The Masons, Danluke
One of the many ways in which I have been discussing, on the Greater than 11% podcast and Instagram Lives is how to support creatives who are generally facing a financially turbulent time as a result of the pandemic and lockdown. One way in which to keep the creative community and individuals afloat is PURCHASING THEIR WORK.
Sarah Williams and Mimi Gray are the founders of Darklight, an online space selling affordable small edition fine art prints. They have curated some fantastic artists and creations and made the process simple and straightforward. Before you jump into their wonderful offering, bagging something for your wall or some unique Christmas pressies for family and friends, dive into this interview where we discuss why they set-up the business and give some super helpful tips for purchasing art.
R: Hey Mimi & Sarah as you know I’m a fangirl of Darklight, I’d love to know more about how the idea come about and how it functions?
S&M: Thank you! We met in 2015 at M&C Saatchi as art buyers. So we have always shared a passion for visual culture and the impact that visuals have on people. About 8 months ago we were discussing photographers whose works we’d love to have on our walls and realised there was no-where to buy it. There was a hole in the market at that time for affordable photographic prints by artists who skirted the editorial/fine art line.
We envisioned building a platform that offered affordable works that weren’t purely decorative: having meaning and impact as well as being aesthetically beautiful. We wanted these works to be accessible, but still collectible. Finally, we wanted to have a hand in shaping the conversation around the industry we love, so we set up the ‘stories’ page on our platform. This enables us to connect with art/photography lovers and broaden the conversation around art and mental health.
R: So what have been the steps in establishing the business?
S&M: After a few excited conversations, some research and about a month of working out what to call ourselves [!] we bought the domain. We made a wishlist of our top 30 [-ish] artists and started contacting them. We worked with a brilliant designer, Alice Chia, who helped us create the brand identity. We then reached out to one of the best printers in the UK – Metro Imaging, who print for Tate, Wolfgang Tillmans, Zanele Muholi - you name it. There is literally nothing these guys don’t know.
After multiple conversations with artists whose work we loved and believed strongly in, we whittled it down to six, who we felt had a strong look and synergy with our ethos. We are big advocates of art for mental health and want the company to be very vocal about this, so we talked a lot about how we could build that into our business from the start. Early on, we decided that a % of our annual profit would go towards mental health initiatives and now we are thrilled to say that we are partnering with Young Minds.
Once everything was in place we started spreading the word, talking to people in the industry for advice, marketing ourselves, doing Instagram takeovers... and off we went.
Yannis Davy, Evangeli
S&M: We felt really strongly about establishing a space between ‘that’s a nice picture on the wall’ i.e decorative art and ‘I don’t have £5k to spend on that print’ i.e limited edition gallery prices. A few things to look out for when buying editions:
When buying an edition the smaller the edition size the greater its scarcity and therefore the greater its value; there are only a few in existence.
Do your research on the artist. See where else their work sells and for how much. Check out where they have exhibited, have they had a solo-exhibition? Have they published any photo books, what was the reaction to them?
Think also about their process. How much of their time has gone into creating that one image. Is the process itself expensive [as with shooting on tin, for example], or was this image part of an ongoing series or personal project, which took place over several years, or in several countries? Is the work a collaboration between two artists/photographers? Etc.
Is the work signed by the artist and or is it authenticated? If you are buying an edition without one or the other of those, the value is perhaps in question.
Also a lot of it boils down to ‘do you f*cking love it?' 👹 Will seeing the work on your wall every day bring you joy and do you have the money to spend? Art is worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it, as the saying goes. Personally, between us, we have never regretted buying a piece of art. Clothes, yes; boyfriends, yes; art, never.
Finally, and most importantly, let’s not forget that buying a piece of art is your way of supporting the arts and giving great living artists an income. This is so crucial: don’t take artists for granted.
R: For me, when I buy work, it is typically of others artist I know, have worked with or have a friendship with as I like that connection. However, there is often work I see that literally gets into my head and won’t leave. I've bought where I can over the past six months to support fellow creatives and I get so much joy looking at work - just sitting in my house thinking about how it came to be. What is a piece of work that you both own and why did you buy it?
S: About 5 years ago I went through a pretty serious break up. It was around Valentine’s day and I was in Lights of Soho (remember that?). There were little neon love heart art pieces everywhere which were gorgeous, but just not what I needed at that time. I walked down the stairs and saw Lauren Baker’s ‘Everything is going to be Fucking Amazing’ in pink neon. It literally spoke to me at that time in my life and I had to buy it. I adore it. If I’m ever feeling a bit low I turn it on, put some music on and it cheers me up. It’s also great for parties, it turns my whole living room pink.
Marco Walker, Merida
M: I recently bought a piece by Dutch artist Juul Kraijer. I discovered her work when I moved to Amsterdam last year in Huis Marseille [photography gallery just off the nine streets], and messaged her to ask if I could come and visit her studio in Rotterdam. Her work is so dark and powerful. At the time I really couldn’t afford to buy a piece, but I just thought, fuck it. The work I bought is a limited edition photograph of a hand covered in ladybirds. I see them everywhere, they are all over my house and it just felt like a sign. I’m completely in love with it.
R: I love both of those reasons for purchasing - I think it is easy to forget how much art can be a healer as much as it can be inspiring and thought provoking. Can you talk about some of the artists you will be representing?
S&M: It was so difficult to be selective about our artists starting out. We knew we always wanted to keep a small roster - a handful of the artists we are excited by and whose work we have admired for a long time. The selection is very reflective of our tastes; of dark and light. There is a duality that runs through everything we do since we really are polar opposites [haha].
Jess Cochrane, Still Life
A few of the artists we have had long-standing relationships with: Tif [Hunter], we worked with back in 2017 when we held an exhibition together of his tintypes. His work is gorgeous and so refined; he is hugely knowledgeable about the history of shooting on tin and very respectful of the craft. Same with The Masons, who we adore. Mimi has worked with Jess [Cochrane] as a curator and agent over the past few years so she was really a no-brainier. Obsessed with her work and her originality. Jesse Draxler has been an art-crush of both of ours for years too. He is the king of darkness [!]. Similarly, we have been huge fans of Kate Bellm and Marco Walker for five or so years now. Their work seriously makes us want to travel. Yannis Davy Guibinga we connected with through Instagram. His work documents and celebrates the many cultures and identities on the African continent and its diaspora. Finally, Sophie [Mayanne] just moves us with her honest, raw portraits. She is the embodiment of finding light in the dark; beauty in scars. Her self-documentation is incredible to follow.
A bit of a long answer, but as you can tell, we are super proud of our small, diverse roster. & very thankful for our artists taking a leap of faith with us. 🙏🖼
Tif Hunter, Boots and Feathers
R: I love Sophie Mayanne's work too - as you both know, I caught up with her earlier this year (read her interview and see more of her work here) - she is an incredible artist, I feel her practice has shamanistic traits. What is the process of finding and securing new artists?
S&M: We began with a wish list, which was a great start, but then had to make sure they all looked right together and suited our quite-curated style. We created endless moodboards to sift through what we thought would work and what wouldn’t. We didn’t want to compromise on our taste for commerciality, but obviously there is an element of that. We are a business and we are committed to making a living for our artists [as well as ourselves]. Once we were happy, we approached our shortlist and told them how amazing we were [👅 ]. For them to commit was quite a leap of faith, as we didn’t have so much as the bones of a website to show them. We really were counting on the existing relationships we had with them. After a bit of back-and-forth we finally had everyone on board.
R: You both have had winding creative journeys up until arriving at co-founding Darklight. Mimi, I first came across Visual Diet early in 2019, I can see a strong line from what you were doing there to what you are doing now with Darklight? Be great to hear more on Visual Diet, what you learnt and taking forward - the evolution focus?
Jesse Draxler, Untitled 2
M: Totally. Darklight is 100% an evolution of the ethos of Visual Diet: in short, you are what you see. I have always been a strong believer in the power of imagery to affect mentality and a disciple of art as a positive force for mental health. For me, art is like a higher power. It nourishes and uplifts like nothing else can. Our vision for Darklight is built on getting art into people’s homes; in creating inspiring spaces that make you feel good, or at least feel something.
R: Sarah, the same is true with you Soho Curious & Co. I love to know more about why you founded Soho Curious & Co. how the idea of pairing artists and brands came about and how your experiences and knowledge fed into Darklight genesis?
S: My role in advertising was sourcing artists for commercial ad campaigns. When I left advertising, I was being asked how to get more work and connect with brands by a lot of artists. I started consulting for them. On the other side I had a few brands coming to me asking me to find them suitable artists to work with, so it felt pretty natural to set up a company that helped both sides. My whole career I’ve been immersed in photography and art, but usually with a commercial spin, so the idea of setting up a company that was art-based, where I could use my knowledge of curation and business experience from Soho Curious & Co wasn’t difficult.
R: You're both art lovers and advocates of artists - can you trace the trajectory or the first instance of art that sparked this curiosity and passion?
S: It’s always been in me. I think partly because I’m dyslexic. For me pictures and visuals have always been easier to digest than words. Although I’m super creative, strangely I have never been much of a creator. I think the first time I realised I wanted to be immersed in art but not necessarily be an artist was when I could see the talent in one of my artist friends. She was an amazing illustrator, but terrible at selling herself or her work. I desperately tried to get her into shops and get her an agent. I wanted her to make a commercial success out of it. So I think I knew then that I had a good eye and also a passion for supporting artists.
M: I have been passionate about art since a young age. My earliest memories are of drawing and painting. Art was the only subject I really loved at school; I remember getting in trouble a lot for skipping class to hang out in the art studio.
R: I can surface ‘mental health and wellbeing’ in nearly all of your interactions - I’d love to know why this has become a fundamental element wherever you are both applying your focus?
M: It’s a subject that we’re both vocal about. I’m sure everyone has their own experience of depression and anxiety and I think for me, it’s something that runs in my family. I feel incredibly lucky to live in an age [country and demographic] where you can talk openly about it; although I think we still have a way to go with that. 60-70% of thoughts in an adult’s head are negative, so it’s a constant struggle to fight those demons and find peace inside. Art has helped me with this a lot so I really just want to share that experience with others.
Sophie Mayanne, Paul & Bailey
R: Darklight has now launched - what is coming up, what can we expect in the coming months?
S: We want our audience to get to know the artists behind the work, so we’ll be sharing stories and interviews with each of them [amongst others] on the website. We have some amazing contributors writing for our editorial platform and we already have a couple of new releases planned in the coming months.
We’ll also be looking for opportunities to bring our art into the physical realm through pop-up exhibitions and fairs. Keep an eye on the website for updates :)
R: How do people get in contact to have a conversation about buying an artwork?