Introducing our latest Duke & Dexter FACEs, Gallery owners Johnny Burt and Joe Kennedy. Fuelled by passion and a belief in their mission, they founded the Unit in Soho in 2013 which showcases new and exciting artistic talent.
Name: Joe and Johnny
Age: Both 26
What did you do before The Unit?
Joe: We both came out of different unis and I went to Sydney to do advertising and branding. I got a great internship at Leo Burnett and stayed on as a junior planner doing brand strategy, I was there for a year and then came back with lots of energy.
Johnny: I was pursuing my art career When Joe came back, we teamed together and started a gallery. Our first one was in Chiswick and was meant to only last for one month but we stayed for 6 months. We had an idea to build a brand and the brand then became bigger then the space, so we moved onto our next gallery in Covent Garden.
How has your life changed since (profession)?
We don’t get much sleep. Its 24/7, we always have responsibilities, especially as The Unit grows but it’s great to have control over your own destiny. The initial gallery was a test to see if we could do it and the business has grown quickly in a short space of time. We’re still pinching ourselves!
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Being very naïve helped us greatly, we were just fuelled by passion and belief in what we were doing. Without that belief none of this would have happened- if you believe in what you are doing then you will work hard to make it happen. Having a bit of blind ambition is the most important thing, even if the idea isn’t amazing it will still become something.
What pointers do you have for people looking to get into the same industry?
Joe: We always joke about this and say don’t get into the art world! We started what we are doing because we didn’t like that world and we wanted to change it. We wanted to make it more democratic and give new, talented artists a platform and more opportunity. Trust your gut and believe your vision. Don’t pander to the market or what others want you to do as you will lose your identity.
Johnny: Our passion was a reaction to something that frustrated us. I had experienced it first hand when I was focusing on my art quite seriously. I was always hitting a wall with my art – unless you know people in the industry you don’t have much of platform. We asked ourselves, how do we go about this? This is how we created our brand. It is the antithesis of what the industry usually is – insular, excluding and elitist. We’ve tried to create something that is the opposite of that.
Talk me through your style?
Our style is usually laid back but recently, as our clients have got bigger, we have had to start dressing a bit smarter – or at least not wear hoodies!
Favourite spot in London (café, bar, restaurant)?
Century Club in Soho. We’re always in the Grouch – it has become our hangout.
How do you spend your down-time?
We don’t have much down time – that’s one of the things we have had to sacrifice. We’ve just taken on a few senior recruits so hopefully that will lift the pressure a bit. But currently in our free time we try to get to the gym and see family and friends. Simple pleasures.
If you hadn’t become gallery owners you’d be…
Johnny: I’d like to be a footballer!
Joe: I’d probably still be in advertising. We’ve always wanted to go into business together, since we were at school. I think we would have probably ended up doing something together, regardless of what it was. We also chat about other ideas that we’d like to do together along the lines of digital and social content.
What’s next for you?
We’re looking for opportunities overseas – Beirut, Dubai, LA, NYC, Chicago. World domination! We are focusing on fostering our artists, making sure they are developing properly and getting new artists on board.
Johnny and Joe wear Stormtrooper and Simba Black. Shop the collection now >