“Art is definitely my career,” says James Ryan, founder of the first NFT ‘in real life’ (IRL) gallery in London – Quantus Gallery – which opened in February.
He knows this to be true as he has explored several careers already since leaving school at the tender age of 15. He was not academic and just keen to start working. He also reckons he may have ADHD which would explain his inability to concentrate on just one thing – an attribute that nicely fits the fast-paced world of NFT art.
His earlier career covered working at Lloyds; his first job after leaving school. “I think perhaps they liked my energy,” he says. But he swiftly moved to travel in Europe and then sales in South Africa. Both taught him a lot about himself.
‘The travel gig showed me both I had the travel bug, but also I could sell. I was selling holidays to young people but then cultural experiences to an older traveller demographic. I found I really liked people and that helped sales.”
The experience in South Africa was in the enterprise mining world and he also got to see a luxury lifestyle. When he returned to London, he went into luxury goods which he enjoyed until the downside of robberies prevalent in London at the time, circa 2015. Indeed, his first deal was the subject of a robbery.
“I was feeling really dispirited about this project when a friend said why not look at art.” This out of the blue comment stopped Ryan in his tracks.
Ryan went to meet a London artist Finn Stone. Stone is now a well-known artist, with his trademark paintings made from paintbrushes.
“I just connected. This man had an energy and a purpose, I knew instantly I wanted to work with him.”
So while Ryan had no art training, he had an eye, and an appreciation for the artist. An innate ability to connect with the artist first, and the art as a result. He also knows he could help artists with the grinding sales and marketing. He’s like a modern art-sensei.
“I just knew I could put together a team to support any artist – let the artist do the art and we can do the sales.”
In 2019, in the middle of the lockdown, Ryan purchased his first gallery. It was formerly an interior designer premises, but he refurbished it with specialist lighting and employed a specialist team to advise him on how to hang the art. Overnight, he had become a gallery owner. His idea was to promote independent contemporary art talent through creative digital innovation. In less than two years, the project turned into a thriving independent art advisory service and exhibition space called Grove Square Gallery. He spotted a gap in the market for promoting new art talent, engaging with consumers through digital activations, sourcing rare pieces and offering a consultation service for collectors.
Big names such as Stony (Antonio Russo) – the 57-year-old international street artist who documents his life in art – are attached to the gallery. Stony is currently battling and documenting his terminal cancer and hoping to raise funds for charity in his last planned exhibition in Grove Square Gallery.
At the same time Ryan began to look at the NFT world. He has been aware of Bitcoin since 2017 but initially dismissed it.
“My background in luxury goods meant I liked physical stuff. I was stubborn at the start.”
His co founder in Quantus, Josh Sandhu, had been all in NFTs for some time. So much so, he paid for his house in profits made from flipping NFTs in 2021.
With such results under his nose, Sandhu made it hard for Ryan to ignore the booming sector. Making a conscious decision to keep both galleries independent, Ryan began to explore the rabbit hole. The more he looked, the more he liked. Currently there are six artists attached to Quantus displayed on screens along the wall.
He applies the same logic to his NFT artists as he does to his fine art ones.
“Artists, whether NFT or Fine Art, need to be allowed to do their thing. We can help as advisors, socials, marketing and sales. But it’s not just our artists, we want to do a big education thing on NFTs whether you are selling or collecting.”
Quantus Gallery operates an open door policy, people are encouraged to come and look around, and ask questions. “It’s not a stuffy atmosphere like some more traditional galleries.”
There are lots of plans fermenting at Quantus including working with well known DJs, OG crypto artists, and new emerging artists.
“This space plays into the energy I have – I like whacky, new emerging, exploratory. I also like the vibe where anyone can be an artist, be a collector, or just come and have a look. You don’t need to have studied art for years, you can just have the passion.”
Ryan believes you have to have your own house in order before you can help others. For the first time in his career, he knows he is firmly in the right place.
“I moved my sales and marketing team to this location – this is where my energy lives.”
To find out more about Quantus Gallery, visit https://www.quantusgallery.com/