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I was first introduced to Darryl de Prez by the wonderful Curator and Collector Marcelle Joseph. We are Trustees of Matts Gallery, London and have been working together supporting Robin Klassnik, Tim Dixon, and the team on the strategy for the new Matts Gallery home, in Nine Elms, London.

Darryl has had an amazing career in the arts to date and has worked with and supported some of the most vital and inspiring artists and arts organisations. He is genuinely passionate about supporting artists and loves meeting and getting to know them and following their careers.

He is a joy to work with as his incredible in-depth knowledge and experience always shine something new on a challenge or opportunity. He appears to have a photographic memory for detail, particularly when it comes to artists’ work. He travels, reads, and researches voraciously and connects people, place, and possibilities.

quote mark

I’ve discovered several interesting artists through other artists’ recommendations, and I trust their judgement.''

Please note this interview was first published on the Artist Mentor website during 2020.

Darryl de Prez is Head of Development at Brixton House, London and has collected work by early career artists for nearly fifteen years. along with his collecting partner Victoria Thomas. He is a Patron and supporter of several arts organisations – including the Whitechapel Gallery, New Contemporaries, Matt’s Gallery, Wysing Arts Centre and Artangel – and is a Trustee of Matt’s Gallery and sits on the Development Committee of Artangel.

Darryl studied History of Art and Architecture at the Courtauld Institute of Art and has worked as a fundraiser in the charity and arts sectors for nearly thirty years, including the Royal Academy of Arts, the Whitechapel Gallery, the Serpentine Galleries, English National Opera and the London Symphony Orchestra.  He has lectured and led workshops on development in the arts at the Courtauld Institute, Christie’s Education, the Whitechapel Gallery and London Metropolitan University.  He is also an Alumni Ambassador for the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Larry Achiampong, Glyth (family & van), Glyth (girls on step), 2018, Courtesy of Copperfield

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

I recently read and highly recommend Tell Them I Said No by Martin Herbert, a small collection of essays about artists who stepped away from – or were never part of – the art world. Many of these are among my favourite artists – Agnes Martin, Cady Noland, Charlotte Posenanske, David Hammons, Trisha Donnelly – but until reading this book I’d never really thought about the thread of absence which connects their practices.

I read a lot of poetry – from recent work like Surge by the brilliant young poet Jay Bernard to older generations of writers such as W. B. Yeats, Caroline Knox, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara.

A lot of what I read, watch or listen at the moment seems foreshadow the current situation with COVID-19 in my mind, from Laurie Anderson’s O Superman to Gregory Corso’s America Politica HistoriaIn Spontaneity, but it’s probably unavoidable to make such connections at the moment.

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to collecting artists work? What do you care about?

I don’t think I’ve ever thought about this question before! I would say that I aim to bring honesty, transparency, sincerity, and intellectual rigour to my collecting – attributes which can often be missing from the art world at large. But always with a sense of adventure and fun.

Rachel Maclean, Over the Rainbow (still), 2013, Courtesy of the artist

What do you enjoy the most about collecting?

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to live surrounded by art, which can in turns be stimulating, reassuring, challenging, but always rewarding. I grew up in a family that collected – or amassed may be a better word – antiques and art from antiquity to the 19th Century. Growing up was a voyage of discovery, foraging through paintings, ceramics, silver, and furniture for hours at home.

I enjoy every aspect of collecting, including the cataloguing, hanging, archiving, etc. It is also hugely rewarding to contribute in some way to the development of artists’ practices by supporting them at early stages of their careers.

How do you discover artists and what factors contribute to your decision to collect an artist’s work?

I discover artists from looking constantly – BA and MA degree shows; exhibitions at commercial galleries and non-profit project spaces; art fairs; online platforms; magazines and publications. I never tire of looking and learning more.

I am also interested to hear what work artists, curators and other collectors are looking at. I’ve discovered several interesting artists through other artists’ recommendations, and I trust their judgement. I’m always interested to hear what other collectors are buying, but generally I would rather go against the herd and tread my own path.

When choosing to collect a certain artist, the decision is based on several factors. Often, Victoria and I will have a visceral reaction to a work, and we will know then and there that we need to own it. There is still a process, however, of learning about the artist, their ideas and vision, their wider body of work and their practice. All these things need to stack up in a way that resonates with us as collectors before we can take a leap. There is also a level of practicality – can we afford it?

I feel that having too much money to spend can lead to ill-conceived or scattergun collections. Having a strict budget entails a lot of careful thought, research, and soul-searching before committing to an acquisition, as we cannot buy everything we see and like, and this is a strength rather than a weakness.

Jesse Darling, Cavalry (Sugar n Stone), 2016, Courtesy of Arcadia Missa

Do you have a focus in your collection?

The focus of the collection is probably that it represents the viewpoints, lives, ideas, and tastes of the two collectors, Victoria and I. Beyond that, we didn’t set out with any preconceived focus or curatorial concept.

Recently we held a Zoom-based online collection visit for the Whitechapel Gallery Patrons. We had recently rehung and I spent quite some time reading up on the various works currently on display. I soon realised that most artists were concerned with an exploration of personal histories, family histories, childhood, and home, and how these histories can reflect or be reflected in wider social histories and global politics. I’d never made these connections before and it was an interesting moment of revelation.

Jesse Darling, Wounded Door II, 2014, Courtesy of Arcadia Missa; In background, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Fortune Cookie Corner, 2010
and Richard Woods, Leaning Light and Wood Sculpture, 2011, Courtesy of the artists

Can you describe the kinds of work that lights your fuse?

The collection covers pretty much every medium aside from performance and sound (these aren’t deliberate omissions – the opportunity to acquire them just hasn’t arisen yet). We also have works of widely differing scales, some of which are too big to show in the house.

We tend to focus on artists at earlier stages of their careers, partly from a practical budgetary consideration but also because I think that the work can be more exciting and challenging at that stage of an artist’s career. Some artists continue breaking boundaries and pushing their practice throughout their lives. On the other hand, over the years the market can flatten an artist’s work into something safe and expected.

What kinds of information & materials do you request to help you make the decision?

If I become interested in an artist, then I want to know as much as possible about their practice. I try to see as much of their work as I can and read as much as possible about their practice and ideas. I become quite voracious for images and information.

As an example, I first came across Buck Ellison’s work online and quickly became fascinated with the images and his ideas. I read every piece of print I could find about him – interviews, reviews, catalogue essays, exhibition press releases. I finally saw his work at Liste one year and the physical objects lived up to the concepts I had read so much about. When The Sunday Painter announced his first London show later that year, we bought something immediately.

Buck Ellison, Husbands, 2014, Courtesy of The Sunday Painter

Do you have a maximum budget (monthly? annually?) Do you stick to it? If not, what kind of work has made you stretch?

Each month we transfer a fixed amount into an ‘art account’ which we then use for acquisitions. We often end up paying in instalments over a few months and we have a list of artists and works we want to acquire over the year ahead.

Occasionally we will see something and immediately know that we must have it, so it either jumps to the top of the list or we dip into other funds to pay for it immediately. It’s hard to define what kind of works can make this leap – it’s more of a visceral reaction and one which we both must experience.

The works we buy have certainly become more expensive over the years and so we end up acquiring fewer works each year, as our total budget has not expanded in the same way.

Is it important to you to meet the artists you collect? If so, can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist – what factors made it enjoyable?

It isn’t essential but it is certainly beneficial and usually very enjoyable. We know most of the artists we collect. Sometimes we know the artists before we acquire their work and sometimes, we meet them after we have bought something. We have become friends with many of them and it is always a pleasure to have artists come over and see their work installed.

When we get together with artist friends we talk about art, of course, but we also talk about literature, history, philosophy, physics, music, theatre, film, mythology, and so on. Our discussions range over so many issues and topics of shared interest and which inform their practices. These conversations are always stimulating and hugely rewarding.

Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, Something for the Boys (still), 2018, Courtesy of Arcadia Missa

What risks have you taken along the way? Any that you would not take again?

I guess collecting art is generally a risky business, in that we are always taking leaps of faith on artists and their works. These are risks we are willing to take, however.

I don’t consider there to be any financial risks to our type of collecting. I never think in terms of investment and I only spend money that I know I can afford to live without, with no expectation of making it back or making a profit. I would think differently if we were investing millions in a tenth- part ownership of a Rudolf Stingel, perhaps, but then if we did that sort of thing, we would be very different collectors and people.

Do you have a preferred range of galleries you buy from? 

Our closest gallery relationship is probably with Arcadia Missa. We bought a Jesse Darling sculpture from them shortly after they made the move from a non-profit project space into a commercial gallery, and since then we have continued to buy works by most of the artists they represent. Other London galleries with whom we have a close affinity include Copperfield, Emalin, Southard Reid and The Sunday Painter, as well as several galleries in other countries. Vitrine is also a very interesting model for a gallery.

What is it about their way or working or roster of artists that you connect with?

I think it boils down to sharing a sensibility, mindset, vision – whatever you want to call it – with certain gallerists. You come to realise that if they find something interesting in an artist, you probably will too. The galleries named above are, on the surface, quite different from one another, but I enjoy or appreciate most of the artists they show and respect the opinions and ideas of the gallerists.

Athena Papadopoulos, Sandstorm at Habromania Hotel, 2014/15, Courtesy of Emalin

Where do you show and store your collection? What environmental factors do you take into consideration and have you had to make any changes to accommodate these considerations?

Everything is in the house – we live with our collection every day. We rehang regularly, which involves a lot of filling, painting, drilling, and fixing. We have turned one of our rooms into a storage room for anything not currently on display, because proper art storage is far too expensive for us. I would love to somehow double the size of the house so we could show more.

We do consider environmental conditions when we hang, including light levels for photography and works on paper, heating, etc., and we frame everything to museum quality. Luckily, our Victorian house has a lot of dark spaces!

Do you loan from your collection? If so, can you give an example of the kinds of requests you receive? What factors help you decide whether to loan or not?

We will always loan from the collection and will also make works accessible if anyone wants to come and see them. When approached for a loan, we will consider the nature and themes of the exhibition, the venue, insurance, and travel arrangements, etc. before committing, just to make sure everything is above board. We don’t get asked very often – I think the last work we loaned was a painting called Adapter by Luke Jackson, which featured in Reality: Modern and Contemporary British Painting at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and then the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

Do you have any advice for artists who engage with collectors IRL and online?

If artists do not have representation then it pays for them to have worked out their pricing, editioning, discounts and all those boring business- related issues that collectors need to know. It they are represented, then the gallerists should always be involved and take the lead on those discussions.

Artists should just be themselves when dealing with collectors. It can be a complex relationship, as it can encompass social elements and elements of exchange. Collectors should always remember that they are dealing with human beings who put a lot of themselves into their work and should not treat artists like insurance salespeople.

Sometimes collectors can feel exploitative of artists’ time or emotional labour, which should be recognised and respected. If I were an artist, I think I would also be quite picky about whom I sold to, based on my feelings about certain collectors and the way they collect. I think this brings me back to Cady Noland and Tell Them I Said No!

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

Although I’ve never bought anything from seeing it on Instagram, I have met several artists whose work I like because they have direct messaged me and invited me to their studios. I think Instagram is a great resource to get a sense of a collector’s taste and then be able to reach out to them directly.

Follow Darryl on Instagram @darryl_de_prez