Anaïs Masetti and Freddie Darke at Shoreditch Modern

In Conversation with London based gallerist Anaïs Masetti and artist Freddie Darke.

Shoreditch Modern is an art gallery just off Brick Lane in Shoreditch, East London. Anaïs Masetti opened its doors in the beginning of 2024. Their June group show was called “warmly still” and one of the four participating painters was artist Freddie Darke, from South East London. We met for a photo session and conversation in the gallery.

Anaïs, you've had an interesting career: You worked as a journalist before finding your way into art. Now you have your own art gallery in London. Was that always a dream of yours?

It was a big dream in the sense that I never thought it would come true. I have always been interested in the arts, and I was lucky enough to grow up in France and Italy, where the arts are highly valued. But I knew it was a very difficult industry to get into, so I didn’t think it was a viable route for me. Instead, I did a science degree and went into journalism. I`m curious about a lot of things. This is important for both journalists and people in the arts. You need to take inspiration from a lot of different places and be investigative.

I worked in communications and marketing for a while and then during Covid, like a lot of people, I started to look at where I was in life and realized that I wanted to do something that felt more meaningful to me. That`s why I decided to take the leap and look for work in the art industry. Luckily, I have a very supportive family, husband and friends – I couldn’t do this without them. I worked for different cultural projects and galleries, but I really wanted to develop my own curatorial voice and it all came together when I was able to take over this space and launch Shoreditch Modern. It’s been amazing to work with great artists like Freddie and also to develop my own voice as a curator.

"You need to take inspiration from a lot of different places and be investigative."

Anaïs Masetti, Shoreditch Modern

The art industry is such a vast space. How did you come across Freddie and his work?

I met Freddie this year at The Other Art Fair, which is a great fair. The booths are run by the artists themselves, so I was able to meet him and see his work in person. I was drawn to the works: they are beautiful in an unusual way and there is a lot of movement in them, which always interests me. They have a narrative aspect, storytelling that leaves room for interpretation. For me, they feel quite nostalgic. The paintings are in part based on Freddie`s experiences visiting flea markets in France, which is also something I grew up doing and is one of the reasons why I connected deeply with the pieces. So, art fairs are a great source of new contacts. Also, exhibitions, open studios and art events. Instagram is very useful, too. That’s how we found Justin Cole, who’s also in this exhibition, and who’s based in New York.

How do you select the art for your gallery exhibitions?

I think of curating as creating a visual essay. First, I like to choose a theme or a concept that I want to explore. Then I choose artworks that speak to me – of course art is very subjective – but also relate to the concept. Apart from exploring the idea of the theme, the works have to have an interesting relationship with each other. They complement each other or take elements from each other. The interesting thing about curating is finding these connections and building the experience of an exhibition. I focus on early to mid-career contemporary artists because I find it interesting to work with them at this stage in their careers. And also, because we are in Shoreditch – not a place like Mayfair. People who come to Shoreditch are looking for something new. We want to make our exhibitions inclusive and engaging for both art collectors and people who are not regular gallery visitors. That`s why I select artworks in a wide range of styles and mediums. 

Freddie, I`m sure a lot of visitors of the exhibition were able to relate to your paintings! For how long have you been doing art?

It is hard to put a date on it. I have always drawn and painted. My parents were both in the arts. I studied creative writing at university, I love cinema and I was into screenwriting, video, and animation, all of the arts really. Eventually, I ended up working in illustration. It was very commercial, and I was quite mercenary to be honest – I would say yes to whatever job I could get. Around 2015 I completely broke away from that because I realized, I was spending most of my time in front of a computer working on projects for clients, everything had become very digital.

I needed a complete creative break. So, I went to France. My brother-in-law and sister had a restaurant there with a big space upstairs and I took a studio space there with another artist. It got quite interesting then. Downstairs in the restaurant, I was showing work that was quite sellable as a way of supporting myself: mostly local landscapes. But I was also very hungry to make art that was informed by my experiences. Art that was more spontaneous and at times ephemeral, that was more directly engaged with the outside world. I traveled a lot, did residencies and workshops, and volunteered, making things on the go. With Covid, obviously things slowed down a lot, and, like many people, I re-evaluated certain things. I’ve always loved painting and felt like it was finally time to dedicate myself to this practise, more singularly. Since 2019 I’ve been more in the studio, pushing painting, working with galleries, and doing exhibitions.

"I was very hungry to make art that was more spontaneous and at times ephemeral, that was more directly engaged with the outside world."

Freddie Darke

What is your mission as an artist? Why do you do art?

At first, I didn’t think of myself as an artist, but there was a point where I realised: this is what I am, and I have to embrace it. Mission is quite a strong word. But I want to stay curious, that’s important to me. To keep a sense of wonder in things and not to be too cynical. Maintaining curiosity is really valuable. In a broader sense, I suppose I want to keep supporting an approach to art that is inclusive and accessible, that allows for lo-fi techniques. I love stop-motion animation, Michel Gondry’s child-like approach, and also quite a punk ethos: don’t wait for people to validate you, just get on with it and do it. Keeping painting and hand-made art relevant in a world that is increasingly digital and often seduced by digital methods, I feel like that’s a fairly decent goal for any artist using traditional materials.

How is your view on working as an artist now compared to when you started out?

Working as a freelance illustrator was a professional creative job, but it was up and down. Sometimes I would do work that I was very underpaid for, just to get it in my portfolio. But that work was becoming increasingly digital and online. Also, the work hardly ever reflected me personally, which is natural with commissioned illustration, but sometimes I made things that I wasn’t really into, put it that way. In my own time, I was always painting, and I would get commissions for portraits in particular. I had no idea how galleries worked. I am not a natural businessman, and I often find it difficult to turn my creative endeavours into something more commercial and find ways to present it to people. To be honest, my partner has helped me a lot, by encouraging me to put myself out there and to do more networking and stuff. I’ve definitely learned a lot in the last five years, about the importance of being organized as a professional artist – the planning, the mailing lists, the admin, boring stuff like that. Sadly it turns out it’s quite important. And I’ve grown in confidence, I can back myself a bit more these days. It’s sort of a stepping-stone thing: meeting someone who then puts you in touch with someone else.

What would you say is essential to make it as a full-time artist, Freddie?

I think it’s important to be able to talk and write about your work clearly. I’ve found that quite challenging over the years, but it matters, so it’s worth putting the effort in. “Full-time artist” is a strange term for me. I try not to measure success solely by sales and profits. Sadly, I think there is sometimes a lot of luck involved, in terms of who gets up to the higher levels, and it’s certainly not just to do with raw talent. In my case, having people around you who you can trust, feels important. People who are invested in what you are doing, and who have your back. Also, you do have to try and develop a bit of a thick skin because you do have to take knocks. There are always going to be ups and downs and sometimes you go through periods when not so much is happening. It`s ok if you are not showing or selling for a while. That`s easier said than done when you`ve got to pay the bills. Also, in terms of turning it into more of a profession, I think it’s probably important not to stay introverted in your own creative bubble the whole time. It’s good to get out there and collaborate and listen to other people, and find other artists in similar areas.

Anaïs, what do you think is most important for a successful career as an artist?

I agree, carrying on despite setbacks is very important. Build a network around you. Go to fairs and events, go to galleries. You don’t necessarily have to go to the openings if it feels too overwhelming. I’m more of an introvert myself and prefer to network with gallerists and artists when it’s not the opening day. Being out there networking will definitely bring you more opportunities.

Also, make sure that gallerists can contact you – have a website with an email address, Instagram is also useful. There have been times when I found amazing work, but I couldn’t get in touch with the artist.

"Do things that are meaningful. When I look at work, I don't just look at its aesthetics and whether it pleases me, I also look at what it says."

Anaïs Masetti, pictured with her colleague Antigone Gronland at Shoreditch Modern.

When it comes to the work itself what comes to mind as important factors for success?

Anaïs: Build a body of work that you believe in as an artist. Work that you can say about: this is important to me. I think that is more sustainable than making a certain kind of work for this gallery or that kind of client. As a gallerist, I can then look at the body of work and not worry about trends or who you are doing it for. But I can see that this is the artist’s voice. Of course, other galleries might give different advice, but I think for your artistic sanity it is important to do things that speak to you as an artist first. Do things that are meaningful. When I look at work, I don’t just look at its aesthetics and whether it pleases me, I also look at what it says. Being able to verbalize to a buyer or a gallerist why you are doing what you are doing can also help.

Freddie: I completely agree. Experimenting is great and often fundamental, but in my opinion, if you want to start working with galleries and taking your art more seriously then at some point you need to tighten up what you’re doing and cut out the dead wood, you need to hone your voice, your visual language or whatever term you want to use. I think it’s really important to nurture your particular way of seeing things, of depicting things. Because there is so much out there, a lot has been said and a lot has been painted. Hold on to something personal, something true and honest. Something you can do without having to feel any competitive pressure, without the nonsense of being on trend or whatever. Just having the conviction to see it through for yourself first. Then hopefully people will get it and see that it’s done honestly, but that comes later.

Anaïs: By the way, there are a lot of accomplished artists who still have side hustles or nine-to-five-jobs. There is nothing wrong with that, especially if it can help sustain your artistic practice. I have heard from various artists that it`s sometimes better if these side hustles are not creative. That prevents them from becoming creatively drained. As a gallerist, I don`t see it as a disadvantage if someone has a side hustle, but what I care about is a cohesive body of work.

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