Hi all! Hoping all is well and you’re looking after yourselves mentally and physically during these difficult and trying times. I’ve been rather inconsistent with my entries of recent but I will endeavour to post, keeping you informed and hopefully inspiring your creative juices! I’ve been fortunate to interview several visual artists, musicians, authors, producers and directors for Occhi during the lockdown so please subscribe and follow the online magazine.
Ed Cross Fine Art works with emerging and established artists across and beyond the African diaspora. The gallery seeks to stage conversations – between practitioners, international audiences, and as guided by its artists to amplify voices historically silenced, and to create space for their independent development. Since launching in 2009, Ed Cross Fine Art has held exhibitions across the world: from New York to Paris, and London to Lagos, the gallery continues to build on its values of cooperation and curiosity. Occhi had the pleasure to speak to gallerist Ed Cross about the gallery and the sector trends, particularly in light of the COVID 19 lockdown.
Way back in 1988 I left my London publishing job at Heinemann to live in Kenya to pursue a career as an artist and continue my publishing interests as an independent agent for UK and American Educational publishers – so whilst Ed Cross Fine Art was formed in 2009 after I had returned to London, my connection to Africa long predates that. In Kenya, I collected some contemporary art just for the love of it and later worked as a sculptor myself for seven years but from the beginning, I was enthralled by the diverse creativity and energy that I experienced in East Africa and later the West and the South as I traveled the continent on business. In many ways, I liked the fact that the boundaries between art and life that I had known in the west were far less in evidence.
At around 2006, whilst still in Kenya, I had an idea that would change my life – and this was simply the notion that “African Contemporary Art” was a hugely undervalued asset – undervalued culturally as well as financially. I saw this as both a business opportunity and a “mission” that, it transpired, would define my life. At that time there were very few artists from Africa who were on the world stage, El Anatsui had had excellent shows with October Gallery in London but it was at the Venice Biennale in 2007 that the magnificence of one of his great tapestry works overwhelmed the defenses of the Western art world and changed forever the perceptions of contemporary art from Africa. By then I was already embarked on a journey towards raising the profile of artists from Africa. My decision to return to my home country was much to do with a desire to take the battle to the Western institutions and collector base and shortly after I arrived in the UK I was pleased to learn that the Tate Modern who had previously shown little or no interest in African Contemporary art were embarked on a process of establishing a proper African contemporary collection.
Back in Africa, I had focussed on collecting contemporary works with some UK based friends but I soon found myself making friends with the artists whose works I was buying and realized that I could use the marketing skills I had acquired from publishing to help them sell their work – thus I accidentally became a gallerist. The fact that I had studied History of Art at Cambridge as an undergraduate helped too.
How would you describe the gallery’s program and what’s your USP, particularly for artists and art collectors?
A young curator who went on to hold one of the most important art jobs in the country once was kind enough to describe me as a magician because ECFA “does all the things that a bigger gallery does without any of the usual infrastructures”. In Kenya there is a term Jua Kali “hot sun” in Kiswahili covering the “informal sector” and I have always had a bit of an affinity with that way of doing things – we travel light.
Our resources go into wonderful and highly skilled colleagues, art fairs, pop-ups, and online platforms, and the development of materials that throw light on the artists we represent. We had a space very briefly when I first started the company but since 2010 we have not had a physical space and since 2018 we have been lucky enough to be part of the Somerset House Exchange project which provides office space for creative businesses linked to its core mission of supporting the arts. This is a blessing in the current crisis.
Our USP is our relationship with our client artists and our commitment to the integrity of them as people and their work. We are always in search alchemy. It is all about the artist and their work, less about the gallery. We are not a gallery that tries to mold artists in any way but we are very much there for them – we are on the journey together and are often friends as well as business partners. We are also open to new “talent” and will take risks with new artists because we can and because it’s core to what we do. Many of our artists come to the art world via unconventional routes and we absolutely embrace that.
I am also only interested in artists that have something that I sense is profound and important to say – I am not interested in artists that try to game the system unless that is part of their practice. I have worked as an artist myself and my mindset as a gallerist is similar in many ways – in the end, you go with your intuition.
To read the full interview visit https://occhimagazine.com/in-the-spotlight-ed-cross-fine-art/
Photograph of Ed Cross by Dola Posh (2019)