Interview with Mike Snelle of Black Rat Projects

By Stuart Mackenzie
Opening night Photo © Black Rat Projects

If you tried to list the names of influential street artists during the previous 30 years, the chances are you’d just about recite the roster that Black Rat Press have put together for Now’s The Time, their current exhibition.  We caught up with BRP’s Mike Snelle to discuss the latest show.

Now’s The Time, has brought together work from some significantly influential contemporary artists.  What made you decide to host this show?

This is a show I have wanted to do for at least two years but when we were running a gallery schedule with ten exhibitions a year I couldn’t find the time necessary to try and put it together. At the risk of sounding trite now was a good time for me personally and the gallery to attempt to put this show together as well as feeling like the right time in the wider sense. I feel like during the intensity of the previous couple of years a show like this would have been a bit lost amongst the barrage on street art related events and news. Now things are a little calmer and the dust has settled I think it is fair to say that within the wider street art movement (and I am not sure that expression is entirely correct or meaningful) are a number of artists whose cultural impact and lasting significance is hard to deny. This list is incomplete and to some extent subjective but this was an early stab at putting a show together where the importance of each artist’s contribution to our culture was undeniable. I think there are other artists that would be on my own more subjective list but I felt it important to try and put together an exhibition where there would be the widest possible agreement that the artists on show are influential and important.

It’s interesting that in the past 12 months, which has been during a less hyped and speculative period, there have been more Museum interest that during the more frenzied time. I also know that there are a number of other Museum shows planned for the coming twelve months. I think we will see an increasing number of exhibitions, both commercial and public which attempt to put contemporary street artists in an art historical context.

Barry McGee Untitled – 2004

BRP has previously been very proactive over the previous couple of years in showcasing new work from major street artists.  Any hesitation in your first art show of the year featuring secondary works?

In short, no. BRP as a gallery has been open not even 3 years and it’s been a steep learning curve. I think we have made some mistakes along the way but have learnt a huge amount being such a young gallery involved in the art world at a time in which things have changed so much. The street art world and community is unrecognizable from 5 years ago when I first got involved. One of the things I guess we have learnt is that people will criticize you whatever it is you choose to do and that following what you believe and not being swayed by that criticism is both the only way to stay sane and to run a gallery that you hope will win respect long term.

Representing artists is both the most challenging and rewarded part of running a gallery. I have learnt more about art from conversations with artists we have worked with that in the 7 years before I got involved in the primary part of the art world. Working directly with artists is a privileged part of what we do and we will continue to be heavily involved.

in that. However for some exhibition ideas to work you have to look outside your own circle of artists and friends.

Also we want to be involved in more projects like Swoon’s Swimming Cities, and full gallery installations which are not financially viable as freestanding projects. Matt Small would like at some point to do an exhibition of work based of his Zambia experience where part of the proceeds go back to the school we worked with.  These are things we would like to be involved with but they are financially draining and using secondary market sales in artists we believe in but don’t represent to help finance them seems to be a natural way to find a balance. If you look outside our own part of the art world and at any major contemporary gallery they use this balance between primary and secondary markets to facilitate ambitious projects by the artists they represent.

And what of the future, what’s coming up for BRP?

We have various projects planned, both in our space and other things for 2010. Exhibitions include the infamous (but not yet in our corner of the art world) Australian artist Adam Cullen, a Matt Small Zambia show and solo shows by Matt Small and Swoon.

Now’s The Time’, (named after a Basquiat painting of the same title), is an exhibition which brings together the most important and influential street artists of the past 4 decades and will run until May 20th.


Thru Cargo Garden
Arch 461
83 Rivington Street
London
EC2A 3AY


< Swoon – Bangkok 2010

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