Don’t think for one minute that a pandemic would get in the way of Electric Gallery founder, Jai Francois, who is bringing a new approach to art in Essex
Picture the scene: a pandemic has wiped out your main source of income, you find out your fiancée is expecting, and when you decide to open an art gallery a second lockdown scuppers any kind of grand unveiling. “We kind of just accepted that we’d be at the mercy of lockdowns and it was just an adapt and overcome moment for us,” says Jai Francois calmly.
Such a response won’t come as a surprise to those who know the Electric Gallery founder well. An owner of a Banksy at 15, named in Music Week’s “30 Under 30” list at the age of 25, birthed his own private art curation and consultancy business… Jai Francois does not hang around when something piques his interest.
Although art hasn’t always been his main focus, it’s something that has always bubbled away in the background. “I’ve always had an appreciation for an image that looked good, but I didn’t start collecting art seriously until I was in my mid-20s,” he says. What about the Banksy? “My dad was a graphic designer and on the zeitgeist of cool. He happened to take me to ‘Santa’s Ghetto’ back in 2003, which was a Banksy pop-up shop event in Kingly Court, just off Carnaby Street. This was a time before the name Banksy really meant anything outside of street art fanatics, where you could pick up prints for a few hundred pounds, not the hundreds of thousands similar now go for.”
It suggests he always had the eye for good artwork, to which he responds: “This is the beauty of art, what’s a good eye for it? Art is solely based on your personal opinion. The majority of the art I like is modern contemporary and that’s what I buy and sell. I guess fans of contemporary art will say I’ve got a good eye for the next breakout artist, but I just go with my gut and buy what I love.”
During a successful stint working in the music industry, Francois continued to buy art and soon had amassed quite the collection. “I reached a point where if I wanted anything new I had to make space,” he laughs. “So I started selling on early pieces of art I’d purchased. I made good returns on lots of the pieces and started getting approached by friends and colleagues asking if I could help them buy some art, which I did, and from there things just kind of snowballed.”
The result was By Francois, which since 2018 has helped curate art collections for high net worth individuals, celebrities, businesses and even the occasional Premier League footballer. Soon, his attention turned to his own gallery. “I’d wanted to open an affordable art gallery for a couple of years, but had talked myself out of it,” he explains. “But then the pandemic hit, the live music sector – where I made most of my living – evaporated overnight, my fiancée and I found out we were having a baby, so suddenly it was a real now or never moment. And I decided it was now.”
So, in December 2020, Electric Gallery opened in South Woodford. “My fiancée and I moved here a few years ago and I’ve seen the demographic of the area changing,” he says on the location. “I felt the local residents would really embrace the opening of a gallery and so far they have. There’s nothing like us for miles and a lot of creative minded residents have all showed us a lot of love since we opened – albeit a brief opening.”
Lockdown hasn’t stopped Francois and the Electric Gallery. Their online presence has seen the business respond well – “We were thrown in at the deepest of deep ends and subsequently learned to swim very fast,” Jai reflects – so we all wait with bated breath about what happens next. “We will hopefully be able to start doing shows again, print releases, more exhibitions, talks with artists and much more,” Jai says on the future. “I even want to start doing live screen printing in the gallery so you can print with the artist, a real first for the area.” There’s no doubting good things are just around the corner.