow suit?Giving artists a fairer share of sale prices?
Samir:Absolutely; the fundamental principle and ethos of what we do as an 'artistic laboratory' is instigating something where artists learn a lot more about the trade side of things, and have knowledge passed on to them rather than held back.We do workshops- we had someone who used to work at Christies here the other day explaining that artists have a lot more power than they think- there have been many incidents of artists not understanding how the system works and being manipulated- as it happens in any industry. We are trying to get them to understand that unless they invest in themselves, no-one will do the job for them. They must accumulate the knowledge to turn art into a successful business- they need to be 110% sure that this is what they want to do, and not be shy about saying they want to be rich and famous.Not because they want their egos massaged or celebrity status, but because they want to be successful, the same way to be a top lawyer or banker, you have to work incredibly hard. You can't think of art as a hobby and not count on earning your living from it. Artists are often discouraged from talking about money and pricing their work; pricing strategy is as important for art as for any product in the market place- get it wrong and you're out of the market.
They also have to invest in relationships with the people who are buying their work- maintaining these relationships could prove to provide turning points in their careers- they have to show an interest in who's collecting their work and interact with these people.Few artists have the system of support from top galleries, museums and collectors, so the way around this is to invest in learning to do it yourself. Meeting people and identifying which galleries they feel association with- not just approaching every gallery. It's a two way process, you don't want to seem desperate and end up being show in the wrong environment. You must earn your status as a professional-work with curators, work with gallerists, but also independently. The era of an artist locked away in their studio is finished- even then it was rarely successful for artists within their lifetime. The 20th century was about market leaders keeping knowledge in house, the 21st century is about information sharing-platforms, networks, and a flow of knowledge.

The Salon Contemporary team

How to you go about choosing whose work you display-is it personal taste or do you try and consider whats fashionable at the moment?
Samir:It's a combination of the two- however great the piece of art is, its not good enough if the person creating it doesn't match the story- so we have to try to figure out whats behind the piece of art- what reasoning, ambition and aspiration these artists have and how their personalities match their artwork. We had 2000 applications for about 40 places.We looked at the work online then met about 250 artists to finally pick less than 50, so it was a tough choice. Its also about relationships and nice people- however good you might be, if you're not a nice person, if you're arrogant and big headed it will come back to haunt you. The most talented people I know are incredibly down to earth and lovely to work with.

by Tinsel Edwards

Having worked with Tinsel and Twinkle for 4 years, I can totally attest to this; whilst being creative masterminds, they also get work done and meet deadlines better than most non-artists I work with.
Samir:Artists can't say 'I'm an artist, I can get away with anything'anymore- first and foremost you're a professional- only the diligent and focused will succeed- I'm not talking about overnight success that lasts a couple of years- for real longevity of ones career- you've got to be consistent.

What's the one piece of advice you'd give artists starting out?
Samir:The success of their careers is in their hands. Their selection process has to be as rigorous as the professionals on the other side- they need to be more demanding about who they show with, how they're priced and invest more in business knowledge rather than relying on other people to do it for them. A Gallerist managing dozens of people will drop you if your work isn't selling, they won't fight for you. You need to accumulate as much knowledge and understanding as possible, for example the workshop on auction houses we held was to help artists learn about the secondary market.Like death and taxes-the secondary market WILL get you!And if you're not prepared, your entire career of work can be destroyed by one or two collectors flipping your work and it being devalued.Understanding is key, the power is in their hands.

Who would you like to paint your portrait?
Samir:An artist we discovered called James Allen, who is a talented young portrait painter-which isn't really encouraged any more; its very traditional but with a contemporary touch. Zoe and I might commission a portrait sometime soon. I'd rather stick to the talent of tomorrow than established figures.

Having conquered the fashion and art world, what's next?
Samir:I feel strongly about education and charity- I want art and design and the creative industry to play a bigger role in educating a wider audience as well as professionals. We can only manage so many artists here-I'm sure there are hundreds of other talented artists out there that need this, so I'm hoping as a result of this first year to be able to create educational tools to help anyone who works in creative fields, especially in visual art-to get their hands on something like a DVD or book to give them advice on their careers.The way some of the artists have been reacting to the knowledge we've been providing -their potential is being unleashed and after years of struggle they are now seeing what they have to do.
We recently lost two incredibly talented artists,twin sisters Jennie and Jessie Gunhammar to Lupus disease so we are launching a Lupus trust with money going to St Thomas' hospital; we're hoping through raising awareness of the illness they'll be able to open a walk in clinic.Lupus disease is not very well known- supposedly Lady Gaga's sister has it, Seal has it, and it is more prevalent than leukaemia. On 4th May we are launching the trust here with an auction where the Debut artists will each be donating a piece of art.
I want to try through art and design to change peoples lives- I don't need much in my lifetime neither do my children, but I want to make a long term difference and be remembered for that.


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