Whitehot Magazine

April 2010, Interview: High Roller Society

Courtesy High Roller Society

Interview with Jennifer Kaya Moran and Martin Lea Brown of High Roller Society

High Roller Society
10 Palmers Road
London, E2 0SY
Thursday to Saturday from 1pm-7pm, or by appointment

High Roller Society launched January 29th with a group show called “New Year New Danger.” This newly opened East London canal side gallery is a labour of love for two artists, Jennifer Kaya Moran and Martin Lea Brown. Fusing street style savvy with contemporary art fundamentals, the duo seek to showcase artists who “defy tradition and try the untested.” One such artist is James Jessop, who's Beauty and the Beast exhibition of “massive spoof horror paintings” runs at the gallery until April 24th.

Chris Osburn: What are your backgrounds with respect to art?

Martin Lea Brown:
I started oil painting at the age of 15 when I first got interested in art. I progressed through art school which led to an MA in painting at the Royal Academy Schools in London. I've been a practising artist since then, showing in London and the US, and have had a studio in East London for the past 11 years. My main focus is still painting, and I also have a passion for printmaking. My last series of work was Fools Gold, a collection of large-scale paintings of bank heists.

Jennifer Kaya Moran: I come from an arty New York family, so going the art route was a bit inevitable. While in the US I studied drawing at the Rhode Island School of Design, theatre design/special effects make-up at Emerson College, and got my BFA in sculpture and painting from the Art Institute of Boston. In London I took an internship with a bank, oddly, but merged everything into an MA in Art Business from the Sotheby's Institute of Art, London. I still make things, sew and sculpt in my spare time.

CO: How did you get the idea to start your own gallery? What was it like getting things going once you had decided to open High Roller Society?

MLB/JKM: We got our first flat together in a warehouse space that had a spare room which we thought would make a good in-house project space and a place to show art work ... mostly for our friends and Martin's clients. We entertained the idea of starting a gallery from there, but it wasn't conducive enough for public access. After a very bizarre string of events with neighbours from hell, we were forced to move out, but then came upon our current space which was unbelievably suitable to be the gallery we had envisioned.

It has been very exciting and nerve racking to get things going, particularly since we have funded the start-up ourselves. Mostly it's been exhilarating to be able to plan our own shows, create our own vibe and bring artists together.

CO: What's been the biggest challenge?

MLB/JKM: Balancing all of the elements of everyday life with running our own business.

CO: How do you divide the responsibilities involved in running the gallery?

MLB/JKM: Martin coordinates the artist side of things, contacting artists, organising artists for group exhibitions and solo shows, he also supports and encourages artists' work for each show, such as the print he released for James Jessop. He also provides technical support preparing the gallery for each show.

Jennie manages the administrative side of things, handling enquiries, writing press releases, dealing with clients and press, and gallery publicity.

We bounce ideas back and forth to create each show together, including the invitation design, and the curation for each show.

Courtesy High Roller Society

CO: How does High Roller Society differ from other London art spaces and what do you hope to achieve through opening your own gallery?

MLB/JKM: We are an artist led space showing 'street contemporary' art, with an extensive knowledge of and a passion for both areas. Our mission is to showcase artists who continue to defy tradition and try the untested, working in varied mediums to give each exhibition a unique life of its own. We hope to positively impact the art world by creating exciting exhibitions and supporting artists to work to their full potential.

CO: How did you come up with “High Roller Society” for the name of your gallery?

The name 'High Roller Society' comes from the streets. It has something to do with paint rollers... as in painting on buildings, painting high with an extended roller pole to reach difficult places. The association with 'street art' in the name was key, since that genre is very much about doing things on your own terms. It all incorporates the idea of reaching high, and rolling high against all the odds. 

CO: What's the art scene like in your area of East London? Do you find more cooperation or competition?

MLB/JKM: We're finding the art scene here to be really positive and supportive, especially in our immediate neighbourhood. We are working closely with Sueli Turner Gallery down the street for our events and community projects. We're also a stone's throw from Vyner Street along the canal, and Chisenhale gallery, so our placement is broadening the progressive East end art scene.

CO: Tell us about your past couple of shows and what you're cooking up for the next year or so.

MLB/JKM: Our first show was entitled New Year New Danger. It featured 13 artists from the UK, Berlin and Brooklyn. It's a combination of street and contemporary art; all of the artists are quite progressive and ones to watch. We are currently showing James Jessop's massive spoof horror paintings, and the following exhibition will be a print show that will explore different approaches to printmaking, including lino cut and potato print workshops. The next year will be on a similar tip, local and international artists whom we find exciting, and will include any excuse to have people engage in the space. Really, we want the space to have its own atmosphere that will transform High Roller Society into a unique gallery. Expect the unexpected.

Chris Osburn

Chris Osburn is an American transplant living in London where he has a blast working as a freelance photographer, writer, consultant, blogger and more.     www.tikichris.com 

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