ART: Dario Illari from Jealous Gallery

Written by: Sophie Taylor

Down a pretty little street in Crouch End sits Jealous Gallery, smirking, waiting for you to get the punchline and look back shocked. During a busy Frieze week in London we spoke to naughty-glint-in-the-eye gallery owner, Dario Illari. Amongst packing boxes and cardboard tubes we chatted about pissing off the English Heritage, tragic mug slogans and being jealous of yourself.

This is where I live, this is what I do and I want to do it well.

It’s all go at the moment!

North Four, North London magazine, Dario, Jealous Gallery, interview

“Yes, all the collectors, all the people are here to see art – Frieze is a massive draw. Because of that you have a lot of different satellite fairs and shows for people to visit. It’s a busy time, lots of after show parties, lots of this..” Dario gestures and makes some undecipherable chatty noises.

“It’s good fun. There are two big seasons in the art world, Spring and Autumn. Now this really kicks off the Autumn season.”

A quick online stalk of Dario’s history reveals he ‘served in Lebanon as part of the US contingent NATO peace keeping forces whilst serving in the Italian Parachute Regiment and killed a man by accident. (It was the 80’s.)’ Hmm.

What were you doing before Jealous?

“Before Jealous I was doing lots of things, I was in the States for a bit a long, long time ago. I worked in Philadelphia, for Urban Outfitters where they first started in one little shop. I was there for a while as they were opening up. Then I spent some time in Italy, came back and worked in TV for a while doing sets.

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We only employ people from the area, people who need a chance.

And then about 20 years ago I started a company called Terramundi which produce these little ceramics pots like they have in Italy. You fill them with money, save up and then smash them open. We have a big studio in Tottenham Hale and only employ people from the area – people who’ve been in trouble with police, people who need a chance I suppose. It’s that working-end-of-art, in the sense that when you make a handprinted ceramic and you have to paint stripes, you cant lie. The stripes are either straight or not.

I come from a silkscreening background and I collect works on paper and prints. So I started Jealous with a guy called Matthew Rich who lives five doors from me, just here in Crouch End.

Forward thinking: that was the whole Jealous remit.

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Matthew’s a really good printer. He came from a printing background too, in big studios showing the likes of Rachel White, Tracey Emin and Peter Blake. So we decided to start Jealous which was very forward thinking: that was the whole remit.”

Dario made links with major MA colleges, offering an annual Jealous Prize to a select number of graduates. Each year, the Jealous Prize portfolio is added to a growing archive that forms part of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s permanent print collection. The prize is now in it’s seventh year.

“We make an edition and we show it here or at our Shoreditch gallery. It is then shown at art fairs before going into the Victoria and Albert museum collection. Which is good for the artist and I’m not naïve, it’s good for Jealous as well to have this archive of our works in the V & A.”

The artist leaves their ego at the door.
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Jealous Gallery have grown and built up over the last ten years and become an important hub in London, setting up shows around the world in LA and New York most recently. Working ‘behind the scenes’ of other galleries, the studio have just finished working with David Shrigley, Gary Hume, Gavin Turk and Charming Baker. Artists come to Jealous for their high quality work and hands on collaborative approach to producing editions involving curating and set up.

“We don’t represent artists but they will come, make one project and then go back to their gallery. I love working with artists, it’s about decision making. There’s usually a frisson between a gallery and an artist – the dynamics between them often clash. But when you come to a screen printing studio, we all want the same thing. We are the ones that have the skills and the craft and we know what can and cannot be done. So the artist leaves their ego at the door and says, ‘what can we do to make this really good?’ and we will try and do that. We all want the same thing: to sell the prints, to make legitimate and honest work. It’s honest and it’s simple!”

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I had a sneak peek into your shed Dario. You have a huge catalogue

“Oh yes we have lots. You should see the Shoreditch building- there are four stories full of prints. Because we don’t represent artists we don’t have a staple of four, six, twenty artists. We have hundreds of artists that come through our door, do a project then they go back to their gallery. I like that. I suppose I’ve grown up in the generation of Ben Eine and Banksy when they started off in Shoreditch in their studio. Ben used to print with Banksy and now I print for Ben and I do their work.”

What type of work really stands out to you? 

“I very rarely have prints that I have made in my house. This is because some of them I love, some of them I appreciate what they’re trying to do without being emotionally attached to it. 

North Four, North London magazine, Dario, Jealous Gallery, interview

For me it’s about trying to make what the artist wants and getting in to their psyche, the esoteric nature of what they want and what they want their audience to feel. It’s then up to us to negotiate and try to achieve that. The reason I wouldn’t have them at home is because I’d always be looking at it thinking, ‘you know what, that was a really great edition and lovely to work on, but I’m not sure I should have made that green that particular shade’. But it’s different with the work that I collect: I don’t judge it by those parameters because it’s a finished piece and I had nothing to do with it. It’s easier for me to live with then.”

It was a boom moment when everything else opened up for me.

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What has been an important piece of art that’s stuck with you?

“I suppose the important piece of art that really stood out and made me think was The Brillo Box by Andy Warhol. The first time I saw it as a kid I remember thinking, that’s just a box. Then I walked round it a while and thought, it’s not really just a box it has no function, it doesn’t open. It’s pretending to be a box. So then I had that moment of realisation that, actually, this is a sculpture. It was one of those important pieces of art that I ever saw because it really clicked for me. I wondered, would that have existed without Duchamp putting the urinal in a gallery setting. It’s that school of thought that it is your job as a viewer to look at the object as art. The Brillo Box is very Duchampian. It was a boom moment when everything else opened up for me.”

What work do you like to collect for yourself? 

“At home I collect work from Damien Hirst to Banksy to Alex Kats, from Peter Blake to Louise Bourgeois, Matisse … I like Picasso, Warhol, Julian Opey… 

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I collect art because I love it and I can’t actually help myself. I just want to have it, to live with it. Sometimes I buy pieces I can’t afford but I’ll whack them on the credit card knowing I can only afford it for 30 days. Just so I can look at it. Then I wave goodbye to it as it leaves again. That’s why we call Jealous, Jealous. People who collect art aren’t jealous of what other people have, they’re jealous of their own possessions. I know a lot of collectors who’ll have really large original pieces and knowing that I’ll be as excited as they are, they show me the latest piece like a child with a new toy. They’ll tell you about how they fought for it at auction. It’s the idea of possessing something. Collectors want to work with art that you want to own for yourself.”

What are you looking forward to in the Autumn season?

“I like doing the Moniker Art Fair at The Truman Brewery because its urban art based. It’s nice to see people that I’ve grown up with and know personally and see where they are now.

North Four, North London magazine, KIdding, exhibition, Kristen Jones, Ceal Warnants, Jealous Gallery, Crouch End

The truth is, Ben Eine, Banksy and Lucas Price, we’re all in our forties and fifties now. And though they’re on the streets doing the works, they’re pushing their kid in a pram with an iPad at the same time.”

Which links in to the work you’re showing at the moment at Jealous (‘Kidding’ is a current exhibition at Jealous with Kristian Jones and Ceal Warnants prints depicting nostalgic children’s illustration with elements of modern technology)

“Yes they’re lovely works. Ceal Warnants is a Royal College graduate. When there were the Tottenham riots she had this very 1960’s Enid Blyton style image of kids putting on their overcoats and wellington boots with a banner saying RIOT. It’s about distancing yourself from the situation. No-one was offended because it’s so visually pretty. The best pieces of art that says something quite poignant and difficult in a succinct way without trying to be too clever.”

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We didn’t know if we could do it. But we did it anyway.

Have you had a favourite show?

“There’s been quite a few. I loved one we had here in Crouch End with an artist called Rob Drugan. He’s odd! When I went to see his BA Show at St Martins he’d managed to get this massive tank into the foyer with a constructed water tank, two violins and a cello. I spoke to his tutor and said, this is very involved. He said, “you know what, Rob always bites off more than he can chew. And then he chews it”. In the gallery here, we poured oil all over the floor with a small walkway and birch trees going up to the ceiling. He then had this small shed in the middle with a Hells Angels reciting poetry inside every night. I loved it because it was eccentric but there was a lot of thought behind it.

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The other show I really enjoyed working on was our first with Charming Baker. I’ve worked with him for years. We were still very small at the time and had this half a million pound gig to put his show on in LA. We’d never done it before. We did everything from finding the space to booking all the hotels. We did all the framing, we staffed it, everything. We didn’t know if we could do it. But we did it anyway. And I like that.” 

What we do is lovely and fun but we’re not saving lives.

You must find there’s a difference between your galleries here in Crouch End and Shoreditch?

“There is a big difference. I started in Crouch End and to begin with no-one really knew what we did. We’re a print studio essentially. In this area people come in to browse and to buy for their houses. Which is really nice. I can talk to them about the artwork and the artists: their provenance, their history, were they studied. But here they just want to buy it because they like it. Which is great.

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The moment you try to please everyone is the moment you become bland.

In Shoreditch it’s slightly different, you have the much bigger collectors. I grew up in Shoreditch and live in Crouch End now so I have a fondness for both areas. We had a big show for Ben Eine where we did the Big Issue covers with him. We sold out within hours and the money was going to the Big Issue, it was a great cause, but I remember feeling bad that we didn’t show any here in Crouch End. I put five sets in the window here but we didn’t sell any. Sometimes we just rub people up the wrong way here, which I quite like. I don’t like to homogenise things too much, because the moment you please everyone is the moment you’re doing something wrong. You’ve become bland.

North Four, North London magazine, Miriam Elier, Jealous Gallery, Dario Illia
Penguin in America wanted to publish us, and Penguin in the UK wanted to sue us.

Half of Crouch End really like us and the other think we’re arrogant. We’re very friendly when you come in, we have fun. We’ve done some things that wind people up. We made these blue plaques with artist Dave Anderson that read, ‘The man who sleeps with your wife lives here”. We got letters of complaint from the English Heritage. They sent us a cease and desist letter saying that ‘these must stop being sold.’ But we carried on selling them, except you also got a copy of the letter from the English Heritage with your plaque. We like to do that kind of thing. We originally published those Ladybird books with Miriam Eller. I funded the first one and we published two. Penguin then tried to sue Jealous claiming it was copyright. They couldn’t prove it though. Penguin in America wanted to publish us, and Penguin in the UK wanted to sue us.”

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There’s a clear sense of humour at Jealous Gallery

“I always say the same thing in the studio, what we do is lovely and fun but we’re not saving lives. I know what I do is not important in the grand scheme of things, I’m not naïve to that. But this is where I live, this is what I do and I want to do it well. Yes, art can change things, it’s very important and it makes you think. It’s a gateway to explore other avenues of thought but I know art isn’t important. We’re very serious about what we do but you have to have fun. It’s a great ice breaker and way to get people in to discuss the work.”

We leave Dario to continue packing up for the art fairs and festivals. If you haven’t been yet, pop into the gallery on Park Road when you have a spare moment, if not just for a chinwag with the man behind the prints and spectacles. He doesn’t bite. Much.

Jealous Gallery Crouch End, 27 Park Road, Crouch End, London N8 8TE

Open Monday to Saturday 10am – 5pm.

Does this leave you convinced that Crouch End is the big daddy of North London? Check out the neighbourhood battle to end all battles – Crouch End vs Muswell Hill here.

Photos by Mike Barry

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