Artists are generally viewed as “struggling” financially. Their craft is a work of passion and they keep coming back. One gallery is trying to help expose emerging artists. We spoke to Nonhlanhla Mahlangu, the gallery manager at Art Eye Gallery. She holds a degree in the fine arts, and below, she tells us more about this ground breaking gallery.
BD: What is art eye gallery about?
NM: Art Eye Gallery and Studio is situated in New Doornfontein and is a collaborative space that perpetuates free expression and community, Art Eye has directed its focus on being a platform for great expression and storytelling. Our artists are not only dedicated to their individual practices but express narratives that are directly focused on what it means to live in Africa today.
BD: Why and when was it established?
NM: Art Eye Gallery was established in 2013, Art Eye resides its ethos on creating platforms for emerging and established artists, by actively generating exposure and creating new methods to sustain visual arts careers. The Art Eye spaces concomitantly bridge the gap between the formal exhibition space and workshop space allowing for artists to experiment, converse and express their innermost thoughts through the visual arts medium.
NM: From eighteen years old upwards.
BD: How do you choose artists to be part of your gallery?
NM: We select artworks that are raw, honest and have integrity, artworks that aim to enlighten and challenge stereotypical views of what contemporary art is.
BD: Where do most members of your organization come from?
NM: Our clients come from all over the world, we have clients from Midrand, Pretoria, London, Paris and Washington etc.
BD: Is painting or drawing the sole focus for art eye gallery?
NM: We focus on developing emerging artist and creating visibility through exhibitions and cooperate events. We have hosted events for reputable companies such as Mercedes Benz who bring in a different clientele that we would normally be unable to reach thus creating visibility for the artists as well as the gallery. We have a variety of artworks that we exhibit as we believe that limiting our selection art process will not change how art is perceived both locally and internationally.
BD: How have members of the general public received art eye gallery?
NM: The feedback from the public has been astounding, people love the fact that the gallery is inclusive, they love that it not a clinical space that intimidates them. They like that when they come visit the gallery they sometimes go to one of our studio’s situated in Ellis House to meet their favourite artists. Every single client that comes to the gallery is given a tour and offered coffee with edibles and that makes people feel welcomed right away thus making their visit much more meaningful.
NM: That challenges that come with running a gallery that works with emerging artists are making the gallery and artists careers sustainable as well as finding funding so that we can keep doing what we do.
BD: How have you overcome those challenges?
NM: We have received funding from Merecedes Benz which made a lot of things easier for us, we are able to provide studios boxes as well as provide art materials for our represented artists. Reaching a younger clientele has also been a challenge exhibiting a wide range of different artworks in different sizes, mediums and subject matter is helping bridge that gap.
BD: How are black artists doing in the industry?
NM: A large number of black people are pursuing an art career. The issue is that their stories are not being told and so they fade into the background which makes people think that black people do not pursue art on a full time basis. Artists live through their artworks and that is why we believe that telling artist’s stories is vital in establishing a sustainable artist career.
BD: What are some success stories that you can share with us?
NM: Cassius Khumalo is such a strong and amazing artists with a technique that I have never seen before. His sheer perseverance and courage to u draw the way he does and using a difficult subject matter is just astounding. His success is embedded in his talent, strength and being able to sell to young black clients.
BD: For artists who would love to be registered under art eye gallery, what are the requirements?
NM: There isn’t really a formal selection process. Being that we are a young gallery, we have still remained open to meeting new artists. We still engage new artists and take on emerging artists we are passionate about. We look for artists who share our passion and create genuine connections. We advise that artists send us their portfolio on firstname.lastname@example.org along with their biography as well as their portfolio with a price structure.
NM: Our courage to represent emerging artists, Art Eye Gallery functions to create visibility and conjure discussions around humanity, diversity and create a sense of community between artists and art buyers. We invite our artists to work in the studio space on a daily basis, as it should not be a luxury but a necessity to have a studio space, where they are able to explore their limitless sensibilities and produce new artwork without material constraints.
BD: One might say, the arts industry is beginning to gain momentum is South Africa and Africa as a whole. Is this true? What are some visible changes in the industry?
NM: This is true, a lot of black people who previously believed that art was a luxury and that they couldn’t afford to buy art are now buying art and finding it much more accessible. The fact that our international clients visit a gallery based in the inner city proves how much art has evolved
BD: What are lessons that art teaches young people, that they may be able to use outside of art and later in life?
NM: Artists produced socio economic artworks so that people can learn more about the world that we live in. Art reflects cultural values, beliefs and identity and helps to preserve the many different communities that make up our world. It’s the same beliefs and value systems that make up peoples identities making art so vital.
BD: What makes being part of art eye gallery worth it?
NM: Being able to visit artists in their studios and seeing an artist’s artwork come into fruition.
BD: The vision that the founders had while in the process of establishing art eye gallery, is it still the same or has it changed in any way?
NM: Art Eye gallery is born from a long running Art Consultancy called Art Eye. Long before we had established this amazing gallery, there existed a vision and passion for African Art. The New Doornfontein Spaces are born from the vision of the Art Eye Gallery previously located in The Design Quarter, Fourways. We moved to the city to reawaken our feeling of the city, however not realising that we would contribute to an ever larger movement of reawakening.
Art Eye Gallery is a constantly evolving concept which encourages collaboration, free expression and community. Our passion quite naturally changed and focused on creating platforms for emerging to gain exposure and create sustainable visual arts careers. The Art Eye spaces concomitantly bridge the gap between the formal exhibition space and workshop space allowing for artists to experiment, converse and express their innermost thoughts through the visual arts medium.
Artists are invited to participate in workshops, live drawing sessions and most significantly residencies under AE The Projectroom; a sister company to Art Eye. By creating a platform for interdisciplinary interventions as well as allowing for the exhibition of diverse visual art forms, we hope to create a new movement of art appreciation. By developing new markets, we aim to create a new following and group of art collectors. We encourage exchange and community even with our clients so that they are able to grow with the gallery, with their peers and our artists.