If you drive or walk along Akin Olugbade Street in Victoria Island, Lagos, you may not take note of number 282 on that street, yet it houses treasures worth beholding and acquiring.
From a homestore, art café, gallery and studio, Alexis Gallery is worth visiting anytime you are in Victoria Island.
The outfit, which started in 2011 with a small shop, has grown into a one-stop-shop outfit for lovers of beautiful home pieces, quality unwinding, artwork, and recently artists on art residency.
However, credit goes to Patty Chidiac Mastrogiannis who against all odds grew the business from nothing to an enviable gallery it is today. Patty, who is the founder/director of Alexis Gallery, is unarguably an art entrepreneur per excellence and most importantly, a woman who gives all to the arts.
Explaining how the gallery, which she described as a small place with a big heart, started, she says, “Alexis Gallery started in 2011. It started like a joke. It was a small gallery, but very effective. We always had more than eight exhibitions in a year. We are not well talked about or very well seen because we are hidden. But at the same time, we want to be hidden because we want to be able to deal on one-on-one bases with the artists or with the customers”.
Moreover, Patty, a wife and mother, is so passionate about arts that she dedicated her gallery space, and studio to the development of budding Nigerian visual artists. Yet, she goes the extra mile to donate part of the proceeds from her art business to charity.
She has enough to show for the eight years she has been in the business of art. Since opening Alexis Gallery on October 1, 2011, Patty has hosted between 40-50 exhibitions by Nigerian and West African artists. Of course, she often donates her studio and gallery space to the promotion of budding artists. At the moment, she is promoting about 13 Nigerian artists and pushing their works to art lovers and collectors across the country and worldwide.
Reviewing the eight years in the business, she remembers her most incredible exhibition with nostalgia.
“It is always your first love. It is my first exhibition and opening in October 1, 2011 tagged ‘Meet the Artists’, with all my artists including; Ibe Ananaba, Yemike, Uche Edochie and a lot of artists who had one work each. It was fun and we had in attendance about 400 people who were going in and out and the place was bubbling”. For her, that exhibition was the best because it was the opening of Alexis Gallery.
But since then, she has had excellent sellout and well-attended exhibitions.
In 2018, she added artists’ residency to her already burgeoning profile and plethora of exhibitions. The maiden edition of the one-month artist-in-residence programme at the Gallery II, which doubles as a studio for the artists, hosted six artists selected across generational gaps, from emerging to established artists, to build a sustainable relationship that will inspire innovative thinking.
At the end, the artists, which included; Oluwole Omofemi (painter from Ibadan), Samuel Tete-Katchan (sculptor/painter from Ghana), Sunday Effiong Isaac (metal sculptor), Olorunyemi Kolapo Obadiah (painter from Abuja), Oyelusi Olusunkanmi (painter) and Dr. John Oyedemi (painter), were happy to encounter Patty and impacted by her generosity.
Explaining her passion for the arts and commitment to grow the arts, she says, “I am passionate about arts. I have always been an art collector from that time I decided to open this place. I am a philanthropist, I like to help people. I am a giver too. So, helping artists to go up is a passion of mine. Since I like to collect, I opened this place and I started helping people that I thought needed my help, this is how the art came to be. I get even more excited when the artists soar, then I know that I was able to contribute to that success”.
On a visit to the gallery, you will marvel at the quality and volume of artworks. “A lot of artists come to me; especially the young ones and I look for them as well. They reach out to me on Facebook, Instagram among other platforms and I look for a lot of them as well. But I am not into poaching artists from other galleries because I literally started signing on artists, and when artists are signed on, it is good for them, and I do not poach them”.
Instead of poaching the artists, she encourages them to aim higher, further develop their creative ingenuity and excel at global stage. One of such artists, who she says is her best so far since opening shop, is Domnic Zinkpe, a Beninese.
“One artist that has really touched my heart and has really grown and I am so proud of mentioning all the time is Dominic Zimpe, a Beninese. He started giving me works here and we started working in 2011 and today he is the King of Morocco’s favorite. He goes to Morocco at least four times in a year and he spends a month producing there for the king. He has grown to the extent that I supply his works to Bonhams”, she says.
When she promotes artists, all she wants is, “When they become big, they come to me to stay, they recognize the fact that I was there. This is where I am a winner because I am able to negotiate their prices, able sell their works to collectors and I am able to be the person who was able to bring up that artist”.
However, Patty’s philanthropy side is amazing. She has never stopped from giving to charity even during the Ebola crisis and economic recession. “Well I decided to associate my exhibitions with different NGOs and in January we covered cancer, in February we had the Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF) and in March, we did the Down syndrome because as you know, Nigerians are in denial of Down syndrome. The next will be for the blind. We have a whole list of charity to do”, she says.
But the intrigue is that she has lived in Nigeria long enough to become a citizen, though Lebanese.
“I have been in Nigeria for 43 years, I came on January 21, 1975 when I was nine years old, I grew up here, passed through Nigerian schools and was made to kneel in the sun and spread my arms for two to three hours. I wasn’t treated differently”.
Patty, who is a giver and has also taught her daughter how to give, loves every single experience here in Nigeria and notes that, “Nigeria has been good to me for the past 43 years”.
But she will not cease from giving because, “When someone buys a painting from me, part of the proceeds goes to charity and anybody can do that because 10 percent of the proceeds will not make you poorer”, she concludes.