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Back in the 1990s, living in London’s Shoreditch district could get you more than a hangover. Mark Hix, the celebrated British chef has an advantage that sets him apart from other art collectors. From his party days in East London, he developed a wide network of artists with whom he remains close friends with today with the likes of Tracey Emin whom he taught how to cook, and Damien Hirst. London’s most eminent restaurateur has accumulated a unique collection of works from his YBA friends.
Our friends from Larry’s List spoke with Mark about his eventful time with the YBA scene, which was emerging at the time, and about the art collection he owns today.
How did you get into the sphere of visual art?
Hanging out in the east end basically at new young gallery openings and after show parties. I would host new gallery after-show dinners and exchange it for work.
You are known to be friends with the YBA crowd such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. How did you come to enter this social circle?
One party leads to another then you end up feeding them all and it becomes a bit like a club, which occasionally spirals out of control.
How did you come up with the idea of exchanging food for art?
It’s something that’s been happening for hundreds of years, the artists used to do it in Paris and now I’m doing it in London. More people see the art in a restaurant than a gallery or museum and artists like to eat and drink.
How have your relationships with these artists come to be now?
They’re my mates.
How has your passion for art developed since then?
Well when Tramshed opened, I had in mind to support emerging artists so I set up a gallery (CNB Gallery). And we now have the Hix Award for young college graduates.
What is your focus regarding the artists in your collection?
Friendship and enjoyment of life. I don’t really own much where I don’t have a relationship with the artist.
Can you name a few of the most established and emerging artists in the collection?
Well we have Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst who are kind of rock stars but we also have pieces by Antony Gormley, Harland Miller, Michael Landy, Polly Morgan… The list goes on.
Did you give free reign to the artists when commissioning a work from them?
Sometimes I’ll have something in mind for a particular space, but I pretty much let them do what they want.
Do you know how many works you have in total in all your eight restaurants?
Which artworks could you never part with?
All of them! I’ve never ever sold anything and wouldn’t.
Do you also have a private collection in your home?
Yes, I have a lot of pieces which have been gifted to me over the years, I also enjoy buying work for myself, not just for the restaurants. And I often buy from the CNB shows.
Your philosophy is that a restaurant should always be fun. Is your taste in art framed in that same state of mind?
Oh that’s really difficult, art is like food, you don’t have to like the whole menu to enjoy one dish. I like art that I like, it doesn’t have to be part of a larger thing.
Do you search for artists or do they come to you?
I tend to meet a lot of artists through friends and at parties. The emerging artist takes an interest in the gallery in order to gain exposure and become part of the restaurants collection.
Can you name three young British emerging artists who should be on our radar?
Antony Micallef, Danny Fox and a 2013 HIX Award finalist Oliver Durcan. He’s making a lot of movement for such a young guy.
Do you visit art fairs at all?
I was part of FRIEZE for 4 years, HIX was the hub of socialising and fun. I go to a lot of fairs abroad; it’s good to see what’s happening outside London.
How do you recognise “good art“ in your opinion?
Just go with what you love and are passionate about, that tends to be what people relate to, what you love, others will love.
Why is it that art and cuisine seem to pop up in the same conversation today?
Because we are all looking to be stimulated, food and art are the perfect tools to do that.
You once said “Restaurants are a great medium for art, if you get it right.” What does it take to get it right in your opinion?
Enjoy what you’re doing the rest will follow.
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