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Talking art with the legendary Swizz Beatz

June 27, 2017

Arts | by Sophie Exton


We had the pleasure of speaking to Grammy award-winning artist and producer, Swizz Beatz about the arts platform he built from scratch: No Commission. 

While most people will be familiar with his legendary music career, the producer is just as passionate about art.

Bacardi: No Commission is a three-day art and music event, where artists get to keep 100% of sales they make, and it is free for the public to attend. So far No Commission has reached Miami, the Bronx, London and Shanghai; the next stop is Berlin.

Thank you for joining us today. Can you tell us what inspired you to create the platform: Bacardi: No Commission? 

I came up with the concept of No Commission after many years of being an art collector and being a fan of art and being an artist myself; I noticed that there weren’t any platforms that were 100% for the artist. Meaning that that artist could keep 100% of what they sell. Every time I heard about other platforms for artists there was always something being taken back, and I said to myself that if I were ever in a situation where I could help artists, I would do it. So that’s how No Commission started.

I had been running the No Commission event for a while when I got approached by Bacardi about doing a collaboration with my art gallery The Dean Collection. They felt that what I was doing was revolutionising the way people look at art culture and creativity. That’s how it became Bacardi: No Commission. 

Then we came together for the show at Miami Basel, and since then we’ve almost been around the world and our next stop is Berlin. So far we’ve been able to give back almost four million dollars into the pockets of artists. Bacardi understand the premise of Bacardi: No Commission and that was really important to me, as a lot of companies don’t. I mean nobody is doing what we’re doing – no other platform can allow an artist keep 100% of the sale.

The show is free for people to attend, so all you have to do is RSVP and then you can go along to the Berlin show.

Can you tell us about your own gallery: The Dean Collection? 

Every piece of work that I have ever purchased will never be sold; instead it goes to The Dean Collection, so my children will be able to see every piece when they grow up – that was how the idea for The Dean Collection started.

I have a relationship with every artist whose work is in The Dean Collection. I can call them, they can call me and you know it’s fun like that. Rather than an organisation controlling artists, at The Dean Collection they can control it themselves.

I love seeing these artists going to the next level and hearing how they’re going on to be featured in other museums. I love it when an artists calls me and tells me that someone saw their work in the gallery or at Bacardi: No Commission and now they’ve been asked to do another show. To hear that these artists have reached the next level in their careers after taking part in the show; that’s a true blessing.

Saya Woolfalk’s artwork on display at No Commission in Shanghai.

When did you first start collecting art?

I’ve been collecting for many years now. I got my first Andrew Adams piece over twenty years ago. I grew up around art my whole life, even growing up in the Bronx, just having graffiti around me everyday; I’ve always had an appreciation for art and creativity.

I can say that I used to collect art maybe for the wrong reasons, back when I was buying Warhol’s or Chagall’s, at that time I was in love with art, but I can’t say I was always buying art from my soul. I was more buying certain art that I thought would look cool hanging in my house. So when people would see these pieces they would understand that I’m not just a guy from the Bronx and I understand what a Chagall is – because look it’s hanging on my wall.

Swizz Beatz, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire of Major Lazer attend The Dean Collection x Bacardi No Commission event on April 8, 2017 in Shanghai, China. Photo by Hu Chengwei/Getty Images for Bacardi

Who are your favourite artists at the moment? 

In the past I would have been able to answer that question very quickly and name some of my favourite pieces and artists. But as I’ve travelled more and seen so many different types of art, it’s hard to narrow it down and say which pieces are my favourite.

You know, there is a whole set of artists in Africa, Brazil the UK and the US… they’re all different but they’re all great. There are a lot of really good up-and-coming artists now.  I like Nina Chanel’s work right now… there’s just too many.

I appreciate all of the artists changing the game at the moment and really challenging themselves. A lot of the art that’s coming out today isn’t copying styles as much as they used to; a lot of artists are being very original and really taking a risk. And that’s what I encourage artists to do, don’t worry about what’s popular already, create your own excitement. And I’ve seen a lot of artists creating their own excitement using a lot of different mediums recently.

Right now when I collect, I choose pieces by the feeling that piece of art gives me, it doesn’t matter if it’s by a famous artist or an unknown artist or if it’s something I just saw in the street. If I feel that piece of work I’m going to purchase it, and I love to purchase living artist’s work. Because everyone celebrates artists from the past, but I think why not celebrate these artists while they’re living?

In addition to collecting artwork, we know you also paint and create your own art. Would you ever consider selling any of your own pieces? 

As far as me painting, you know I’ve never sold any of my work. I do it for therapy honestly. I only give away my artwork to charities or close friends for now. Because I feel that there are so many great artists who are way better than me and need the opportunity more than me, so that’s the reason this platform is so special to me. I thought you know what ‘let me free a couple of hundred thousands artists around the world from paying commission’.

I’m not sure if I’d ever do a show with my own work but right now that’s not on my radar; that’s not my vision right now. I just enjoy painting for my own therapy.

Lewis Hamilton celebrates his Grand Prix win with Swizz Beatz at No Commission event on April 9, 2017 in Shanghai. Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images for Bacardi

Have you ever, or would you ever display your own artwork at Bacardi: No Commission? 

No… well I did actually have a painting on display once but I didn’t put my name on it or tell anyone. So it was pretty fun because nobody knew it was mine and I just got to observe. And I was still pretty nervous about it. I got to hear what people thought but I didn’t have the pressure of people knowing it was my work. Yeah, I might do that again.

You created No Commission to help artists retain 100% of their sales. Do you think galleries or other art institutions will have to re-think how they handle commission in the future?

I think that’s already been happening and I hope it does start to change. There have already been a few groups that have called me and asked me for advice about it.

I have nothing against galleries at all because artists always need galleries; but I do feel that artists do need more leverage in those galleries. And that was another reason I wanted to start No Commission – because people can use it as an example to make changes.

I don’t think it’s fair for someone to take up to 50% of anyone’s creativity, even if you’re not a painter, you could be a writer or photographer. I just don’t think it’s fair for anyone to take such high commission just so you can express yourself in that space. But I’m not a gallery or a broker or dealer so I don’t have to deal with the things that they have to deal with and of course they have to run a business, which I completely respect.

I’m just a patron for the arts; period. Galleries are definitely changing; they’re going to have to change with the times. The audience at No Commission is 70% new buyers, which is unheard of. You know we’ve sold out 90% of these shows, which again is unheard of. Things are changing.

But there is also a responsibility, we (as artists) always talk about how things are not fair, but are we educating ourselves to run our own operation? Or are we just sitting back waiting for something to happen. So I really encourage all artists to take responsibility, do your homework and understand the business.

Don’t just say I’m an artist I don’t get the business side – you have to care about the business, because business is being done. And that was one of the important things that I had to learn myself. When I went to school I learnt as artists we can’t play the victim, we have to work to be leaders and be educated and find out how business runs within the art world so that when it comes to your first show you’re prepared for everything. Or you can pay for what you don’t know. So I’m very passionate about that. Take some time out to at least try to learn about it. Nowadays you don’t even have to go to school to find out, you can learn about most of this on the internet now.

Your talent ranges from music and fashion to art. Would you call yourself a true creative?

For me they all fall under the same umbrella. And I decided that everything I did had to be under that umbrella of creativity. Music, fashion, design and visual arts – all of those things relate. I mean music and art have always been connected, it’s just the business has separated them and turned them into two separate entities but they’re technically the same, it takes the same form of creativity to make a hit record as it does to complete a masterpiece painting. You are using the same parts of your brain.

Even fashion design… the intricate work that goes into sketching and the design process, it’s all art, it’s all creativity, just different strands of art.

I know you’re fans are eagerly awaiting a new album. Would you ever consider merging any plans for art and fashion with an album release?

Everything is moving at the same time; I’ve got an exciting announcement coming in the next month or two. I’m pretty much tying everything in together and moving forward with one creative movement. One thing I don’t like to have is things spread where they don’t connect or make sense.

When I present something I want people to think ‘OK I see how that makes sense’ and see the bigger picture. So that’s how I’m curating all of my projects right now and thinking how they can all add up to a bigger picture and keep a conversation going about forward thinking, creativity, education and innovation. That’s my mission. I love challenging myself.

If an artist who’s reading this interview wanted to speak to Bacardi: No Commission and find out how to take part in the next show, how should they get in touch?

There are lots of ways to get noticed… a lot of artists get in touch via Instagram and social media or on The Dean Collection‘s website. I also have a curator called Nicola who is on the ground at the shows. The process we go through to find new artists often involves going through social media, face-to-face studio visits and meetings, speaking to institutions that support other artists and then at the show’s themselves. It’s fun.

And we tend to look for artists who are from the cities and countries where we hold the shows; so this time 90% of the artists are actually from Berlin.

Everywhere we go, we find a range of up-and-coming artists and also well-known artists and everybody works next to each other. And at the shows we don’t have specific sections for more famous artists upstairs while the newer artists sit downstairs; everyone’s mixed in together.

Swizz Beatz performing at No Commission Shanghai in April

Finally, what advice would you give to any young artists trying to find their voice at the moment?

I would encourage them to be as original as possible and to be their biggest supporter. Because a lot of people will wait for someone else to believe in them before they believe in themselves, when really you should believe in yourself before anybody else does. You should know 100% that you have what it takes, you should know 100% that you want to go to the next level.

People might not understand you in the beginning, they didn’t understand me in the beginning when I came out with my album that was different, when I wasn’t sampling, doing the same thing that everybody was doing. Anything that is different will take some people some time to adapt to, but you have to have the patience to withstand that time period and once you get over that the rewards are amazing. Stay focused, stay original, push the envelope and follow your own dreams.

Barardi: No Commission will return Europe for the second time, taking up residency in Germany’s capital city of Berlin, hailed as a global epicentre for creative talent and expression. The show starts this Thursday 29th June and will run until Saturday 1st July.

If you would like to attend simply click here to RSVP and get your ticket.