Alan Walsh is a unique artist who believes that less is more. Ironically, he opened Monaco’s latest art gallery in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic when the Principality definitely offered less tourists.
The humble artist, Alan Walsh was born in the United Kingdom and lived 17 years in Australia before he decided to open the Walsh Gallery Monaco with his wife Emily. This young man is an entrepreneur by heart and he is fully committed to reach out to his dreams.
Alan, as a little boy you grew up in a family where your father worked in motor racing. This is a very different profession from being an artist.
“Indeed, but it formed me. I remember that when I was a little boy my mom finished her work on Friday and we always headed to visit dad. He showed me around the race-tracks. It was during driving to and from the tracks that I learned to draw, Mum would put me in the car with a pad of paper and pens and I would be drawing racing cars and women from her fashion magazines.”
So we can say that your passion for art started already very early.
“When I was small it was more about entertaining myself. However, as I got older and by being dyslexic I had problems in school, especially when it came to English and math. Luckily, I had a great art teacher, Miss Chapman who believed in me. I consider myself truly blessed because she was fantastic and I would not be here if it was not for her.”
Alan realised the magic of creation and he found happiness when he created.
“When I was young, art helped me to dive into my own world. This is when the love started.”
People who find their true callings in their lives can be considered lucky, don’t you think?
“Absolutely. Yet back then I did not think that I will be an artist” – says Alan. – “I always wanted to be a designer, so I started to do work experiences already when I was fourteen. I also went to a two weeks internship as part of my school program.”
What was the biggest value that the internship offered you?
“I remember that I went to an advertising agency and they taught me how to draw characters. With the agency we had to work quickly. It was more about the visual concept rather than the details.”
More like sketches?
“What I learned is to focus on the emotions and not the small details. With figurative art, the aim is to evoke emotions, but too many details might not allow the viewers to connect with the artwork. By using only basic lines, the goal is to allow the viewers to find their inner emotions. I use the same technique and principles even nowadays with my art” – says Alan.
Once Alan finished his studies he got a job in an advertising agency in England, and worked there until 2004. He was so successful that he already started to look to buy his own house. This was when Alan’s father gave him a piece of advice.
“I remember that my dad told me that I am too young and he wanted me to travel around a bit to see the world before I settle down. This was a great advice, especially for an artist who lives from inspirations.”
In 2004, Alan decided to travel to Australia.
“It was such an uplifting trip for me. When I left England it was snowing and I arrived in the lovely summer of Australia.”
Alan worked in the advertising industry in Sydney until 2010, but he felt that he needed some change.
“The design world can be very political, and as I climbed the ranks the more involved I became with the daily meetings. I quickly realised that I was spending more time in the meetings than creating designs.”
As for many artists, creation is not limited to the working hours. Over the years Alan created a lot of illustrations in his spare time. Utilizing these artworks and his childhood memories he decided to put on his first exhibition in Sydney. The topic was all about his childhood inspirations involving motor racing and the French Riviera.
How did this exhibition form your career?
“It definitely opened my eyes. The exhibition was successful but I also noticed that I need to offer something for the local community. Therefore my next exhibition was focusing more on topics related to Australia, including illustrations on Sydney, The Opera house and the beach. That exhibition was fantastic and later on, I resigned from my day job and haven’t looked back ever since.”
Did you ever learn art on a professional level?
“I went to art college, but I left it because I was offered a junior illustration job at an agency in Leeds. Art college was helpful to teach me the basics but as a 17 year old kid I didn’t have the focus I have now. I had to mature a lot.”
Why did you leave the branding world?
“I am still active in this field and I do a lot of billboard campaigns mainly in the UK and Australia. Since leaving the agency world, I worked with major brands such as Coca-Cola, Grey Goose Vodka, Bombay Sapphire, Artisan Drinks and many others. Actually, by leaving the agency world I benefited more.”
Alan also spent a year in Los Angeles, United States before returning to Australia and in 2015, Alan committed himself to the first big step by opening his first art gallery.
“Things were good but I needed to be more focused. I had too many distractions and social events.”
A year later Alan met his wife Emily, who completely transformed his life. He stopped visiting bars and going out until late. By the end of 2016, they owned two art galleries, one in Sydney and one in the Bowral, 90 minutes south of Sydney.
“Bowral was a great and authentic choice for my art as there are a lot of older gentlemen residing there who own classic cars. Also, that was the era when I started to work closely with Porsche illustrating and guest speaking.”
So after many successful years and owning two art galleries in Australia, why did you decide to leave everything behind and move to the Principality of Monaco?
“It is funny because the first night I met Emily I told her my dream to live in the French Riviera. Surprisingly Emily has a French background, she speaks some French (which she is working on) and has visited the Riviera many times. This immediately created a bond between us.”
When was your first visit to the French Riviera?
“As an adult it was in 2014 shortly after I’d done an exhibition for the Tour de France. I exhibited there and people loved my art. After that, I wanted to tap into these kind of race-related events.”
Back to the childhood.
“Yes, but the difference is that I was fully aware already as a child that I can’t race in the Monaco Grand Prix. However, dreaming about doing the official posters for the race venue was equal to winning the race. Also, the Principality has a lot of race ad car-related events which definitely attracted me.”
People might think that your career was boosted by your father who had a history in motorsport.
“No not really, Dad got out of top level racing before I finished my school. He did teach me that you have to work hard though, I don’t come from a wealthy family, and nobody has really given me any opportunities in the art world. Everything I have done, I did it by myself.”
Did you experience any hard time being an artist?
“Since I come from a working class family, I had to make many sacrifices in my life. Probably one of the most notable one was when I opened my gallery in Sydney. It was just one of those moments when I had to put everything all in. Because I needed every penny I had to frame illustrations and to pay the rent, I had to sleep in the gallery. It was a period just before I met with Emily” – remembers back Alan. “It was funny because we had some screen-printed t-shirts made for sale and I often used them as my bed. It was part of the dedication I was willing to put to art. One of the sacrifices that led me at the end of the day to the Principality of Monaco.”
After three months of being together, Emily and Alan started to regularly visit the Principality of Monaco. Since they both loved the French Riviera and especially Monaco, they decided to put plans in motions.
“With Emily everything was perfect so I decided to propose to her already in the Christmas of 2016.”
Although they made their decision, they had to plan the relocation, since they had a long-term lease on the galleries in Australia.
“We had a two years lease in the galleries and we wanted to utilise everything, instead of jumping into an overnight move.”
They started to look for properties in the Principality in December 2019. Alan, always knew that he wants his gallery right in the middle of the La Condamine district of Monaco, where all the race events happen.
In January 2020, Emily and Alan signed the business applications, and the gallery construction works started in February.
“I remember that I had to go to England to complete some work. I was shocked when I heard that President Macron announced the curfew. I literally got the last flight out of the UK before the lockdown.”
Alan’s custom-made equipment got stuck in the UK and the Walsh Gallery Monaco was not able to open before July 2020.
“At the beginning, it was really annoying to experience all these delays, especially when you use your savings to create this life-altering new journey. Luckily, things were really picking up since July despite the various international travel bans.”
Do you think the buyers in Monaco are different than the ones in Sydney?
“Absolutely. Since many people are not permanently here, it can happen that a person who was interested in an illustration is coming back to Monaco only in 6 months. In Australia, and I guess every place where people are permanently in the city, the decisions are much quicker. It was a strange thing first, but in Monaco, it takes more time for them to come back. One of the take-aways I had from last year is that we need to focus on the long-term.”
The other challenge for art galleries all over Monaco is that the decision is often not made by the private buyers. It is a typical process in Monaco that prospective clients bring along their trusted interior designers. So for local art galleries, it is highly important to get familiar with the interior designers. Building up various relations takes time.
How do you differentiate yourself in Monaco to attract new people?
“2021 will be all about positivity. I will work with bright colours to celebrate the new and to compensate all the negativity of 2020. We also plan some big exhibitions and various events throughout the year.”
Talking about colours, what are your favourite ones?
“My favourite colour at the moment is the vermilion, but I also use a lot of navy blue and bright yellow. For me, yellow is a happy colour. I always loved very clean things, uplifting colours. The minimalism and the cleanliness are good combinations for me. It also helps to clear the mind, since the faces I draw are not filled with negativity as the world today.”
Alan also offers a unique experience in Monaco as he often does live painting performances in his gallery. Is it easy for you to create when there is a crowd?
“No. It is a necessary promotion to bring in people and to bring my art closer to them. However, I always try to isolate my mind. When I paint, I try to go to a different world to escape from everybody to make that moment of painting. For this reason, I usually wear my big headphones to eliminate the distraction.”
And do you listen to music that inspires you?
“I think many artists use music as a tool to get into the right mood. Selecting the right music depends on the part of the process I am in. For example, I listen to funk, soul and jazz music for uplifting artwork. When I paint a London environment, I like to listen to urban music with lots of guitar in it” – smiles Alan. – “Most of my illustrations reflect elegance and to capture an elegant figure I prefer the sounds of the piano. When I paint, I always try to put myself in the environment of the character. For example, when I paint an elegant lady, I imagine her to be in a beautiful restaurant where the melody of the piano provides the right ambience.”
It is amazing to see that artists can go into a meditative state when they create. This is why it is interesting to experience how you close out the crowd around you during those open days.
“I tried to isolate myself. I tried to go to a different world to escape from everybody to make that moment of painting. When I am painting, I try to have the music as peaceful as possible. Just to slow down and zone out everything and not to rush things. When you paint sometimes you have to be as patient as possible.”
Tell us about your screen-prints. How is it different from a standard print?
“It is a very good question. Many people confuse my art with digital prints which is normal for those who are not in the art world” – starts Alan. – “The biggest difference is the invested time into the process. Printing out something is a 30sec, one-click process that everyone can do. However, for me to produce a single illustration often takes a week because screen-printing is always handmade by real painting.”
So the open days help you to show people the process, right?
“Absolutely. Normally screen-prints are done layer by layer. You start with the lightest colour and every colour takes another day. Some illustrations also take a week to produce, even if they look simple. Also one should never forget the invested time to perfect it and all the past efforts and sketchbooks that led to the perfection. Experience events are good because when people see me doing it, they understand how accurate it needs to be. Eventually, people will appreciate that screen-print is a craft. And they appreciate the process.”
This reminds us of an old Chinese story from the book “Tales from Old China” by Isabelle C. Chang.
There was once a king who loved the graceful curves of the rooster. He asked the court artist to paint a picture of a rooster for him. For one year he waited and still this order was not fulfilled. In a rage, he stomped into the studio and demanded to see the artist.
Quickly the artist brought out paper, paint, and brush. In five minutes a perfect picture of a rooster emerged from her skillful brush. The king turned purple with anger, saying, “If you can paint a perfect picture of a rooster in five minutes, why did you keep me waiting for over a year?”
“Come with me,” begged the artist. She led the king to her storage room. Paper was piled from the floor to the ceiling. On every sheet was a painting of a rooster.
“Your Majesty,” explained the artist, “it took me more than one year to learn how to paint a perfect rooster in five minutes.”
Screen painting was made famous by Andy Warhol, who is one of the main idol of Alan next to the fashion illustrator René Gruau.
“I love the Dior campaigns made by René Gruau. There is a mesmerizing beauty in their simplicity. I am very old school and I love those illustrations and I love billboard. For me, an original billboard is true art. I would choose it millions of times over animations and videos.”
Do you find inspiration in Monaco as well?
“Not necessarily in art, more in the oculars of the surrounding, including the colour palette of the architecture and nature. I love the colours of the buildings in combination with the blue skies.”
Do you often walk around the sculptures all over Monaco?
“My usual escape in the morning is with our dog, Alfred. I often wake up around 5:30 am and we walk out to the lighthouse of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. It is so tranquil and the colours of the sky change seconds by seconds. These walks and the beauty of the nature is something that kept me positive through all the challenges of 2020.”
You also invest a large amount in frames for your illustrations. Why is that important for you?
“For many artists the process stops when the painting is done. However, I believe that a frame keeps together the artwork. For this reason, selecting the right frame is very important for me. My wife is always shocked on the amount we spend on the frames. It is really about the environment. My attention to detail is far more than it is for most of the artists, and the frame has to be the best handmade frame, because the frame also represents me and my artwork.”
How were you and your art influenced during your first year in Monaco?
“Our gallery has been able to be open despite Covid which was really great. However, I had to realise that Monaco has an entirely different market than any other I worked before.”
How come Alan?
“With screen-prints artists typically create small series, like a limited edition of five pieces. In the UK or Australia, people love these limited series because they accept that it reduces the price, yet they still have something relatively rare. I also have clients who purchased three copies from the same illustration because they wanted to have the same artwork in their home, holiday house and yacht. In contrast to this, the Monaco market is not so sensitive to the price, but very keen to have unique, original pieces. In Monaco, the one-and-only pieces are far more marketable.”
I noticed that you also offer unique pieces.
“We needed to freshen things up. I had to adapt to the local specialities. Also, the large pieces help to differentiate my paintings from the screen-prints. It is funny because I found the right way and change to uniqueness, which took me back to the celebration of hand painting. Painting offers a bit more freedom while screen-printing is more technical.”
What do you think, what is the reason behind Monaco’s eagerness towards unique artworks?
“I believe it is related to the size of the Principality. When you have a range of 25 pieces for Australia, it is still rare. When you have a range of 25 pieces of an illustration in Monaco it simply looses the attraction. Monaco feels like a tiny village, where people just want one-offs.”
It cannot go unnoticed that since your arrival in Monaco, many other establishments are using very similar campaign images to your illustrations.
“Yes, let’s say politely that those artists took the same inspiration.”
Does it bother you?
“It is unpleasant sometimes when a big client of mine asks why I did a similar campaign to a competitor. In these cases, I had to explain that it is not my work. However, my clients also know and appreciate that my works are far more cleaner, which evokes emotions and communicates better.”
Will we see you in the art fairs in Monaco?
“We have a lot of projects lined up for the first part of the year already. After last year, the gallery is our main focus. However, we would love to be involved if we can.”
Finally, do you believe in returning clients?
“My experience is that everywhere in the world once people bought an artwork from me, they started to collect it again. It is a fantastic feeling for any artist when he/she can sell multiple artworks to a collector. Later on, the more exclusive you are, the more people want your artworks.”