Steve Lazarides: Meet the 'accidental' art dealer who made Banksy

Story highlights

  • "Accidental" art dealer Steve Lazarides has worked with some of the biggest names in street art
  • Though they parted ways in 2009, he is often credited with launching Banksy's career
  • Lazarides Gallery's latest exhibition Still Here, A Decade Of Lazarides is open now

(CNN)Over the last decade, London-based Bristol-born art dealer Steve Lazarides has worked with some of the biggest names in international street art.

Steve Lazarides by Lars Fassinger
This month, the 47-year-old has launched a landmark exhibition, celebrating ten years of his Lazarides Gallery. It will take up three floors of the Lazarides Rathbone venue and feature over 30 artists, including British trailblazer Banksy, portraitist Jonathan Yeo, and French social art provocateur JR.
    These artists have been key to Lazarides' artistic career, as he has championed underground art, blurring the boundaries between the gallery and the street. Each artist has created work that references major issues of their times while working with Lazarides.
    The exhibition showcases new pieces from the artists, alongside a selection of old favorites.

    An 'accidental art dealer'

    "Everything in this show demonstrates progression," explained Lazarides, "from when the artist started 10 years ago to where they are now."
    The photographer JR, for example, has worked with Lazarides for nearly a decade.
    "Most people know who he is now, but I've worked with this guy since he was 24-years-old. We gave him his first show, then at 31 he had Robert De Niro starring in a short movie for him."
    Steve Lazarides describes himself as an "accidental art dealer". He had numerous jobs in professions such as a builder, painter and decorator, set builder and picture editor, before he began photographing renowned street artist, and fellow Bristolian, Banksy.

    The man behind Banksy

    Noticing something relatively untouched at the time, Lazarides became Banksy's art dealer and is often credited with having launched his career.
    "No one else was showing this kind of work and no one was giving people like this an opportunity. And now there's a million of them worldwide, showing terrible art", he said.
    He believes there was a "grudging respect" between them but admits, "we were never particularly good friends."
    The two parted ways in 2009 but Lazarides continues to use and promote Banksy's work in various exhibitions.
    He recently launched an exhibition at Global Karaköy in Istanbul entitled "The Art of Banksy" but, he says, Banksy was not involved in the project.
    "Absolutely not. Not one single iota."
    Seeing potential in the project and where it was set, Lazarides explained, "I knew he wouldn't be happy but he's done many things that have made me unhappy over the years. What I did think, and this is true, is that the power of the work there is massive."

    A new investment

    Lazarides has recently announced an investment by Qatari businessman Wissam Al Mana, Janet Jackson's husband, who is rumored to be worth seven figures. The collaboration, he says, came by chance.
    "He randomly bowled up at the gallery one Monday morning where he promptly got turned away but then came back later," he said, laughing.
    "So we ended up hitting it off and he has a genuine interest in what we do. [...] I'm sure he could find much better uses for his money than putting it here if he was just interested in making money."
    The investment, he said, will enable him to "take the whole sorry show to Mayfair and see what trouble we can cause in the belly of the beast.
    "It's trying to prove to people that this work is worth being in Mayfair. It deserves to be there. There's no reason why it shouldn't be other than prejudice."

    'Still Here, A Decade Of Lazarides'

    Before he begins the next chapter, Lazarides is celebrating the last ten.
    "For me, it really is a full stop. That's one decade over. Most of us survived it."
    The current exhibition then, is about proving to people "that you can be successful without having to just go along one route. I think that's what I'm aiming for... and global domination of course."
    The exhibition 'Still Here, A Decade Of Lazarides' runs from 12 February to 24 March 2016.