At the top of the red-brick avenue, a grey sign displays a list of units outside the incongruous White Swan Business Centre.
There are all kinds of businesses in this cluster of pointy warehouses, but it’s not the kind of place you’d expect to find a high-end art gallery.
Number 7 on the sign, though, says Ellis King.
An Effective Platform
After Ellis King left Dublin, having studied the history of art and archaeology at UCD, he knew where he was headed.
Living in both London and New York over a two-year period, he worked as a freelance curator of gallery shows. In each city, he got to know the scene, building up relationships with artists and collectors.
Towards the end of his time abroad – his grand tour, if you will – Ellis King decided to seek out a gallery space where he could exhibit the works of emerging international artists. He’d saved enough money to get started.
Ellis King initially considered a place on Pearse Street. Then he happened upon the small White Swan Business Centre near the Coombe. It was a platform, he says, that met his requirements.
“When I was searching for a space, it was to find one that was exciting,” he says. “It was going to be a space with a lot of potential that I could see many different shows of all different, variant types over the next 10, 20, 30 years.”
The gallery, which has metal beams and minimal colour, is divided over two rooms and holds six exhibitions a year. Each runs for five weeks.
Having engrossed himself on the international scene for two years, Ellis King felt it was time Dublin got a chance to look at what’s on offer globally, and, in turn, for the global clientele to put Dublin on their maps.
“There’s a core founding interest in terms of doing something here, to a national populous,” he says. “Then there’s how it’s perceived outside as well, having a programme that’s of interest that’s quirky and exotic.
“These people from outside, these audiences look upon Dublin as this city that’s very much on the periphery of the art world so to speak, so it’s definitely interesting in terms of how it stands out in that respect.”
To date, several emerging international names have displayed on Donore Avenue, including: Lydia Ourahmane from Algeria, Grear Patterson from Connecticut, and British-Iranian artist Kour Pour.
Initially, Ellis King thought of a pop-up gallery, and looked at the vacant-spaces scheme to find a spot. For a time, he even considered setting up shop in London. Dublin, however, offered the chance to return home, stand out, and bring something new to the public.
It also meant a more reasonable rent on the space, one he intends to stay in. Having taken out a 10-year lease of the Donore Avenue gallery, Ellis King’s determined to make things work.
Dressed in a light-blue sweater and lighting a cigarette, he orders a hot chocolate in the nearby Nosh café where we sit down outside for an hour or so.
“I’d like to be here for the long haul, until I’m grey and old,” he says. “I’d like to do something really interesting and make a serious impact like Mother’s Tankstation or Kerlin [Gallery] have done over the last 10 or 20 years, respectively.”
Yet with the art market still recovering, a remote exhibition space and a largely international artist base, is there not some heavy risk involved?
Polishing the wooden floors for his gallery’s next exhibition by hand, John Taylor of Taylor Galleries on Kildare Street has been in the business since 1977.
Well-known for its exhibitions of leading Irish artists, the gallery has witnessed the meteoric rise and fall of the Dublin art market over the last 20 years.
“We thought at one stage of getting a second premises when things were good. Very lucky now we didn’t,” says Taylor.
Taylor reckons that, irregardless of time, if the right artists and artworks are there, the collectors will follow. Still, it all comes down to staying afloat.
“The whole game is trying to stay in business so you have to make your rent wherever it is,” he says. “If there’s nobody coming in how can you pay your rent? You just have to try and choose an area that’s not too expensive.”
Touché, Ellis King.
While Taylor Galleries, exhibits mainly well-established Irish artists in a city-centre location, Ellis King’s international ensemble offers a side-step from the traditional Dublin model.
Having learnt the ropes abroad, he found himself a relative stranger to the Dublin art scene when he returned home in 2014.
“I’ve definitely taken on this position of being an observer,”says Ellis King. “I’ve been waiting to see what would happen. Obviously dealing with the sort of art that I’m working in, it’s not necessarily to everyone’s taste here in terms of the collector base, some of it might be quite challenging I guess.”
From installation pieces to conceptual art, oil barrels to loose fruit, the pieces Ellis King has displayed are rather different from the boom-years proliferation of Graham Knuttel icons.
“I think we’re in somewhat uncharted territory,” he says. “In the Celtic Tiger the Irish market, as a whole, was absolutely crazy, it was beyond any natural means, much like the property market. It will be interesting to see where the level of commitment is and what sort of new people come into the fray with these experiences with caution.”
Tessa Giblin, curator of the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar, first heard of Ellis King after he’d opened the gallery. What, a new gallery in Dublin? she thought.
“There isn’t a huge gallery scene,” she says. “He knew very well what he was wanting to do and the kind of artists that he wanted to work with and knew that he could do something quite distinctive in Dublin.”
Since opening the gallery, Ellis King has absorbed himself in building relationships with international collectors and artists he’d like to grow with, he says.
Lighting another cigarette, the young gallery owner talks about the challenges involved in promoting the name Ellis King.
He travels to the art fairs abroad to keep to abreast of developments, and to spread the word about his gallery. These mammoth events, he says, are where collectors do their homework. To exhibit, a gallery must to go through a lengthy application process.
Two years after opening his gallery, Ellis King says he’s already built up a decent portfolio of mainly international collectors, who are after international art works. The Donore Avenue location, as unlikely as it may seem, is working for him, he says.
“I think the audience is there,” he says. “There’s plenty of room for different voices in this great city of ours for people to give their own views, show their own perspective on things and make an interesting contribution to that fabric.”