Darryl George Gray has studied Spanish, trekked most of Peru and seen the scorched in the deserts of Chile. He is also the Founder of the Henry George Gallery and supporter of a cause close to our hearts. We spoke to him about South African art matters and more.
Darryl, you’ve been in business since 2014 and one of the longest supporters of 1000 Drawings (thank you!). What does your gallery do that’s different in the SA art scene?
While taking the quality of our art very seriously, we try and move away from the very intimidating reputation that the gallery world has. We want to make art accessible. So many times, we hear from people that this is the first time that they have stepped into a gallery, and they are surprised at just how much they enjoy it – this is our favourite type of feedback. We encourage people to trust their gut responses when it comes to how the art we feature makes them feel and we engage in conversation around the work. It is so rewarding to see people connect with art as the viewers’ stories intertwine with that of the artists’. Henry George is the teller of stories and we love being the venue where so many different stories intersect.
The artists you represent are wonderfully diverse – how do you choose your artists? (Or do they choose you?!)
In the early days we actively pursued artists who we respected, whose stories were interesting and relevant to us and our values. However, as a new gallery at the time we didn’t always have access to those artists but we were willing to wait until they felt we were ready for them. So yes, in a way it feels like they now choose us. And the way we get them to choose us is that we allow the gallery to become exactly the space needed to hold their work, and showcase it in the best possible light. We’re not precious about having bare white walls.
We want to curate exhibitions that are an experience – so if that involves painting the gallery in rich tones and making it feel like a 1920’s opium den then we will do it. Or if we are called to create a quietly minimalistic arena for the precision of the work to be admired then we will grey out our walls to create stillness, a place of pause and reflection. I believe that our gift is that we know how to hold space so that an artist’s vision can come to life within this very special house of art. Artist’s with an incredible work ethic, a powerful and well thought out point of view, a signature style and (possibly, most importantly of all) those who are supportive of their fellow artists in every way are now the ones we invite into our space
What made you want to be involved in 1000 Drawings initially?
Primarily, because it makes art so accessible. We love the idea that a masterpiece can be picked up for just R150 on the night. We love the energy of it and the earnest enthusiasm with which the visitors seek out their favourite. We would love to see art being tackled with this amount of fervour more often, and we will get involved wherever we can to encourage this.
The gallery supports other pro bono causes – is giving back important to you?
It really is! Too often we see unbelievable talent being neglected because there isn’t an opportunity or the means to create. If this is where we can step in so that a profound story can be told – then that is reward in itself. Often the best, most inspiring stories are born from these circumstances.
What artist (alive or not) would you most love to have an exhibition of? (Just seen there’s a Rembrandt-Velázquez Exhibition at the Rijksmuseum!)
It may sound like the biggest cliché – but I would have loved to be one of the galleries that Vincent Van Gogh would have approached with his portfolio all those years ago. I would like to think that I may have seen something in it that the others didn’t. Nothing piques my interest more than when an artist mentions that other galleries have seen the work, loved it, but do not deem it to be “sellable” enough – that’s what drives me!
If it’s beautifully crafted, keenly observed and poignant in narrative then it’s an exhibition I want to open the gallery up to. Imagine if just one gallery had taken a chance on Van Gogh – that story may have ended very differently. So that’s the exhibition I most want to do – that of an artist who hasn’t found their home anywhere else. I don’t want to place some big name artist here and say that their exhibition is the one I most want to do. There are many artists I admire, and whose exhibitions I would do anything to visit. But when it comes to hosting an exhibition, I want it to be a new discovery, and a long journey and relationship moving forward that shows growth, evolution, commitment and purpose.
How do you keep creative and inspired?
In books, movies and at the foot of great mountains! Or maybe those are the things that clear my mind so that I am open to the inspiration to be found in artist’s studio. I love visiting artists’ studios more than I do their exhibitions at a gallery. This has happened so many times: I have an appointment with an artist and when I arrive at the studio all the work that they deem to be their best is neatly on display for me to observe. But then we will get stuck into conversation, the telling of stories, and the artist will finally have the courage to stand up and turn around one of the paintings that were facing the wall, or uncover a sculpture hidden beneath a sheet. This is when I know I have their trust, when they’ll show me what they aren’t willing to show everyone. And then I am inspired to honour their work in a way that showcases them best. To find that special thing, to make that moment for them to come into their own.
Can you tell us how you’ll be collaborating with Night of 1000 Drawings 2020?
We will be curating one of the art aisles. And in an effort to curate one of the best aisles we will also be hosting a series of doodle/draw events around specific themes so that our artists/clients/friends can donate work which will have a space within our aisle – to tell a story – and be part of a fantastically energetic night!
What other exciting exhibitions / projects are coming up at the Henry George Gallery that we can share?
We are ending the year off with an exciting group show called “Wunderkammer” starting 23 November. The gallery will become one exciting curiosity cabinet filled with small, intriguing works by over 30 different artists. This will be a chance for buyers to come through and pick something unusual, quirky, whimsical and meaningful as a Christmas gift for themselves or a loved one. And also, a chance to get the tourists passing through on their summer holiday to take something special from South Africa home on the plane with them.
We will also be opening 2020 with another exciting group show called “Here, I brought you a dead thing” - The theme of this show is centred around imagery of death and decay, paired with the possibilities of life, love and the strangeness of it all.
How intriguing – we’ll be there! Many thanks for your time and for giving back Darryl.
PS The awesome biography of Darryl George Gray below - including key moments in the inception of The Henry George Gallery:
1982: – Born January 26th: to a family of 6 athletic sport lovers, destined to be the artistic nerdy one
1990: – First serious school homework assignment: To write a story about what we want to be one day. I instead chose to draw a picture of myself behind a canvas on an easel with the caption “A drawing speaks a thousand words”
1995 – 1999: Awkward high school years: Gay, skinny, nerdy, bullied but with the most amazing art teacher – Morag Rees – who taught us to engage every sense when making art, from smelling the pencil shavings, to hearing the scrape of charcoal across the page, and seeing/tasting/feeling (not literally) every colour in the palette
2000: Started studying architecture (So as to make money out of an artistic talent)
2003: Realised I absolutely hate architecture and will never make money out of this
2004: Enrolled at The Design School of Southern Africa in Interior Design and loved it. Conceptual thinking, presentation, artistry and design were part of my life again.
2007: Worked my way up (70 hours a week) into the penthouse suite of a Sandton-based design firm
2008: Transferred to Dubai to head up the interior design department in the Middle East offices
2008 Christmas Eve: Retrenched due to financial crisis with the two towers we were working on being scrapped
2009 January: Self sabotaged 3 different job interviews because the passion was gone
2009 May: Packed a backpack with 4 outfits (none of them designer) and took a flight to South America: No plan, very little money, all the time in the world
Got very lost in Sao Paulo, Swam in the Amazon, Hugged a sloth, Made a hammock on a beach in Colombia my own home for almost a month, Met my best-friend Kristin, Studied Spanish, Trekked most of Peru, Scorched in the deserts of Chile, Fell in love with Argentina, Drank wine, Saw my first ever Van Gogh in the flesh. And in a forsaken little mountain town at siesta time I met the saddest donkey ever with a sign around it’s neck that said “enventa” (for sale). I wondered what depro-donkey had done to earn this sign and then realised (through my burgeoning friendship with depro-donkey) that I too had been walking around with a “for sale” sign around my neck. I had given up on my art
2010: Began work on my business plan for my own gallery. Hunting for the right house and the right investors to make it work. And most importantly the right artists to bring it to life. After coming out, falling in love, having the perfect laid back wedding, renovating a home and adopting 4 rescue dogs the time had come:-
2014 January: Renovations began on a sad little corner house in Parkhurst, breathing new life into it
2014 September: The Henry George Gallery opened its front door (painted in a yellow called “Van Gogh’s Sunflowers”) on its inaugural exhibition
2019: In awe of how wonderful, inspiring, exciting and challenging this venture continues to be! With the same yellow front door, husband to support me and best friend who comes every year to visit from Germany, the stories continue to be told at The Henry George Gallery.