When 28-year-old Greg Lazarus found himself completely immobilised following a stroke in 2018, he had no choice but to gaze for months on end at the art on the wall in front of him.
The artworks that kept him company presented an escape from the bleak reality of his situation. Over time, however, he found his attachment to them waned.
‘I had purchased a few pieces of African contemporary art and found myself amazed by the way they made me feel. Whilst laying there, trapped, I thought how fantastic it would be if these works could somehow be swapped and I could experience a new feeling, such as what I experienced when I saw the artworks for the first time,’ says the Joburg-born art collector-cum-dealer.
The launch of Image Swing
This line of thought proved to be the catalyst for an art-leasing business intended to offer a constant rotation of new art to its clientele.
It has taken time for Lazarus to recover – he experienced a severe loss of motor skills, speech and sensation and it is an ongoing struggle for him to reclaim a normal life. However, the establishment of Image Swing, an art-leasing company focused on promoting and exposing Americans to contemporary art from the African continent, presented a meaningful pursuit that helped make sense of the traumatic turn his life had taken.
By establishing Image Swing in Los Angeles, Lazarus feels he is in the ideal setting to promote African contemporary art. Rele Gallery, a Nigerian gallery, has also recently opened up a branch in LA, and the South African artist Simphiwe Ndzube settled there a number of years ago, working through the Nicodim gallery, which also represents African-based artists, Georgina Gratrix and Moffat Takadiwa. Lazarus says he fell in love with the city when he first visited in 2015.
‘LA is a melting pot of culturally enriching opportunities and what better place to promote African art. The American film and entertainment world is located there, providing a large audience who would be interested in leasing artworks for sets and events. It is, of course, a magnet for celebrities, who are often influential collectors with less predictable tastes,’ says Lazarus.
A passion for collecting
Lazarus grew up surrounded by art. His parents collected works by Jim Dine, Marc Chagal and the South Africa’s own master modernist, JH Pierneef. It was when he acquired a work by the Johannesburg-based artist Bambo Sibiya that he says his affection for contemporary African art really took hold.
‘I started making my way into this unknown world of art, attending exhibitions and talks. Collecting works became like an addiction. Every artwork I purchased, always seemed to lead to one more that I couldn’t live without.’
The Image Swing collection
Lazarus built up a large collection quickly, which forms the basis of the works Image Swing offers for leasing and to purchase. Sibiya, the artist that triggered his affinity for contemporary art, is represented strongly in the collection as are South African artists.
There are some unexpected works (abstractions) by the renowned William Kentridge, characteristic ones by Robert Hodgkins as well as those produced by mid-career artists known for their abstract art – Bevan De Wet and Zolile Phetshane. Works by Banele Khoza, and Blessing Ngobeni, who won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award last year, and whose art was offered at Art Basel OVR in September 2020 by the American based Jenkins Johnson gallery, are also included.
Image Swing also boasts one of the largest collections of works by the Congolese painter Zemba Luzamba, who is renowned for his interest in the construction of masculinity in the African context. In line with renewed interest in black portraiture and figurative art, the Image Swing collection includes many works that would be defined as such.
‘Image Swing is closely tapped into established and fresh artistic expression on the African continent. Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that their collection boasts African artists pushing the limits of the portraiture genre,’ observed Mary Corrigall in Art Africa.
Through Image Swing Lazarus intends to provide a platform to promote emerging African artists in the US, where there has been heightened interest in art from the African continent following the rise of the #blacklivesmatter movement. The Pérez Art Museum in Miami for example, recently renamed an endowment fund for Black art to reflect the wider diaspora.
‘I am passionate about promoting talented African artists, and making sure that people of colour are better represented overall in the art industry. I feel that LA is the best place for me to carry out this vision and change these artists’ lives.’
To find out more about Image Swing or view the collection, visit www.imageswing.com