Steve Lazarides is innately skilled at promotion. His career as a gallerist was for a decade intertwined with the artist Banksy—initially promoting and producing screenprints for Banksy and his imprint Pictures on Walls, before representing the artist as a gallerist. Lazarides’s gallery is now the definitive space for artists who have largely emerged from a street context, and next week Lazarides is putting up around 30 prints by Banksy at auction. The question everyone is asking is why?
“I want to see how far the market can go, to be honest,” Lazarides explains. “When you’re selling directly to a client, you set a price and that’s it. With auction you don’t really know what’s going to happen. Why not push boundaries and see what happens? Everybody does it—they just lie about it. I’m constantly being persecuted for being honest,” he laughs. Unlike many galleries, Lazarides does not work with the secondary market, focusing on largely young primary-market emerging names.
Banksy and Lazarides haven’t worked together for around seven years.“I don’t think we’ve spoken since 2008,” he considers. Nonetheless, Lazarides is the expert in Banksy’s market. “There aren’t many dealers and artists that have the kind of relationship that we had. It was an intense decade of being in each others’ lives. With the paintings, I probably know everything about them. With the screenprints, I was getting them printed, I numbered most of them. I then wrapped them up and stuck them in a fucking tube.” The Bonhams print sale, however, does not represent the gallerist’s desire to wash his hands of the artist, and he still has a significant personal holding on his work.
“I think the market has become so solid. The interest from people around the world is quite significant,” Lazarides muses. “This work has to really be absorbed into an overall umbrella of contemporary art. People like Shepard Fairey, Os Gêmeos, Vhils, JR, Conor Harrington—I think they’ve broken the shackles of being just urban artists. It’s not chumps buying the work. It’s very, very serious collectors.”
The gallerist has uncovered a vast collection of prints that he sold to a secondhand furniture dealer on Brick Lane in the early days of Banksy’s career. The works were still in the packing Lazarides has presented them in. He brokered a deal to have access to this archive. The works have strong authenticity for Lazarides’s involvement and his relationship to Banksy. The gallerist also intends to find a way of releasing some of his unsigned prints on the market—aware that there are still 1.5 million people buying Banksy’s book who all wish to own a piece by the artist.
“More than anything I’m curious to see what happens. I wouldn’t have been able to know that if I put two prints in. I needed something larger to get a bit of interest and see what happens.” Nonetheless, he notes that the market for Banksy is still notably buoyant. “Something I sold last year got flipped at an auction in Paris recently for 33,000 euros. That’s having an effect even on the unsigned prints.” The gallerist, who is currently working on further spectacular events in the style of his Old Vic Tunnels projects, will not attend the sale. “Even when people didn’t know who I was, I used to hide at the back on the phone at the gallery. I can sit and watch it from afar.”