Prisoner Number 1 is a painting by Persi Darukhanawala. 10 months ago, I was watching our technicians installing it as part of an exhibition of abstract works set to open a few weeks later. The work’s namesake is a lyric from Prisoners by The Vapors, a song about feeling trapped: “I don't feel safe in the street / There's something nagging in my head”.
Less than a month later, in my bedroom-cum-office in front of a virtual audience on Zoom, I spoke with the artist about the song. In the time between these two encounters, most of the world had gone into a state of lockdown. The exhibition never got the opening party that we had arranged.
This year has demonstrated how quickly and unpredictably the world can change. These changes cause some things to grow in importance and others to shrink. They have made us ask what we can do that will offer enduring value to those who come into contact with us. The answer to this question has come in the form of three enduringly relevant and worthwhile principles:
Keep it simple
Our aim has always been simple: to shine a light on the most exciting, talented and culturally relevant artists of our time. This year, we have kept our focus on it more than ever, asking at every stage how what we’re doing helps us to achieve it.
In a year defined equally by staying put - remaining at home, cancelling events, postponing exhibitions - and moving quickly - adapting to different ways of working, finding solutions to new problems, making sense of our new world - keeping a clear goal in mind has been so important.
We have changed the way we present our offering in a number of ways. New filtering options make finding the artist you’re looking for easier than ever before. When you do find them, updates to their profile pages mean that you can download their CV’s, find out when and where they are exhibiting and virtually visit their studios.
Our artist offering itself has also grown as we have welcomed some exciting new artists to the platform. Developing our offering has always been part of what we do and our focus on it only grew in 2020.
Look out for your community
Our simple focus means that we know what we do well. We have built a wide and engaged community of art lovers and practitioners and, when the time comes to help others, we can play to our strengths and direct our support where it will make a difference.
Artists have felt the effects of postponed residencies, closing studios and galleries, and hesitant collectors. Parents have had to balance childcare and entertainment with work. Many people have found global lockdowns taking a toll on their mental health. In response to these things, we put a couple of initiatives in place to offer some extra help.
For a weekend in April we waived our commission on all sales, directing 100% of revenues straight to artists. We also started #artistsrise, sharing on our Instagram page the work of a different emerging artist, recommended by our audience, each week.
To help the wider community, we worked with our artists on two online events programs: Stay Home and Draw, a series of children’s drawing club with Mat Cahill and life drawing sessions with Richard Storey and Book of Transformation, a 6-week therapeutic art course with Secil Erel.
Amplify inspiring stories
Art has the power to tell stories without words. It subtly uncovers and inspects ideas and narratives, transporting us to worlds that we didn’t know existed. When you talk to them, most artists also have plenty of interesting stories to tell with words.
With people spending more time at home than ever, escaping to these worlds and hearing these stories has been especially important. Through Morning Rise, a series of live interviews with our artists and Sound & Vision, a weekly online drawing club, we have made them accessible to everyone who wants to explore them.
The stories themselves have ranged from the sublime to the (beautifully) ridiculous. From hearing Persi’s take on the renewed relevance of his painting to learning about Bruce McLean’s idea for an assemblage sculpture entitled A Loaf on a Sofa, I have come away from these spaces filled with inspiring, challenging and hilarious ideas.
This hasn’t been the year that anyone planned for. The world has changed. We have been forced to learn, to adapt, to make sense of our identity and place in this new world. We are proud of what we have done. Keeping these three guiding ideas in mind we have kept our head above the water, found moments of joy and helped those around us to do the same. We’re looking forward to continuing to do this in 2021, no matter what it throws at us.