Shruti Barton MA Creative Economy
Pitching in the Dark with Johny Midnight, Artist and Gallery Owner
Gallery Midnight www.gallerymidnight.com
In homage to my last blog on Frieze Art Fair, I conceded that interviewing both artist and gallery owner would provide further wisdom into the world of art from both perspectives. Enter into the Midnight Gallery, a small yet enticing gallery owned by the artist himself; Johny Midnight. To act as curator and creator, you may well agree, is a tough feat. Creating artwork which is accessible to the masses, with no heirs and graces, is something that Johny is very passionate about. In some respects, he is the absolute antithesis of what Frieze stands for. For, his paintings depict real life, from the Alps, the Caribbean to Tooting’s finest, Tooting Lido with no hidden agenda – he just asks you to look at things in a new way. As Edgar Degas once said “Art is not what you see but what others see”.
Q: What exactly is it that you do?
A: I am 90% artist and concept graphic designer and 10% gallery owner. I also sell fine art paintings and limited edition prints.
Q: How long have you been doing this for?
A: I would pin point it to the date when I stopped doing everything else, which has been since the last 12 years. I’ve been painting and drawing all my life. I had an art gallery in Chamonix in the Alps for 8 years. At the time there were no modern art galleries there so, to use the French word ‘Entrepreneur’, I opened my own. There are now 5 galleries in Chamonix in total.
Q: What did you study?
A: An Art Foundation course, BA Hons in Graphic Design at the London College of Printing and Human Nature working as a barman.
Q: What were your favourite subjects and why?
A: I always wanted to be a marine biologist, as the natural world has always been my passion.
Q: Who gave you your first big break?
A: There was no big break as such but my second London exhibition was all about the Alps. The success of the show gave me the confidence to set up the gallery in Chamonix. I wasn’t prepared to wait to be discovered, I wanted to promote my own gallery, ski and paint. I also spent a year in St. Lucia and as soon as I started networking at the sailing club, the ARC paintings started selling.
Since then there has been a steady increase in awareness of the gallery and in what I do. I could spend my whole life waiting for a big break, but that would mean that I was not happy with what I have already achieved, which I am. Anything that happens now is a bonus but I can live off my art work which was the goal 10 years ago.
Q: What is your most successful piece of work to date and why is it so successful?
A: It’s always the one on the easel! If I complete what I set out to do, then there’s a great sense of achievement. If something else happens in between, then that’s good too. If it goes wrong, it’s the most frustrating thing. The Fleet is perhaps the one I enjoy the most because if someone likes it and I ask them were they go sailing and they say they don’t, it means a lot. For someone to like the work and not sail means the painting has done its job. It has intrigued. If you can hold someone’s attention for more than just a few moments then you have achieved as an artist. On lengthier inspection they may love it, they may hate it and they may or may not understand it. But the thrill is to make them stop and stare. I give you the memory, a little flashback.
Q: Who forms your main client base?
A: People with new money, those who have achieved. The gentry can’t afford to squander money on art anymore. People don’t buy my work for an investment but because they love it.
Q: Who is your biggest inspiration in life?
A: I always wanted to work for David Attenborough. He’s my hero.
Q: Who do you think is the most influential person in the Fine Art painting world?
A: In terms of who I most want to emulate, it would have to be Picasso, who produced a multitude of work, was financially successful before he died and is a leading figure in the art world. He was a bit of a lady’s man as well! Ugly boys become rock starts, which was appealing back then. Nowadays girls go for geeks. Lucien Freud is another. For any artist, it’s about discovering one’s own style. That’s the difference between calling yourself an artist and calling yourself a painter. That’s why Vincent Van Gogh Pablo Picasso’s works are sold for over $100 million. These guys are the first to paint in a certain way. Consider Impressionism, Cubism and other art movements which were born out of artists’ ways of depicting things differently. If you are the first to come up with an idea, the idea should be valued. It’s a case of copyrighting it.
Q: What do you think will be one of the biggest changes in the commercial art industry over the next 10 years?
A: The biggest change has already happened. Young British artists from Tracey Emin to Banksy are now able to make a living. I’m looking forward to seeing who can match them.
Q: What is your opinion of the internet and social media and its impact on the commercial art industry?
A: Nowadays we are flooded with information. The internet has without a doubt been an invaluable tool to help me keep in contact with all my clients, quickly and efficiently. Without it, it would have been hard to survive. However I think there’s a lack of integrity in social media, as often people do not take the time to research their opinions fully. Whilst it is good for everyone to have a voice these days, to have an opinion on what constitutes as ‘valuable’ art without research, can impact negatively on the artist.
Q: How do you market yourself and advertise the gallery?
A: Through word of mouth and to a lesser extent passing trade, since Gallery Midnight is a destination gallery in Balham. I am often interviewed for magazine editorials, where my artwork will also be featured. The internet and Facebook have helped to increase awareness.
Q: What are your words of advice to artists and aspiring gallery owners looking to pursue a career in the art world?
Don’t come into this industry if you want to make money. If you do you’ll be very disappointed. If you can survive on the art work, you should be very grateful. I don’t paint to make a living. It’s just that my work happens to sell.
For further information, check out the ‘Gallery Midnight’ page on Facebook.
Johny is my Life Drawing art teacher. His classes are held every Wednesday at 7.30pm at Gallery Midnight, 12 Ritherdon Road, London, SW17 8QD if you fancy getting your eye in and drawing a couple of nudes over a glass of wine. “It’s not about learning to paint like me, it’s about learning to paint like you”. Cheers, Johny!
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