Hollywood, it is the place where people go to make their dreams come true. Robert Burt did the opposite thing, he left Hollywood for Barcelona in pursuit of his dream. Things maybe didn’t end up the way he expected, but by having one of the coolest urban art galleries around, he can’t complain.
‘’I give street artists a chance to sell their work.’’
Passionate. That’s the best way to describe the way Robert talks about the urban art in his Base Elements Gallery.
‘’Ha, but that looks easier than you think,’’ says Robert with a smile.
‘’I have history of working as a promoter for an underground club, so I know how to sell stuff, but yes also, even after twelve years of having this gallery, I still love it. I know that you won’t go anywhere if you’re not optimistic. I see a lot of foreigners coming to Barcelona to set up a gallery, a boutique or some other cultural stuff, but after one or two years, they lose their interest and quit., not me. I think I’m a different kind of character. A big sell can still gives me so much energy, the only thing is that it sometimes hard to realize that there is no other possibility for me. This is my life project and I’m dedicated to make this work, but that’s also because I have no other option. Even if I wanted to give up on the gallery, it would be impossible for me to find another job. My Spanish and Catalan are okay, but not perfect and that’s always one of the first requirements. ’’
Robert loves his gallery, but it wasn’t the dream he left Hollywood for. He came to Barcelona with a clear vision about a ‘new life’.
‘’I really came to Barcelona to build up something new. I met a Catalan girl back in LA who I fell in love with. I wanted to start a family with her in Barcelona, but I also came for my dream to be a ceramic artist. Back in Los Angeles I was a ceramic artist as well, but it wasn’t enough to live from. To buy food and stuff I needed to paint houses and I also had my own gallery in LA. Soon I realized that in Barcelona I couldn’t be only a ceramic artist either, so I decided that I wanted to open my own gallery again. To sell my own art, but also to bring in my friends and the other good artists I knew. Street artists make their paintings for free, but in this way I can give them a change to also sell their art as well and make some money out of it,’’ tells Robert. He is quiet for a moment and then goes on:
‘’But to be honest; it sounds more romantic than it is. Yes, we can do what we love and make money out of it but still…I opened a gallery just on an artist budget. Nowadays I still work on an artist budget and that really makes it hard sometimes.’’
As you read before, Robert also had his own gallery in LA. But what’s the difference between the gallery he had in LA, and the one in Barcelona?
‘’The one in LA was way more underground,’’ explains Robert.
‘’In this gallery I have a credit card machine and a computer, and there I had nothing except the art, but there are also similarities. I did that on purpose because I tried to bring the vibe I had in California to this gallery here. My galleries are not just a place to hang up art, but also a studio for myself and other artists to work, and a place to socialize. One of the guys I work with is Pagaro. He makes art out of trash. He’s unique in what he does and also quite famous, because he makes art out of trash, it’s always gone in one day. In my gallery he gets a change to work on ‘long term pieces’ that I can sell in my gallery.’’
The culture behind the art
Besides that Robert wants to have a place where street artist can work on their pieces and sell them as well, his goal has always been to teach people more about art.
‘’There’s always a story behind the paintings I sell, and I want my customers to know that. My artists are not 20 years old who made a nice random painting. All the paintings are from mature artists they have their own story, and their own style. People need to know that, if they want to buy my art.’’
Because of Robert’s vision to teach people more about the special street art culture Barcelona has to offer, he created the urban art tours.
‘’Street art in Barcelona is different than in other big cities. We also had street art in LA, but this is a whole other vibe. Behind the pieces you’ll find on the streets is a whole culture. Every street artist in Barcelona has their own style, their own artist name, their own marks and their own place in ‘the group’. The street art in Barcelona is so much more interesting if you know the story behind it.‘’
The tours are for free, but according to Robert it’s a nice way to show people the gallery.
‘’We always end our tours in the gallery, so in this way people see our gallery in another context. They will appreciate it more because they know the background of these artists.’’
But the question is, is Robert also part of this street culture?
‘’Well, sort of,’’ he says after a few minutes of thinking.
‘’I think it takes you more than 10 years to be really part of this group. Especially when you’re not that young anymore and not from here it’s harder to ‘get in’. Also, I’m the owner of the gallery, but I don’t go ‘out there’ myself to paint on the streets. I have a family, and I need to be here in the gallery. That also makes a difference. But I found the artists for my gallery easier than I thought. They started to come to me, when they heard I opened a gallery. I guess because they realized that in this way they could make some money out of the things they always loved to do. So in one way you could say I sort of created my own scene.’’