INTERVIEW – West End Gallerist Tony Cole

Tony Cole left a secure, well paid job in public sector management to switch to his first love art and take his first steps into business. Coles Art Gallery is in an ideal location between Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road stations, with a constant flow of customers drawn to West End visitor attractions. We ask him about his journey into the world of art and his West End celebrity clientele.

What inspired you take the leap of faith and open Cole’s Art Gallery?

I began as an art collector. My best friend’s wife was Cuban and we went to her homeland several times on holiday and fell in love with the art there and that was where the art collection began. This inspired my passion for art on a bigger scale and as time went on I began to think differently about art and its concepts. I considered having a gallery that was different from anywhere else, one where you could come in and find pieces that you could relate to culturally and connect with.

What was your profession before you were a gallerist?

I worked in offender management in policy and for the courts, but ultimately my love of art already had its lane that ran alongside my full time profession. Lots of people have that past-time they pursue alongside their 9-5. As the years go by, you don’t want to be laid to rest knowing you have never pursued passions or explored who you really are.

The funny thing about doing what you really love is you open up this new world within yourself that you wasn’t really aware of. You find out how resilient you are and how impassioned you can become. More importantly, you find out how to connect with people within this new world. The positive feedback I’ve had in a short space of time is more than in all my previous jobs put together. If I had known that beforehand I would have chosen this path earlier.

This is a pretty impressive and much sought after location. How long have you been based here?

Since December 2020, so about 7 months. During lockdown we had to close for certain periods so went through a series of reopenings like everyone else.

What’s the custom like at this spot?

It’s very interesting in this part of the West End. You get to meet all sorts of people – tourists, actors, theatre professionals, people out for a night out or on the way to a restaurant, even locals walking their dogs – so a good mix. Also aspiring artists pop in and chat to me about my background and journey and are inspired by it and in some cases I end up working with them and there are pieces in this gallery that have come from that.

Have you had any interesting or famous customers?

Actors, athletes, musicians and also other professionals who have made purchases because they discover work here they don’t find elsewhere. Out of respect for these customers I wouldn’t like to mention their names but I do appreciate their custom.

Where do you find your artists? Do you work with or represent a group of artists?

What I do with my gallery is similar to what Berry Gordy did with Motown. I have 4-5 artists I work closely with. In terms of concepts and art pieces, we always have that prior conversation about concept so it’s not a case of them handing in any piece of artwork and hoping it works. It has to fit the gallery.

We are diverse in that it doesn’t matter what the background of the individual is. As long as the person is talented and able to deliver on what this gallery requires, we are able to work with them. Ultimately, that level of professionalism, mutual respect, reliability and consistency is important. This is about art and nothing else, this isn’t a platform to make any other statement, it is strictly about creativity.

What are your future plans?

We aim to launch as many talented artists as we can. We want people to know us for our brand and be recognised as that gallery where you can get rare pieces for a reasonable price. People get put off buying original art because of how expensive it is but we can agree a reasonable price. We strive to make the impossible possible and deliver a quality service.

Tony Cole, Cole’s Art Gallery

Writer Eddie Saint-Jean is an arts and culture writer who reviews the London art scene and is familiar face at many exhibitions and private views in the capital. He is also an artist working in moving image and photography. His former studies in Visual Theories in Art and Film permeate his career as a journalist, artist and filmmaker.