Steve Lazarides Takes Us Behind the Scenes on Laz Emporium, His Soul-Filling Venture in the Heart of London’s Soho Neigborhood
Photography by Tom Medwell
Steve Lazarides, you could say, is a bit of a punk. He’s had many roles in the art world, often cited as Banksy’s manager, an art show impresario, as well as running his own London galleries in Soho, Fitzrovia and lastly in the heart of the elite art world, Mayfair. But whatever he’s up to, he’s always looking to break the rules and push the art world out of its comfort zone. He rarely minces his words. “The art world’s just become so unfeasibly boring,” he says. “Even the side of it I was doing. It just became purely about monetary value. It got to the stage that no one would ask about the actual painting I was selling, it was always ‘how much is it and do you think it’ll go up in value?’ And when that became the predominant force within the art world—and it is—then I think that it’s time for it to die.”
Eschewing the elitist art world, his latest venture Laz Emporium (with a shop right in the heart of Soho) offers a series of home artworks created with acclaimed artists like Gorillaz founder, Jamie Hewlett, Charming Baker, Mode 2, Stash and others. He’s not creating exhibitions, screen prints or canvases but unique, handcrafted homewares like tables, lampshades, crockery and even tea towels. And he’s happier than ever doing it, getting his hands dirty creating things and not showing art investors around a silent gallery.
He elaborates: “I was looking at bits of my house like the table top and the duvet and cushions, and suddenly it was a light bulb moment where I was like ‘I could make a home invasion!’” The shop space is covered floor to ceiling with graffiti and pulses with drum n bass, and his “home invasion” art. “I decided to try and work images into various mediums. I wanted to make handcrafted, beautiful artifacts. I didn’t want to mass-produce stuff and I have no intention of expanding and opening another shop or taking any sponsorship or do brand collaborations or any of that shit. I’m too independent. I just wanted to make our own stuff and have the freedom to make that stuff in whatever volume I wanted. There’s a certain type of demographic at a certain time of life and they’ve filled their walls up. There’s no more space left. It’s hard for people to decide to take one piece down so they can put another one up. Your thought processes may change but your love of art doesn’t disappear so you still have the ability to buy books or fucking cushions, lamp- shades or tea towels. I’m as in love with the Charming Baker naked woman tea towel as I am with any Banksy I’ve ever sold and that’s a £40/$54 item on a bit of linen. But it looks like a banging piece of art.”
He sees the shop as an outlet store for the enormous production HQ he’s built out in the woods near his hometown of Bristol. Below the shop there’s also an exhibition space in the basement (complete with bar) but he doesn’t want to be holding the usual art shows there. He’s wants to program cultural events and if an artist wants to show some work there then cool, no pressure to sell any of it. “I think the artists trust me. I’ve been here long enough. I’ve always stayed true to the way I do things. I’ve always been an awkward cunt. That’s well documented. I think what really got it was I told the artists it was too hard a concept for me to explain so I told them to send me some imagery and let me have a play with it and send them some samples back. I managed to get a line drawing out of Mode 2! That’s like the Holy Grail.”
He says with genuine excitement: “I got this thing in my head that everything we’re doing is a piece of art. The way we’re making the lampshades for instance. We get the images from the artist, which we work on, and then screen print by hand. Then I take them to the world’s weirdest fuck- ing lampshade maker. You’d think it was some old lady doing them but it’s my mate Grumpy Mark. It really is like smuggling their art into people’s houses in a new way. I think if I tried this 10 years ago I’m not sure the artists would have done it but I think that now the artists I’m working with are at a stage where they’re comfortable with themselves and their art. They’re supposed to be allowed to enjoy them- selves. Also this isn’t like a life or death exhibition that their whole career rides on and it’s a totally different relationship now that I’ve got with the artists. It’s a much more comfortable place to be. They’ve been incredibly receptive to working with me and I’m eternally grateful but at the same time, we’ve made them some of the best shit they’ve ever had done. Jamie Hewlett was really happy and that made me happy. If I can please Jamie Hewlett and Mode 2, then I’m doing ok.”