Steve Lazarides is a pioneer in the world of street art. For over a decade, he worked with the legendary Banksy, and is considered by many collectors as the person who discovered him. He's also known for being one of the prolific (and first) collectors of street art, selling Banksy's work out of the back of his car in 2001.
In addition, his gallery Lazinc helped launched the careers of other high-caliber street artists like Invader, Paul Insect, JR, and Vhils, among many others. Now, Lazarides is partnering with Paddle8 to auction off 55 pieces ranging from original works, prints, and multiples from his personal archive.
The works on offer include plenty of the artists already mentioned, as well as works from Todd James (aka REAS), Futura, David Choe, and JR. It's the first time Lazarides' personal stash of street art grails have been offered online to global bidders.
According to Alan Zeng, Paddle8's Head of Street Art: "Steve, being an anti-establishment authority, has been emphatic in driving the niche, often misunderstood and dismissed street art market into popularity where it has become well-regarded by collectors of all demographics and tastes."
He sees this sale as a natural match for Paddle8, and a way to provide access to global collectors who pride themselves in being at the forefront of movements.
We spoke with Steve Lazarides about his auction, the modern street art market, working with Banksy, and how hype affects art just as much as it does sneakers and streetwear.
What first attracted you to street art?
That really goes back to probably the mid-'80's, when I was a kid growing up in Bristol, and I saw it on a kids' TV program on a Saturday morning and was totally transfixed. And it felt it was an artwork for us, the kids from the street. You know, I'd never been to an art gallery, or a museum, or stuff like that.
I don't think I really even knew who [the artists] were. The whole movement looked great, and then that book Subway Art came out. It's like a Bible to me, and there are various artists in there that I love.
The Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper book?
The Henry Chalfant book, yeah. And then I did a lot of graffiti. I tried to do it myself and realized I was fucking awful, so I gave up very quickly, and then started documenting other people's stuff. So I picked up a camera, that in turn led for me to go to college, and then it kind of all went from there.
Street art is ephemeral in nature. So isn't there a sense of irony in how it's become collectable?
It's been an interesting kind of ride. From the early days, we'd have the same questions over and over. It was about how wrong it was to be taken off the street and put in a gallery. They kind of missed the point. It's not been taken off the street and put in a gallery. These guys are working on canvas, using some of the motifs that they use on the street, and the same visceral energy.
This isn't about them replicating what they do on the street in a gallery. You can go back and look at people like Basquiat and [Keith] Haring and no one ever calls them graffiti artists anymore. They're darlings of the contemporary art world.
What was it like working with Banksy and getting a look into his process?
We worked together for nearly a decade. I had the best time of my fucking life. I documented it; I was there. I went to do other people as well when they were painting. It was amazing. I felt totally and utterly privileged of being able to have been a small part of it.
What do you make of some of his works being taken off the streets and being sold at auction?
It's a real shame because he was such a prolific artist out of the street. And then I think he just got to the stage where I think he just thought, "What's the point? You know, I've put it out for the good of the general public and by the next day, it's gone." What's really is the point of the artist putting stuff on the street when people are just going to steal it? I think morally it's wrong. Those works were put out there for the good of the general public, not for the good of one person.
How does their work sort of keep its authenticity in a show space versus being on a street space for the public to enjoy or to be interacted with in a very public way?
I think it depends how you define authenticity. I think that the guys that do stuff on the street are no less authentic when they go and make gallery shows. These guys put a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of money, and a lot of thought into making those shows. So I think they're as equally authentic as the stuff they do on the street.
How important is it for street artists to continue working on the streets?
I think from our perspective, anybody looking in from the outside, none of our fucking business. But from their perspective they have all the guys that I know that go out and paint on the streets, that continually do stuff on the street [inaudible 00:08:24] these guys, it's a calling for them. It's something they need to do. They don't do it, they feel unfulfilled. Unlike the younger bunch that's coming through, those guys are just doing it for fun. They're not trying to do it to hope that someone will notice it and make a screen print out of it, or anything else, just doing it. They just genuinely, genuinely love just going out and painting in the street.
On the flip side, Shepard Fairey has transitioned OBEY into a lifestyle brand. KAWS is working with Uniqlo and Jordan Brand. How do you feel about the continued commercialization of street art?
You know what? More power to them. Nobody in the world can give them shit for the work ethic that they've had, what they've put in, and what they've contributed to the scene. If they want to go on and create super successful trite projects, then good work. I don't really like it when the big brands are kind of jumping on it, but you tend to find that the bigger, better artists don't tend to do the commercial hook-ups. Or do it very, very rarely.
Those guys at the top of their game; they're at the top of their game for a reason. They tend to not need the commercial hook-up, and when I was working with Banksy, the way he works is almost a total reaction against the guys that have gone before him. The guys that are doing trainers with Nike and lots of other things are doing that because that's the only way they could make money. But, I think Banksy, JR, and OSGEMEOS have gone the other way and refuse to work with brands.
What are some of the works and prints we can expect to see on offer in Paddle8?
There's a magnificent Ramellzee painting that I put in. He's one of my favorite artists of all time. There is a wonderful new Invader print, an 8-bit, one we did a drop on the website last week. I think those are two of my favorites to be honest. And there's a Beautiful Losers box set, from way back in the day.
How would you describe the modern street art market?
It's different than 20 years ago. It's incredibly strong. There are a lot of older people that were collecting a different type of art that have started to interact with it. It's a very interesting time. There's a lot of great stuff that's been sold.
There are things that I sold back in 2004 that would've been maybe 3,400 pounds, but nowadays have appreciated, and are worth several hundred thousand. It's weird, sometimes you just don't see it coming. Someone's price will have been steady for many years, and suddenly it goes ballistic, sort of like Invader. Invader is slowly creeping up over the years, bit-by-bit, and then suddenly everyone in the world wants an Invader print. So, it's a funny one.
Sometimes I think it's totally out of everyone else's hands. Suddenly there's a feeding frenzy that starts happening. It's self-perpetuating. I think a lot of galleries and theaters would like to train everyone who drove this to happen. It's the general public and buying public who made that happen rather than the dealers.
It depends what level the audience is at. You have them at different levels. You've got a whole different category of people who are causing the frenzy, but they can't afford anything else. Very few people in the world can afford to buy a painting, but there are a lot more who can afford a screen print. And then, you come down the chain. If you're doing a t-shirt that takes it to another level, I think it's a good thing.
Steve Lazarides' Off the Wall auction runs on Paddle8.com through September 14.
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