Post-Frieze frenzy, I’ve been invited to an early preview of up-and-coming artist Day-z’s debut solo show at Ashurst. I head to the address on the invite, and while the postcode leads me, not unexpectedly, towards Shoreditch, on arrival, rather than a gallery, I find myself in the foyer of a corporate building.
Ashurst is, in fact, a leading international law firm advising corporates and financial institutions. I’m here to see the show but also to meet their chief marketing officer, Lisa Worley, who soon explains what this high-powered firm is trying to achieve by collecting, showing, offering awards and mentoring up-and-coming artists. Lisa tells me: “It is our hope that through these important prizes and our on-going Emerging Artists programme, Ashurst can continue to help raise awareness of the exceptional calibre of work from emerging artists around the world.” Looking around, I can see they have a strong permanent collection and good intentions, but I’m still unsure whether or not this is all merely investment-led. The idea of art as a corporate commodity is hardly new, after all; Simmons and Simmons, (also a law firm), have been one of the biggest collectors of British art for more than 30 years, often deliberately choosing risky, provocative works precisely to bring something edgy into the otherwise conservative workplace environment. However, I get the feeling by the enthusiasm in Lisa’s voice and her knowledge of contemporary art, that Ashurst are interested in more than just building a collection, especially when she talks about their Emerging Artist Prize. The prize was set up with the help of Conrad Carvalho, from Oaktree & Tiger gallery, as an incentive for artists to learn more about the business side of their careers through self-promotion, networking and sales. Now in its second year, The Emerging Artist Prize 2015 is open to all artists and entries can be made up until February 2016. The prize offers up to £6,500 in cash and a solo exhibition. Unlike most prizes, even those artists not selected are given insightful feedback as to how they could improve, with Ashurst hosting informative talks for artists, both in person and online, about how to promote their work. The face-to-face events combined with social media interaction help build a platform to raise awareness and provide opportunities for emerging artists and advice from professionals in their field and other mentors.
Alongside the prize and collection, Ashurst also exhibit artists in one-off exhibitions – such as the current show by London-based Day-z, a recent Central St Martins graduate who has been showing with some of the hipper street art galleries such as Beautiful Crime and Imitate Modern. Her work takes familiar brands and logos and re-imagines them through intricately detailed drawings, often combining imagery with subtle plays on words. What is especially interesting about Day-z’s practice is its fusion of a very traditional drawing style with elements of street art’s urban edge. Her subject matter ranges from Rhianna to Snoop Dog, while in other work she blends the London Underground logo with branding from high street clothing store Gap. I’m instantly attracted to the evident humour and ideas behind the drawing of Snow White holding the Apple logo.
As Lisa ends her tour of the show, I begin to realise how positive the notion of a gallery space built around a busy office must be, allowing the employees the opportunity to engage with visually arresting, thought-provoking art as they go about their ‘business’.
For more information on the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize 2016 go to: www.artprize.co.uk