Mentor for life: Swizz Beatz and the No Commission contemporary art fair

The disparity between fine art and its contemporary counterpart is a popular reoccurring discussion point for many aspiring artists trying to break into the scene. To the artist, the two are what would appear to be polar opposites in a divided elitist social hierarchy.

Enter hip-hop impresario and astute art collector, Swizz Beatz. The highly acclaimed producer is pushing the agenda for these entities to collide in the form of his No Commission Art Fair in association with Bacardi. Having successfully fused the culture of art and music with the likes of Pusha T and A$AP Rocky in the US, No Commission is fast becoming a platform for multiple realms of creativity, his dual roles as Global Creative Director for Bacardi and Creative Director for Reebok respectively have also assisted in the ascension of his brand.

We sat down with the Grammy award-winning producer dubbed The Bronx Basquiat at No Commission London to talk about the movement and its correlation between art and music.

Swizz Beats has been at the top of his game for almost two decades. Ask any well-versed hip-hop head about some of their favourite beats of the late nineties or early 2000’s from Ruff Ryders Entertainment (founded by Swizz’ uncles) to Jigga and Busta, you can guarantee that Swizz will be behind the production credits.

Having conquered the music world Swizz is expanding his business in the form of the No Commission Art Fair with previous shows at Miami Art Basel, his hometown of the Bronx and now London. ‘This is my gift to London, something authentic, something that will give hope to the artists that don’t have that platform or entry point connection.’ He explains further, ‘I just want people to get a taste of something that’s relatable. The blessing of this is all of the big art institutes are here, learning scoping, adjusting and adapting. It’s about taking the walls down and merging everything.’

“Forget fine art and street art, just put it under a creative umbrella of excellence.”

An array of artists have participated in No Commission London including D*Face, Ricardo Cavolo and Sandra Chevrier. Where many may not have had the opportunity for their work to be viewed by such a varied audience, Swizz is hoping to widen the platform and bridge the cultural gaps synonymous with the art world: ‘I flipped it around whilst I had the attention and put a new audience onto different artists, other artists that are living that can feel the success. Putting them on my platform, building up their client base.’

He adds,‘Forget fine art and street art, just put it under a creative umbrella of excellence. There are people in here who would not have previously even looked twice at these artists. Now they’re taking notes like ‘maybe we should highlight them’. I’m getting offers to join boards, which I love because if we are there as a creative unit then we have the power to change things we don’t like. I have a big job to do.’

A job no doubt that Swizz takes seriously, as a kid growing up in the Bronx with the emergence of street art through graffiti, he can relate on many levels from artist to buyer. Discussing the history of his relationship with art, Swizz fondly talks about his growth and how he was willing to continually absorb knowledge through the industry. During that time he has amassed a sizeable assembly of art pieces referred to as The Dean Collection. ‘When I first started collecting art, nobody from my culture was really understanding it. They were making fun of me for actually collecting it. But, I can also say that I was collecting art for the wrong reasons.’ He admits, ‘I was collecting it for status, for when I had execs like Clive Davis come over to my house. They’d see a Warhol or Chagall, something that they can relate to, I wanted to make them understand that yes I’m from the South Bronx but I’m also eclectic in my movement, so when you do business with me think differently than you would with someone who just wants to buy gold chains.’

“Now I buy art for the passion and how it makes me feel.”

The acquisition of wealth during his early years, didn’t necessarily equate to buying art that he loved, a valuable lesson that he soon learned pretty quickly, as he reminisces about his first time at an auction, ‘it was like my first experience wanting to buy my first house or car, it was the same experience when I wanted to buy art at such a young age nobody believed me. We’re on this boat and they’re auctioning off pieces by Peter Max who was a hot pop artist at that time. I’m dressed in baggy pants; I didn’t find my style yet. I was half way still in the streets, mentally. I bought out the whole show, everyone was looking at me, even back then I was an art story growing. I eventually met Peter Max and became a student of his, he taught me so many different things. He is the reason why Swizz is double ‘zz’ as that is what he used to call me.’ He adds ‘Now I buy art for the passion and how it makes me feel. I’m never selling anything from the Dean Collection, anything that goes into the collection is for my kids, it no longer belongs to me.’

Alongside a number artworks on display at No Commission there will be a fusion of musical performances and collaborations with Swizz admittedly embracing the UK, ‘I wanted the music to be representative of the show, with artists like Emeli Sandé, Blood Orange and Bugzy Malone. Those are all three different vibes.’ He enthuses ‘I’ve been vibing with the UK since I worked on the Ms. Dynamite’s album, and the single Dy-na-mi-tee. This has been like my backyard. I met Angel through my good friend Lewis Hamilton and I liked his energy. When I heard Giggs I loved his energy. There are a lot of artists like Skepta doing it big over here.’

What words of encouragement would Swizz give to those hoping to see their work on display at future No Commission events? ‘The most important thing is to know the business you want to be in because a lot of people have talent but don’t understand the business. You have to be able to understand and speak the language.’ Also utilizing the power of social media and Instagram in particular of which Swizz has over 1.5 million followers: ‘If Christies or Sotheby’s are not promoting an artist how are you going to know where to find them in the middle of London, Mexico or Italy? I decided to just give my social media to the artist. I’m happy that I can use it as a tool, like the gift that keeps on giving. That’s the basis of No Commission.’

Words: Angela Phillips

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