DA Presents: Inspired is a new article series where we ask talented individuals from various industries to explain the effect that art has had on them professionally. We explore to what extent the language of art influences the practices of graphic designers, fashion professionals, musicians, architects and many more. We believe this cycle of inspiration is the engine that drives the art world, the constant search for creative dynamism.
For the third instalment, we talked to Michael Hoppen. We wanted to explore how photography has evolved over the last few decades, and how the discipline fits into the art world more broadly. The Michael Hoppen Gallery opened in 1992 and is founded on a passion for photography. In his own words, “As a gallery we are renowned for nurturing the careers of new and interesting artists and exhibiting them alongside acknowledged nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first-century photographic masters.” Michael was one of the first galleries to work with seminal photographer Peter Beard, among other legendary photographers. As a result, he helped to pull photography into the forefront - helping it to gain respect as a blue-chip art form.
Right: Michael Hoppen at the Gallery
Could you tell us a little about yourself and the rise of 'The Michael Hoppen Gallery'?
I was and always have been interested in photography. I think initially because the equipment was just so wonderful, heavy, sexy and complex, all those dials and buttons to push! But then I found that it was much harder than I thought and I spent years trying to be a good -or even- great photographer but I failed miserably. I did do a year’s foundation, three years BA Hons and then a Masters. I then went to work for many agencies/records companies/magazines who foolishly thought I could produce good work. Anyway, I learnt how hard it is to make great pictures, so my empathetic levels remain very high.
How did you get into becoming an art dealer, and what was your route into the industry?
I had been collecting photographs since the late 1970s, my friends thought I was foolish to do so, but persistence paid off and I found others wanting to do the same. So, I put most of my photographic equipment in the middle studio at 3 Jubilee Place and swapped cameras for prints and made custom frames and started holding shows. I didn’t believe for one second we would build a business out of it. My regular trips to New York, some 10 per year for some 15 years, kept my spirits alive. There, collecting photography was like falling off a log and one was surrounded by people who believed in its potential whether simply decorative or an important document. I could not believe that one could own a masterpiece of photographic art with relative ease then. I remember always coming back on the red-eye with boxes of wonderful amazing prints and then the deflation would set in when no one seemed to care in the UK what a photograph was. So that spurred me on to do more and more and we finally managed to open a gallery on three floors which I am happy to say thrived. We recently moved from Jubilee Place after 37 years – so a big change now.
Were there particular artists whose success changed the pathway of the Gallery?
They all had a role, I could not nor would want to single anyone out. Some shows did do better than others, such as Peter Beard, but we had great times with all the shows. At one time we were holding 16 shows a year and they all taught me something and still do.
The Michael Hoppen Gallery
How do you find new artists to work with?
By always looking at everything and remaining inquisitive.
How has photography evolved as an art form since you started the Gallery?
That's a very good question and would involve a long essay but technology has had a lot to do with it. Printing, permanence, computers and of course digital photography have all played a role in building photography’s presence in the art market. There are so many different ways one can use photography or ‘lens-based art’ as it is often known. It’s also the democratic nature of photography like engraving, which allows more than one to own a work.
Do other galleries and exhibitions play a large part in your life as a gallery owner?
Sometimes – I love to visit galleries and museums in places I am not familiar with as other cultures can be so rewarding without all the froth. I was at a museum recently in Santiago and had the very best time there at the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art which has the most amazing displayed of textiles which I am interested in. But I do go to less and less in London for obvious reasons of late.
What are some of the most memorable shows you have attended?
Picasso sculpture recently at Tate. The Waking Dream, in Edinburgh in 1983/84 – both changed my life in many ways. And I muss the Amuse Museum in Tokyo which always had the most extraordinary shows of textiles.
The Michael Hoppen Gallery
How has social media affected the way you promote your artists?
I am still a people person and I don't look much at Instagram etc but I do understand its potential and we do use it at the gallery. I don't see it as the only way to illuminate an artist’s work. If it disappeared tomorrow I would not be upset. I find it distances people from the real haptic experience and I hear comments like ‘I’ve seen it on Instagram, and it’s not for me’. It’s sad in some ways that people don't investigate works in person more. But I do understand its potential – I think artists using it is more important in a way as it’s their visual voice that people should be interested in.
What inspires you to keep pushing the boundaries?
Age, I don't like getting old, so I keep going and try to keep my energy levels topped up to be looking beyond the horizon. But, I am feeling the pressure now a little! I am always looking for artists or images that say something new in an interesting and unique way.
The Michael Hoppen Gallery
If you want to visit Michael Hoppen Gallery the make your way to 124-128 Barlby Road, London, W10 6BL. You’ll encounter some of the most exciting photography exhibitions that London has to offer.
Thank you for reading this instalment of Inspired, we hope you found something that sparks your creative interest. If so, let us know and tell us what informs your own process - what inspires you?
The D'Stassi Art team.