Gallery Profiles: Black Rat Press – Part 2

Yesterday, I posted part one of this interview with Mike Snelle, owner of The Black Rat Press. Part one focused on Black Rat at the present. This half has more on street art in general, and what’s ahead for the gallery.

RJ: Time and time again, art critics say that street art is a fad, and other people say it shouldn’t be even be considered art, but you make a living on selling it. How do you respond to those critics?

Mike Snelle: I think when art critics make bold sweeping statements about ‘street art’ it’s an indication that they have not looked around at the huge variety of work being produced by artists who work in the streets. The very idea that there is something that unites all artists who sometimes do work in a public environment beyond the fact that they put things in the street is a false one. To say that a Swoon woodcut for instance, should not be considered art is a very strange position to hold and suggests that you probably haven’t seen one. So I think the question about whether street art can be considered art is a misguided one. And judgments about whether it a ‘good’ art or not is equally not a valuable question. Some artists who work in the streets are important artists with valuable things to say and others less so. The thing about putting things up in the street is that there are no curators, or gallery directors filtering what gets seen and making value judgments along the way. This is one of the most positive aspects of street art and why there is such a huge variety of work. Not all of it is perhaps significant as a work of art (and nor is much of it intended to be) but to say that within street art there are not great artists is just false.

The fad bit is interesting. The problem with this is the idea the grouping together of a group of artists with little in common and then labeling it as a movement called ‘street art’ and then the media writing a million articles about it. There is some danger in this that it is something fashionable and that when the public get bored of reading about it they move on to the next thing and great artists get harmed in the process. I don’t think this will happen as I feel that people and institutions recognize that there are some interesting and important artists working in the streets and these artists will still be interesting and important artists with valuable things to say even if the mainstream media get bored of ‘the next Banksy’ type article.

RJ: Any particular artists you think we should keep our eye on in the coming years?

MS: There is lots of exciting work being done at the moment. In the next 12 months some young artists I am excited about include Sweetoof and Cyclops who I think are really interesting, Elbow-toe who is making some incredible collage works at the moment and the South African artist Asha Zero who we are thrilled to be showing for the first time in the UK.

RJ: What’s in store for the future at BRP?

MS: I don’t want to give too much away about the next 12 months but as well as shows by some artists already associated with the gallery, we have a number of very talented artists who we will be showing for the first time. We are looking forward to 2009, which opens with a print show where we will demonstrate printmaking techniques as well as releasing new editions and trial proofs etc. This is followed by a Matt Small solo show which is something we have wanted to do since we first opened the gallery and are really excited at the prospect of. For the rest, you will have to wait and see.