British restaurateur Mark Hix has had a deep passion for art ever since his days working at The Rivington; a time when he lived among local artists who called Shoreditch home some 20 years ago.
This is when he began supporting small art galleries in the East End, too. It was all too natural for Hix to then incorporate artwork into his restaurants.
He adopted this theme with his first solo venture, Hix Oyster & Chop House, in which he included a handful of permanent art fixtures subtly popped on to the walls.
There have been many pieces on display down the years across numerous eateries, but it was the now iconic Damien Hirst installation – Cock & Bull – in Tramshed that really put Hix on the artworld radar. And it was done so in a casual manner to boot.
Hix said: “I thought the space needed something big in the middle, so I messaged Damien and asked what he could come up with. So he popped in, had a quick look and then sent me a mock-up of what we see now. Then he went to town and made it”.
His connections to the art world, especially being such close friends with Damien Hirst, ensured a simple transaction of creativity. It allowed Tramshed to become one of the most Instagrammed restaurants in the City. Clearly, adding some spectacular artwork into his restaurants has been a smart move.
People aren’t only wanting to eat good food these days. They want a more well-rounded experience – being surrounded by specially commissioned artworks helps with that greatly.
And, because the basement space at Tramshed wasn’t originally licensed for dining, it only made sense to turn it into an exhibition area; namely the Hix Art gallery.
Hix focused on emerging artists from the beginning because “if you’re going to go for mainstream artists you need deep pockets.”
He added: “It’s a whole different ball game so at least if you’re showing unknown artists it is slightly easier, in some ways, to deal with and put shows on.” He humbly goes on to note: “Someone has got to do the whole art thing and support young artists.
“Since I lived in Shoreditch, I have always supported young galleries, so this has kind of carried on from there.”
The gallery has quickly become an important player in the art world, hosting ever-changing exhibitions – changing every six to eight weeks. Here, you can freely walk about and explore the small space and even buy directly from the gallery.
And, for the last few years, they’ve gone further in supporting young and emerging artists through the Hix Art Prize.
Thanks to a robust list of sponsors, they now offer a whopping £10,000 prize to the winner so he or she can hire their own studio (London rent is one of the biggest obstacles for local artists). Winning this prize is a huge deal.
Sophie Harriott and Josh Daniels from the gallery scout out local colleges, encouraging students to submit their work. They then whittle the list down from hundreds of entries, with the help of Hix.
He gives them the freedom to do much of that work but comes in to “look at the stuff they’ve gone to see and the stuff they’re not quite sure about and look to see if they have missed something important”.
The work goes on show for a few months before the winner is announced. A long list of judges decide who gets the illustrious prize. Hix has a few of his friends from the art world within the judging panel, including artists themselves, gallery owners, collectors and creatives. The winner then gets a year to prepare for their own show that will take over the Hix Art Gallery.
There seems to be no end to the lengths Mark Hix and his team will go to generate world class experiences, both in the food and art worlds. So, next time you feast at Tramshed, be sure to head down stairs for a little cultural viewing as well.
32 Rivington Street EC2A 3LX