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Art World Insiders: Darren - London Art Roundup

Darren is an independent art critic and collector with a passion for contemporary art. He launched a website and an Instagram account (@LondonArtRoundup) to share his explorations and reviews of London's art scene, focusing on galleries, independent exhibitions and art fairs. He strives to provide honest and personal insights into the art he experiences, refraining from publishing negative reviews, and shares what he genuinely appreciates and believes his audience will enjoy too.

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your journey with the arts.

My parents nurtured my creative mind from an early age. Growing up I loved to draw and create, eventually studying architecture, film studies and art. It turned out that none of those were going to be my career but professionally I've always worked in, and stayed involved with, creative industries. I also always knew that I wanted to build a personal art collection but I didn't acquire my first work until almost a decade after I graduated. Student loans and learning how to adult took priority, but those efforts paid off. Now I'm incredibly fortunate to be able to shift gears and turn what was always a neglected hobby into a full time passion.

What type of art appeals to you the most and why?

Contemporary and Abstract. I am excited and inspired by the new, by what’s possible, by things that artists have dreamed up in their heads and turned into some form of visual expression they could share with the world.

Why have you decided to start writing about art?

If anyone had told me three years ago that I should become an art critic I'd have told them they were crazy. It wasn't something that was ever on my radar, but then a bunch of dots just happened to naturally connect, leading me down a path where I discovered that writing is an incredibly enjoyable creative process that pairs perfectly with my love of art. So now that's what I do.

But more specifically, I wanted to fill a gap in the market for the kind of writing that makes art feel accessible and open to someone outside of the industry. I actually stop reading most art writing after the first paragraph because far too often it’s filled with esoteric art jargon, baffling “International Art English” and obscure references that require additional research. Movie and book reviews focus on characters and plot and maybe provide some insights into the production, all with the intention of letting the audience know what they should expect to experience. I never understood why art reviews can’t also do that, and in straightforward English! My writing isn’t trying to impress the dean of an art school or art historians, but someone who might want to be emotionally moved or inspired by what’s on display. The only way to do that is to get them excited to go into the gallery in the first place, not send them searching for their dictionary.

How do you choose the exhibitions you're going to visit?

This might be shocking, but the vast majority are selected randomly. Every Monday I plot out which areas of London I’ll visit each day that week, and essentially just work my way through whatever’s on Seb’s Art List that I haven’t already seen. Occasionally I’ll anchor my art hops around a specific show I’ve been invited to (I get tons of DMs on Instagram for independent shows) or an artist that’s already in my collection. But whatever I do go see, I usually do very little research in advance. Often I have no idea what I'll even encounter until I walk through the gallery doors. I like to experience art for the first time through my own eyes, so I only ever read the press releases and gallery write-ups after I've seen the show. Some of the most moving experiences I've had come from knowing absolutely nothing in advance.

Occasionally, you write a longer text about why you like a specific artwork. Where did that idea come from?

You’re referring to my monthly column: “Why I Like It”. That was born out of my frustration with the need for good art criticism to be primarily, but not entirely, objective. Although I incorporate my personal views into my reviews, I try to ensure they're written in a way that enables the reader to understand the exhibition in an unbiased way, allowing them to form their own opinion. Separately, however, I wanted an opportunity to be completely biased and shamelessly unfiltered in my love for a particular work. That’s why I started the “Why I Like It” series, and why it often includes pieces from my private collection, because people always ask my why I buy the works that I buy. Plus it's a great challenge for me as a writer to articulate my passion in a way that doesn't just stake a claim of affection for a piece of work, but enables the reader to understand why, and to “see” it the way that I see it.

In your Instagram bio, it says that you're also a collector. How did you start your collection?

Two words: Disposable income.

Where do you find artworks you want to buy, and what is the purchasing process? Do you observe artists for a while before buying their art?

Most of the work I've bought is best characterized as a 'love at first sight' impulse purchase. I rarely see a show with the specific intention to buy, because when I do I almost always come home empty handed. Galleries and art fairs are where I've acquired the most, but random pop-ups, direct artist sales and occasionally even Instagram are all places where something has unexpectedly caught my eye and latched onto my psyche. Depending on where I saw the work, I'll often force myself to finish looking at whatever exhibition I'm in. If I get to the end and that one work is still stuck in my head and draws me back to see it again, then chances are good I'll be making an offer. I don't buy to invest or to acquire a specific name. I buy works that I want to see on my wall each and every day, and that will make me smile.

For artists, it is very difficult to price their artworks, especially at the beginning of their artistic journey. How do you approach the financial value of an artwork as a collector?

When I started collecting I only ever considered two factors: Do I love it, and can I afford it? To be honest, that's really all that matters. But as I've become more attuned to the market I pay attention to how long the artist has been working, what gallery they are in, the size of the work and the medium/materials. I've gotten pretty good at assessing the price of a work within the range that I am normally willing to spend, and if the asking price happens to be within 10-20% of my estimate then that represents good value to me and I' ll offer or negotiate. But I don't always get it right. I recently fell in love with a small sized work but the asking price was double my top end estimate! That made me pause and reconsider, and now I’m doing lots of research to find out whether I should spend the extra or if it’s indeed overpriced.

Whose works do you own?

I primarily support emerging artists and recent graduates. My last six acquisitions were George W. Richardson, Lea Rose Kara, Charlotte Wainwright, Gabriela Giroletti, Andrea Gomis and Vilte Fuller. I also recently purchased a small Raku ceramic vase by Dante Eisner (1920 - 1977) that was made in the early 80s. And last year I grabbed a few Lucy Sparrow bagels when I happened to be in NYC during her Feltz Bagels show.

Nathan Slate Joseph, Acre of Green, 2007

Lea Rose Kara, Evolve (reconstructed), 2023

What's the first piece of art you bought?

It’s an acrylic on canvas painting called ‘H2O’ by a Greek painter named Vassilis Karakatsanis. I got it in Santorini, Greece in an old winery whose underground vaults had been converted into an art gallery. You can read all about it in my Why I Like It column.

Vassilis Karakatsanis, H2O, 2005

What is the strangest/most unique artwork you own?

If you see my collection then by definition the strangest pieces would be what most people consider traditional, since those types of works are rare on my walls. I mostly collect abstract, mixed-media wall based works with lots of texture. I have to keep reminding my mum not to touch them! I’ve recently started to expand into figurative, but the ones I’ve acquired would also be considered “abstracted”.

Harriet Mena Hill, Stacked Sill, 2022

Whose work of art would you really like to own, or who are the artists you're keeping your eye on?

Two works at the very top of my “if money were no object” list would be one of Gillian Carnegie’s black squares and a Kaari Upson mattress. More realistically, however, I've had my eye on Jess Allen, Francesca Gabbiani, Georg Kitty, Jill Tate and Maria Szakats.

What was the most ridiculous or the weirdest situation you observed in arts?

Probably the recent protest movements that seek attention by vandalizing famous works of art. These stunts are clearly getting them the media coverage they desire, but the art works and institutions are rarely connected to or complicit with the actual target of their message. It’s sad that the world has got to a point where people justify the damage of cultural and historical artifacts as a viable way to be heard.

Penguins appear very often in your stories and posts. Where did this passion come from and why did you decide not to show your face?

I’ve always been fascinated by penguins. They’re awkward and silly looking on land but incredibly graceful in the water, plus they’re impeccably dressed. Penguins were one of the first things I ever collected. I still do, actually, though I try to keep it in check. At my age there’s a fine line between being a quirky collector and Kathy Bates in Misery. As for my social persona, I’m not doing this to become an Instaceleb. Not using my name or face was a purposeful response to the art industry trend of trading on your name. Being relatively new to the scene people wouldn’t know my name anyway. Besides, LondonArtRoundup is a great name that explains exactly what I do, while being accessible to a wider audience that is interested in art but might not know enough to navigate the scene on their own.

Visit and follow on Instagram @londonartroundup for weekly updates from the London's art scene and articles about unique exhibitions and artworks.


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