Joseph Bannan‘s journey into street art has been nothing short of epic, evolving from a collector to a passionate gallerist. Through his unrelenting passion for this dynamic art form, Bannan assumed the role of Gallery Director at London’s Woodbury House, a private gallery that exclusively showcases, collects and sells the works of some of the most celebrated names in street art.
Alongside Founder Steve Sulley, Bannan champions the works of historic street artists Richard Hambleton and Blek le Rat, whose art continues to influence and inspire. With a sharp focus on artists and collectors, Woodbury House has become a sought-after destination for art lovers and collectors looking to build their collections.
Bannan and the team take an informed yet intimate approach to art acquisition that seeks to educate and empower collectors with a philosophy that anyone interested in art or collecting art should not feel intimidated and be confidently guided towards acquiring art that speaks to them.
Beyond its impressive collection, Woodbury House is a vibrant community that celebrates the beauty and power of art. In this interview, we delve deeper into Joseph’s journey, the gallery’s program, and their unwavering efforts to support and elevate the world of street art.
I enjoyed collecting and had a strong interest in street art; the opportunity arose for me to start buying and selling a few works, perhaps acting as a dealer. Then as a dealer evolved into a gallerist
Hi Joseph! Can you share some insight into your artistic background and how you become the director of Woodbury House?
Joseph Bannan: My artistic background comes from being a collector with a strong interest and passion for street art.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the art industry, and how did you get your start in gallery management?
Joseph Bannan: Passion. I enjoyed collecting and had a strong interest in street art; the opportunity arose for me to start buying and selling a few works, perhaps acting as a dealer. Then as a dealer evolved into a gallerist; this was not strategic or planned. It just came together from my underlining passion and interest in street art.
Woodbury House is a private gallery that primarily features contemporary and street art. Could you provide some insight into the essence and programming of the gallery?
Joseph Bannan: Woodbury House is a private art gallery specialising in street art. We want to be something other than your traditional gallery, open to the public, working with many different artists across many genres.
We are passionate about the work we buy and sell and the artists we work with. It has to be the right fit. Historically important artists who have pioneered and paved the way for the street art movement excite us, such as Richard Hambleton & Blek le Rat. These two iconic artists, in their own unique ways, have been pivotal in breaking down the walls of acceptance and admiration for street art worldwide.
We will continue to look for and work with influential artists; we will be announcing a new artist soon, which I am sure will be very well received due to his enormous impact in again street art, but in a different segment of it. The important thing for us is to ensure we are doing things that genuinely excite us and are passionate about; as long as we remain true to this, we are happy.
What artists do you have in your art collection, and what motivated you to collect their artworks?
Joseph Bannan: Very Street art specific with notable names such as Blek le Rat, Richard Hambleton, Futura, Defer, and Retna.
There is not a sole motivation across the board for each purchase, but typically speaking, it would be because of historical importance, aesthetic, energy, era – etc. There is not a one size fits all approach I work too when collecting, but I perhaps weigh up some factors, and if I like something, I buy it. I think, why miss the opportunity deliberating?
These works, if original, it is the only piece in the world of their kind; if you do not buy them now, will I ever get the opportunity again too? If I would be upset about that or potentially regret that, I will ensure I buy it.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing art galleries today, and how do you stay ahead of the curve in such a rapidly changing industry?
Joseph Bannan: I would say the array of places collectors can look to acquire and the amount of information out there that perhaps is contradicting is the most challenging. I feel collectors can get lost in the noise and perhaps be confused, which leads to them not acquiring any art at all.
We like to keep things simple, give lots of value and information and if it is the right for the collector, great. If not, no love lost. This simplistic approach and genuinely representing art and/or artists that you are genuinely excited and passionate about will always stand you in good stead within the industry as opposed to just chasing the next deal for money’s sake.
How do you go about selecting artists and exhibitions for your gallery, and what criteria do you use to determine whether a particular artist or body of work is a good fit?
Joseph Bannan: Historically significant artists are the crucial tick box for us. I am not looking for the trending artist or the buzz artist. I am looking for someone who I believe has been influential and important to street art history and whose work I like and would collect myself. If I find this, we’ll open up a conversation to see if we can make something happen.
In terms of the body of work, art is super subjective. What you like, I may not, which is great. We are all unique and have a different view. Between the decision makers at Woodbury House, we will engage in conversations, and if we all agree we would collect the work and believe it represents the artist in the best possible light, we will happily showcase it under our roof, but if not, perhaps not for us on that occasion.
Can you describe a successful exhibition you have curated in the past, and what made it stand out from other shows you have worked on?
Joseph Bannan: Our two most recent exhibitions have been a pleasure to curate, ‘Mr Wonderful’ by RichardHambleton & ‘The Return of The Rat’ by Blek le Rat. These are the first two exhibitions at our new Mayfair premises, and perhaps the beautiful location has helped with curation and inspiration.
‘Mr Wonderful’ was just a beautiful array of works from an iconic period. For me, his best series of works created in terms of the energy when looking at them and seeing them all hanging, and the feedback we got post-show from both press and collectors was amazing to hear. The time and effort we invested in this show were significant, and we are confident that the exhibition we curated met exceptionally high standards. Each piece was exceptional in its own right and complemented the other artworks seamlessly, creating a collective display that was truly remarkable.
‘The Return of The Rat’ by Blek le Rat gave me pleasure for different reasons. The works on display were new; it was the first exhibition we had done with Xavier, and witnessing the large-scale works on display was exciting to see for the first time under the WH brand.
However, the main thing that stood out to me was the reaction I got from Xavier when we showed him the exhibition curation for the first time.
He looked quite emotional and said he was really proud of himself for the works he produced. He felt this was the best body of work he had ever done, and when he was looking at them, he could not quite believe they were his; he felt he was looking at a different artist’s work in admiration. This gave me absolute pleasure; Xavier is a fantastic artist and a great man; I have enjoyed getting to know him over the last 12 months.
The work rate and energy he has given to Street Art has been phenomenal, and to be able to bring him back to London after not exhibiting here in over ten years and sell 35 out of the 37 new works before the doors even opened for him was delightful news to give him. The man is a genius who has inspired many and will continue to do so for many generations to come, and I am so glad UK collectors warmly welcomed the show.
How do you balance the need to make your gallery profitable with the desire to showcase the most innovative and thought-provoking art possible?
Joseph Bannan: Being profitable is critical, or we cannot continue to operate. With this being said, is the probability of being profitable not far greater for a gallery if you genuinely care and have passion for the art you trying to sell? I think it is.
This is why I think we will continue to be both profitable and a delight for our collectors and artists to work with, as we have a genuine interest in the projects we are undertaking at Woodbury House.
How do you cultivate relationships with collectors and other art world influencers, and what strategies do you use to keep them engaged and excited about the artists you represent?
Joseph Bannan: Add value, provide answers to their questions, and offer insight and narrative to your artists and/or artwork. If you do this, you will resonate with the right collectors who are the right fit for the artist and/or artwork, and with this, you are in a good place.
In terms of engagement, I think it is being fresh, new ideas, new content, and new strategy and keeping it a passive relationship, keeping them involved in the process by way of exhibition, news, private views, offerings etc.
Can you describe your management style and how you motivate and inspire your team to achieve their goals?
Joseph Bannan: Motivation is temporary, a quick fix, and anyone who relies on or needs to be motivated regularly will never be consistently progressive.
From a management perspective, I lead from the front; I would not ask anyone else to do anything I would not do myself. I offer guidance from my perspective of certain artists and/or artworks; this may lead to a different insight into what they were seeing and may draw inspiration to look deeper into certain aspects to uncover more knowledge on the topic at hand.
I think from a goal perspective, again, you can lead from the front, if you do what you say you are going to do, this should be contagious from your team’s perspective, but the reality is it is down to the individual, you cannot do this for them. If they are passionate and have a burning desire to learn and advance, they will achieve all they wish for. I have no doubt. However, without these elements, I feel it is unobtainable to accomplish this; everyone wants something more, but are you willing to do more to get it?
What are your long-term goals for your gallery, and how do you plan to achieve them? How do you measure success in your role as a gallery director?
Joseph Bannan: To be recognised as the leading street art gallery that specialises in historically important artists at the forefront of this genre.
Key things of how I would look to measure success.
Are we representing/showcasing the artists and/or artwork in the best possible light? Are we offering guidance, insight, and value to collectors? Are Woodbury House collectors happy with the service and value we provide? Are the artists we are directly working with happy with the job Woodbury House are doing? Are the staff of Woodbury House passionate and happy coming to work each day? Am I passionate and happy coming to work each day? Are we getting better and evolving?
I think if we can tick them boxes, we won’t go far wrong.