Saatchi Yates marked the beginning of Frieze London 2023 with a celebration of its three-year anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, the space hosts an exhibition with artist Will St John, who has created classically influenced portraits of New York’s drag queens and trans community through painting and sculpture. The gallery hosted a talk on Monday 9 October, which was open to the public, and the artist’s eponymous exhibition will be running until 22 October.
St John was in conversation with the interiors and portrait photographer Mark C O’Flaherty. He also hosted a private cabaret at London’s favourite louche-luxe venue, The Box.
‘Saatchi Yates is working magic in the art world,’ said the artist. ‘It's an honour to be here celebrating their three-year anniversary in London. I'm very thankful to be working together.’
St John eschewed art school for being elitist; he also felt he wouldn’t learn what he needed to know to become the artist he wanted to be there, and instead taught himself and created his own programme of study.
Having spent time studying Renaissance painting in Europe, St John uses similar techniques to celebrate members of New York’s queer community and also to create surrealist images of porcelain ornaments. Realised in both ceramic and paint, these works are highly camp and have a representational importance that, when combined with their sense of fun and celebration, make them powerful.
‘For generations, royalty and nobility have been immortalised in portraiture in European national galleries,’ Phoebe Saatchi and Arthur Yates said in a statement. ‘Will St John captures the Kings and Queens of New York Bohemia and paints the characters who live on the fringes of society, with the same reverence of the portraits of the past.’
In the past, St John has painted poet, writer and performer Wo Chan, actors Hari Nef and Patricia Black and the gallerist and musician Ruby Zarsky. His paintings are sometimes indistinguishable from classical portraits and sometimes laced with a psychedelic, hyperreal lens which adds something rebellious and challenging to them.
Saatchi Yates opened its new 12,000 sq ft Mayfair space earlier in 2023, after opening in Cork Street in October 2020. The gallery has gained a reputation for finding and promoting young, emerging artists.
Saatchi Yates is now located at 14 Bury St, St. James
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