Carrol/Fletcher Jonathon Carroll Image courtesy of the gallery.
Tell us about your background and how you started the gallery?
I think the first time I really began to think about visual art was on a work trip to New York. It was with my first job in finance and nobody spoke to me on the trading desk because I was the first graduate that was ever hired. So I went to all the museums: the Guggenheim, the Met, MoMA and looked at art for the first time in my life.
A little bit later, about 25 years ago, I started collecting and began attending art fairs and visiting the galleries on Cork Street at the weekend. But they never really felt that welcoming. One of the things that stayed with me was how those galleries had visitors ring a bell to enter, which rarely ever feels inclusive. Perhaps at the time I didn’t look like a typical art buyer, or I was asking questions that may have been considered naive, but I believe art needn’t be an intimidating experience. So one of the decisions I made when I started Carroll / Fletcher was to always keep the front door open.
As my own collection continued to grow, it became clear to me that I didn’t really care about anything else other than art. Many of the artists whose works I had collected had become close friends, and I was supporting the work of many others. I had seriously begun to think about setting up an art foundation in Upstate New York but a number of the artists with whom I discussed my plans suggested that I set up my own gallery instead, arguing that it would be more helpful for them. The idea had never really crossed my mind, but it made sense — I discussed the idea with a former business partner, Steve Fletcher, and that’s how the gallery started.
You have an impressive space in Fitzrovia — was it challenging to find it and refurbish it to your satisfaction?
Steve and I were looking for a suitable space for two years. Our condition was that it would be of a reasonable scale where artists could show their work to the best effect. Too often solo shows are confined into one or two small rooms and artists don’t get a chance to present the full scope of their work. When we found this space that has got 4000 ft² over two floors, we spent a year completely renovating it and it opened in February 2012. Since then, I’ve been amazed by how artists have responded to it including Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Mishka Henner and Wood & Harrison.
Where do you find new artists?
I read a lot, see museum exhibitions and shows at various not-for-profit organisations as often as I can, go to art fairs with the gallery and privately. I also managed to establish relationships all around the world so people often come to me and recommend artists. A great way of finding new artists is of course when our artists suggest someone. Quite a few of them also teach at major art schools so they might recommend their exceptionally talented students. And then sometimes you just get lucky — without any planning you happen to see a show that blows you mind and gives you goose bumps. I then contact the artist to view more. What I am looking for is a never-ending trail of thoughts — someone who is able to think creatively in the long run. I believe in my judgement and am not afraid to take risks.
Where do you find your collectors?
We have some committed private collectors but we also sell a lot to art institutions, which perhaps surprisingly tend to be more adventurous in their purchases. Institutions have changed dramatically: while five to ten years ago they were slow to look at art made using contemporary technology, they are now embracing it. We have seen a massive change in their attitude during the last three years since we opened, in part due to the stellar work of young curators supporting such work. These people, who are now getting into positions of influence, grew up with digital technology and for them — just like for me — it is natural that an artist would use it as a medium.
What does it take to make a successful gallery?
Great artists, great staff and serious commitment.