Russell Tovey and Rob Diament
Talk Art Podcast hosts, actor Russell Tovey and gallerist Robert Diament. Photograph courtesy of Maverick Photo Agency

Art and Soul: In conversation with Russell Tovey and Rob Diament

The co-hosts of the Talk Art podcast on eschewing elitism, the allurement of Scotland, and the role of art in the age of Trump...

We are precisely 7 minutes and 43 seconds into our conversation when Rob Diament, gallerist and co-host of the Talk Art podcast tells me, “Tracey Emin wrote to me last night to say that she’s really proud of what we’re doing. She’s listened to every one of our episodes, and loves that we are making art accessible in a new way.” It is the single coolest name anyone has ever dropped to me, and when I tell him as such it takes less than a second before his co-host, actor Russell Tovey, chimes in with mock churlishness, “She wrote to me, too!”

Emin, it transpires, played a significant role in the genesis of Talk Art. In a meet cute straight out of a Nora Ephron script, Tovey and Diament met a decade ago at a retrospective of the artist’s work and haven’t stopped chatting since. This, Rob says, is the remarkable thing about the podcast and its success, “Our spare time was spent talking and visiting galleries together — now we simply get to take a microphone along with us and share it with other people.” 

As we speak, the duo are fresh off their return from Edinburgh, where they have recorded a podcast miniseries with Bombay Sapphire in celebration of the city’s art festival. It is a place which will always have a “special place in [their] hearts,” Russell tells me (before swiftly apologising for sounding “wanky”) — since it was at the Scottish National Gallery that their paths first crossed. “I think Scotland has a folky feel about it,” he continues, “it feels almost like a mythical place. There’s so much history, but it’s always vibrant.”

“It’s also incredibly friendly!” Rob adds. “You can walk into any museum or gallery in Scotland and feel really welcomed and able to ask any questions. It’s totally not elitist, which is what we love. We are all about making people realise that they can have access to art — even if they only go and look at one thing in a museum, it’s so important!”

Talk Art Podcast hosts, actor Russell Tovey and gallerist Robert Diament. Photograph courtesy of Maverick Photo Agency

It is this unwavering dedication to making the discussion of art less alienating which can account for the podcast’s roaring success and seriously high-brow roster of guests (everyone from Lena Dunham to Sadie Coles have shared their artistic influences and inspirations on the show). ‘Accessibility’ is the word repeated most frequently in our conversation, and the pair are determined to push back against the narrative that art, or perhaps more accurately, artistic understanding, is a privilege reserved for an elite few. “Everyone will have connected with art in some way,” insists Russell. “Even something as simple as a painting you remember being hung on your classroom wall. And there is so much art that is in the public’s peripheral vision — you might not even be taking it in.”

He is also keen to stress that neither he nor Rob had much in the way of a formal artistic education. “We are both self-taught when it comes to art history. People don’t need to have that learning to appreciate art, and taste is something so innate and personal.” Rob agrees, “It really is like a language. The more you look, the more there is to learn — but I don’t think people need to feel scared of it, it’s something that will naturally happen. The more you go to see, the more you will understand and appreciate other work. It’s an endless journey!”

It is certainly true that the pair have an infectious knack for bringing their passion to life for the listener. As we talk, I am reminded of those rare, brilliant school teachers who manage to inspire a disengaged classroom of teenagers that what they are sharing is not only important but incredibly exciting — just by virtue of their enthusiasm. 

Rob’s description of Alfredo Jarr’s pop-up I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On performances alone is enough to have me checking last minute train prices to Edinburgh. “I was really touched by the simplicity of the artwork,” he says of Jarr’s work. “It’s this idea that even though we are going into very uncertain political times, we do all have an optimism within us, and there is a way of continuing.” Russell sounds his agreement, “It’s incredibly timely for now. Even though there is shit going on in the world, you still get up, you still go down to the pub, you still have a laugh.” 

I ask the pair if they are optimistic for the future of art, given the political climate we are living through, and the challenges it presents to young artists. Their response is characteristically sanguine. “I think culture is going to keep going,” says Russell, “the only thing that keeps a connect through times of difficulty is culture. Trump coming into power was a horrific thing to happen, but it’s going to push culture. In times of political upheaval and anger, really amazing art is created because that is the voice of the people.” Rob’s sentiments overlap his friend’s, “art is what helps people hold onto optimism and hope — it really does reflect the time that we are in, but it can also work to change them.”

The Talk Art – Edinburgh Art Festival mini-series with Bombay Sapphire is available on the Talk Art feed now. (Part 1 available here ; Part 2 available here.)

Further Reading