A new initiative will see some of the country’s top street and outsider artists brought together in a ‘hub of excellence’ aimed at showcasing their work across the world.
When publisher and print consultant Jon Lewis was asked to help produce a series of small black books for a politically active street artist from the south west of England in 2001, it laid the foundations for a long-term working relationship with the world’s most famous – and most enigmatic – underground artist.
“That artist turned out to be Banksy,” Jon explained. “And it not only helped establish me as an independent art book producer, but it also introduced me to a lot of other artists involved in that scene, many of whom I went on to collaborate with.”
A third-generation publisher and printer, Jon spent many years producing music, art and fashion magazines, prior to this he was a music promotor and DJ and, at the height of the acid house explosion, hosted a series of dance music events that attracted thousands.
However, after “many late nights and early mornings”, he focused full time on publishing, assisting in the production of Sleazenation and Jockey Slut magazines, and later working with the now defunct artists collective Pictures on Walls, for which he produced Banksy books including Existencilism and Cut it Out.
This partnership also saw Jon create lithographic prints including Banksy’s Tesco Soup can and Tesco Petrol Bomb, which was produced in 2011 in support of a protest against the opening of a branch of the supermarket giant in the artist’s hometown of Bristol.
He founded Bristol-based Essential Print Management (EPM) in 2007 to create short run, high value art books and limited edition prints for artists including Jonathan Yeo, Stanley Donwood, David Cheo, Invader and Paul Insect.
His new project, ART808, which takes its name from the legendary Japanese drum machine the Roland TR-808, has seen him team up with writer and concert pianist Tomoka Anan, with whom he worked closely on the book, Banksy Captured.
Collaborating artists include My Dog Sighs, Ben Turnbull, Dan Rawlings and John Pedder, with more soon to follow.
“Tomoka and I both have a mutual interest in electronic music, underground subcultures and art and have a shared history of promoting club nights – myself in the UK, Tomoka in Japan,” Jon said. “The Banksy Captured book was really popular in Japan, and we wanted to further develop our working relationship, so ART808 seemed like a natural progression.”
An ART808 website has just launched this week, with works on offer including collectables and limited-edition books, as well as prints and paintings including a few rare Banksys.
“Our initial aim is to create a platform to connect artists to a wider audience, to inspire creativity, to help develop new and exciting projects and to promote each of our artists into new market areas, such as Japan,” Jon said.
Longer term, the plan is to instigate more publishing and fine print projects, and stage events and exhibitions.
“We want to develop another studio space for the creation, storage and distribution of art and books and to help create and share a greater understanding and a deeper knowledge, of each artist we work with,” he explained.