The Left Bankers are not so much an art movement as a social phenomenon, not so much something invented as stumbled across; not a group, but a series of individuals unknowingly connected by shared experience, ambition and ability, both artistic and practical.
I first coined the name ‘Left Bankers’ late in 2010 after becoming aware of a number of artists who had exchanged life in the City of London for a more creative direction – but in doing so they were employing the skills and contacts they had made in the City to develop their art, further their own objectives and create new opportunities for others.
In fact, their number also includes people who have not left the City of London, but who have nevertheless already answered the call to follow their creative urge and have been able to realise their artistic ambitions. What is particularly interesting about them is how the specialist skills and talents that brought them City success now inform their art directly.
Take Jonty Hurwitz, for instance, who creates astonishing and prize-winning anamorphic sculptures using billions of algorithmic calculations as his ‘paintbrush’. It’s the same process he employs in developing the risk engine for assessing loan calculations in his day job as CTO of Wonga, an online finance company backed by Balderton Capital.
Meanwhile, Nasser Azam, a former COO at Merrill Lynch and now a high profile contemporary artist, has bought the assets of the failed Morris Singer Foundry in Braintree, Essex – which cast the fountain and two of the lions in Trafalgar Square – and created Zahra Modern Art Foundries, a business that supports contemporary monumental sculpture. In the process, he is preserving the jobs of skilled foundry workers who would otherwise be unemployed.
Like Nasser Azam, both Bruce Denny (once a City IT specialist) and Thomas Ostenberg (a former vice-president at Citibank in Spain and Brazil), have found quick success and recognition as artists worthy of major public and international display.
While Azam’s monumental sculpture The Dance, which was displayed outside the County Hall Gallery where he was artist-in-residence, is now installed outside the Park Plaza by London’s Westminster Bridge, both Ostenberg and Denny have contributed works for Westminster’s City of Sculpture Festival, which will see new works put on display in public spaces throughout the capital in the lead-up to the Olympics.
In Bruce Denny’s case, this has meant taking over the gardens in Soho Square for six months to display half a dozen works. The centrepiece, The Conversion of St Paul, is a life-size bronze of the saint on a rearing horse, the sole sculpture put on display at the invitation of the Dean of St Paul’s to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Wren’s Cathedral in the City when it took pride of place outside St Paul’s in the last few months of 2010.
At a time when bankers have been the target of much envy and opprobrium, it is refreshing to identify a strong creative force that is advancing artistic expression and contributing significantly to helping others along the road to success.
Is it a coincidence that most of those I have identified as Left Bankers are sculptors? I suspect not. There is something about working in three dimensions that seems to push the boundaries of creativity further, and all those I have talked to have a burning desire to find fresh themes and new modes of expression.
Having escaped the business desk and a world that operates largely in the electronic ether, they seem to have more of a hunger than most for the tactile and to express themselves in something strikingly solid.
Bruce Denny: While financially rewarding and socially engaging, Denny felt that his creativity was being stifled by working in the City. He turned to the arts to fill the void, discovering sculpture which has allowed him to truly “express my ideas and desires”.
Thomas Ostenberg: A former international Citibank star who gave up working with figures to work with his fingers instead. Dreaming in bronze is from an edition of 12, and is available for £15,000 from agallery.co.uk
Nasser Azam: A former COO at Merrill Lynch, Azam left the City just in time. He then became artist-in-residence at London’s County Hall for over two years before heading off on a painting expedition in Antarctica. He listens to trance music while he paints.
Jonty Hurwitz: The only one of our quartet who has kept up his day job alongside his City career, Hurwitz’s work is somewhat appropriately a fusion of art and science. The polymath works with sculpture, ink, paint and pencil to create his pieces.
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