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By: Annabel Tilley
What it is to be an 'emerging artist' trying to establish a practice today ... and, what is an emerging artist, anyway?
# 6 [21 July 2010]
Footnotes: the emerging artist
1. On Tuesday I went to see the Francis Alys exhibition at the Tate Modern, and it was all I hoped for, and more. Thoughtful, provocative, intelligent, and both funny and moving in places. How often does one spend two hours sitting in the dark, in an art gallery [rather than a cinema] on various leather sofas, laughing-out-loud with people you don’t know and enjoying every moment? For that instant this disparate group of strangers were connected by art. So glad Francis decided to forgo his other love, architecture, and give art a go, and with mad ideas like attempting ‘to move mountains with faith’, or creating a continuous green line for miles and miles from a dripping paint-tin in a contentious middle-eastern hot-spot, Francis Alys really does have the courage of his convictions.
2. I’m off on holiday this week, to France to the seaside town of Etretat in Normandy, where the writer, Maupasant lived and wrote, and Monet and other nineteenth century French artists, came to paint the dramatic arches and needles that make up that part of the French coastline..
3. What will I be reading – all things French, I think:
The Secret Life of France by Lucy Wadham, an anecdotal story of the shock of marrying into the French culture.
On Drawing by John Berger
Mastering The Art of French Cookery by Julia Child
And watching the related film:
Julie & Julia with Maryl Streep, a recent film related to cooking oneself to happiness and starting a Cordon Bleu-type cookery school in Paris in the nineteen-sixties.
Inspiration, I hope, for my own cooking, writing, drawing and, of course, emerging.
# 5 [21 July 2010]
Footnotes: the emerging artist
1. I know it is an uncool subject, and no-one wants to admit it. However, it is the season to be rejected – due to the almost unseemly number of Opens one can now apply to. Thus the emails appear with the words: We are sorry to inform you, on this occasion …… etc’. They are then followed by the inevitable: ‘But please do try again next year …. [the cash-register of the inevitability of hope, and their competition-fee sustainable-funding possibilities, ringing in your ears].
However, I have to announce that this week 4I of us really did nearly make it to being ‘International, ‘Emerging’ and ‘Contemporary’ all in one go!
But sadly, after being shortlisted from 400, myself and twenty others were tossed onto the open slush-pile with the encouraging and soothing words: ‘this in no way should reflect or discourage you from submitting to other open calls planned for the near future.’ [Further rings on the cash register of future project funding, and not-yet dashed hopes]
To add insult to injury, they sent me the email three times, so soon after I had read email 1, I received email 2, and fleetingly, tried to suppress the hopeful thought, that it was all a mistake and 21 artists had been chosen afterall.
Of course, all hopes were dashed … until I received email 3 …..
2. Last week, I ventured to a Peer Session with a group of ex-Goldsmith students at The Woodmill. [http://www.woodmill.org/]
Peer Sessions was started by artist, Kate Pickering. [http://docs.google.com/View?id=dc9fj92c_158g9jz4thc.] [http://www.kate-pickering.com]
It was really enjoyable to be part of a discussion on contemporary practice. An American artist gave a performance piece based on her beloved collection of guns, extra large pink cardboard replicas, and a miniature paper kalasnikov. It was clever, witty and poignant.
However, parts of the Woodmill building, were like entering a post-nuclear strike area. The 70’s film Towering Inferno came to mind. What must once have been an immaculate but soul-less 1970's office block with matching sofas, desks and cheese plants, has now become a student-like trashed studio complex with little or no light, wires hanging down from dislodged ceiling partitions and, groups of old domestic sofas, rescued from tips, in the communal areas. It had a strange, rather eccentric but disturbing atmosphere, rather like walking through the set of the grim, ominous Tarkovsky film: Stalker, but minus the knee-high water! However, I did also spy small, neat studios full of productive-looking cavases and drawings, complete with the scent of oil paint. I also got lost and, on trying to make my escape, had to leave through a door clearly marked: fire escape, and I set off the fire alarm!
I really enjoyed the session, and hope to show some work myself in the autumn … if they’ll have me back.
3. I am really pleased that as part of the Deptford X Fringe events in September, I will creating a drawing installation at The Old Police Station, Deptford, entitled: Drawing the likeness of brick ..... More about that soon. http://www.deptfordx.webeden.co.uk/
The myth of being discovered
4. Two artist-lifers [artists who have been artists all their life] came to stay this weekend, and they said: 'Just keep making the work, that way, when you are discovered, you'll have lots to show'. That made me think about when is it exactly, we finally give up on the myth about 'being discovered'. Never, I suspect, otherwise what would get you out of bed - just making the work ? Perhaps that’s the sign of a real artist, no thought beyond creating the work itself. In which case, I'm a fake .... as I am always longing to see my work in the white cube space of a gallery, with journalists thronging to interview me ....... and in that dream, I speak so effortlessly and articulately about my work, it just trips off the tongue!
And does the myth of ‘being discovered’ go hand-hand with emerging, or are you discovered before you emerge?
# 4 [7 July 2010]
Footnotes: the emerging artist
Coming full Circle
1. In my twenties I worked in the City, and I had the super 'glam' role of promoting a leading British container shipping company. I wined and dined top shipping journalists and persuaded them to dedicate decent column inches to the cause. Meanwhile, my friends went to art school and university and became artists, filmmakers, and journalists, and I continued to smile - so much my (PR) face cracked.
2. I didn't even know what a shipping container was, when I first started. However, back in the late sixties and seventies, container shipping revolutionised the way cargo was shipped and did away with the corruption, smuggling and pilfering, by providing a secure and efficient way of shipping goods round the world - until, later, of course, when criminal gangs begun to ship people.
Last week, a new gallery called: 'cartel' opened in a swankily chocolate-brown-painted container at The Old Police Station in New Cross. Well I never ..... The containers also function as artists studios.
# 3 [25 June 2010]
Footnotes: the emerging artist
1. This morning five beautiful catalogues arrived for RE:animate, the oriel davies open 2010, and an exhibition I have work in. It's fantastic to be part of something where the artist really feels valued.
So often, galleries forget, or just don't bother, to put the artist's name on the private view card, let alone take the time and trouble (and funding application!) to produce a permanent record of the exhibition, like a catalogue. Even a PV card with, an artist's name on it, is a great piece of publicity for both parties but a catalogue is wonderful, and being given five copies, some of which one can be used to promote the work, is a great bonus, and very generous. Artists, so often give their time and work free, so it is great to have this appreciated and rewarded. Alex Boyd, curator at Oriel Davies, should be congratulated on the time and effort it must have taken to produce such a great catalogue. We are all winners!
The RE:animate private view at the Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown, Powys, takes place tomorrow night, 7-9pm.
2. As an artist, one is always so hungry for feedback, and I find, the smallest amount of praise helps me to look at that particular piece of work in a new context. In a recent email from oriel davies, Alex Boyd said: 'I love your work by the way!' And, coming at a moment when I was thinking, is it time to move on, set me off making a whole new set of drawings inspired by the original oriel davies piece.
3. In fact, over the past year, a new body of work has emerged entitled: The Fritzl Drawings, which all stems from one newspaper photograph of the Fritzl family home. By concentrating on one image, and making a whole series of images from it, I found a new freedom, a world within a world.
4. This has been a great couple of weeks, as through a chance encounter of leaving my card at Core Gallery, I am one of three artists who have been invited to lead an experimental drawing workshop in September being organised by Rosalind Davis & Elisabeth Murton.
5. Meanwhile, I have been reading Rosalind Davis's a-n blog 'Becoming Part of Something' recording the setting up of the new Core Gallery at Cor Blimey Arts, Deptford. I have found it inspiring, amusing and, actually, quite moving, in terms of what people, working together, can achieve, and how new blood, and a generous, open spirit can be such a positive new force for an already established organisation.
# 2 [24 June 2010]
Footnotes: the emerging artist
Finding Ones Place - How did I get here?
I am wondering how did I get here? In some respects I feel like I haven't had the time or space to think properly for a decade. Ten years ago I was a fine art student, but when I graduated from University of Brighton in 2003 I didn't feel I had the network, confidence or knowledge to go out and become a professional artist. I was disappointed with an expensive art school experience that hadn't prepared me for that first lonely year, when there are no deadlines, or ready-made shows, no fellow-students, or studio bonhomie, just you and your work; a time when self-motivation becomes key, and the formation of a close network of artists and events is essential to keep you going.
After that first difficult year, when I had none of those things, and almost stopped making work I had the opportunity to join a studio group, and that helped me to find a focus. In time gained funding to start a monthly networking & peer critique group, and I began to have some success with open competitions. This was a period of bringing together artists in our region to support each other, to talk about one's work, projects etc. And it was a good experience. However, eventually, I found there was a mis-match between my ambitions to get my work seen nationally, and many of the participants who had little ambition beyond showing locally.
To inspire and encourage our group, I invited a series of mid-career artists from the city to come and give talks. The project was called: Talk About The Work, and the artists who spoke included: Mikey Cuddihy, Rose Wylie, Delaine Le Bas, Gaia Persico, Susan Collis and John Kindness. I found these intensely personal views of an artists daily practice, and their career journey, really useful in understanding the different routes artists can take to have their work shown, and the ways in which they funded their practice. Some artists had gallery representation and were happy with that, while others had, innitially, gone down that road but found it a difficult and demanding experience. Some artists were teaching at art colleges or running workshops. But no two artists seemed to have been on the same journey since leaving art school, yet all shared the same need and passion to make work and determination to have it shown nationally or internationally.
My question: What is an emerging artist? stems from the experience where living in the provinces meant one had to make ones own opportunities, and finding like-minded artists with the same level of ambition who wanted to get their work seen beyond their home town was rare. So in a sense the term: emerging artist was irrelevant to them, but, for me, it was a huge motivating factor. Finding those words in an advertised opportunity was an indication of ambition and opportunities beyond one's home-town and comfort zone.
I graduated seven years ago, but I would only now consider myself an emerging artist because it is only now that I understand the strengths and possibilities for my own practice, and the work itself. It has taken seven years to begin to find my place, my milieu.
People seem to emerge at different times and in very different ways. I would be interested to know what others think about how one should define the term: emerging artist.
# 1 [21 June 2010]
Footnotes: the emerging artist
1. Provinces versus city
My first impressions have been how serious, and openly ambitious artists are in the city. This ‘can-do, must-do’ attitude is good for one’s artistic health, which is not to say that it doesn't exist in the provinces, but Deptford is a vibrant city-based artistic community at an exciting time, where the do-it-yourself culture, started by the the YBAs in the eighties is now influencing a whole new set of graduates keen to build on the East End success but across the river in cheaper, grittier Deptford, South London.
2. Telling rather than showing
At a recent discussion [24 May 2010] focussing on opportunities for emerging artists at The Jerwood Space, David Rayson, head of painting at the Royal College of Art, compared an artist’s career to that of making a film, and how at the beginning, out of necessity, you play all the parts, you are the director, producer and actors. After making the film you have to find someone to show your film. And it is this idea ‘of finding someone to show your film’ that, after making the work itself, is at the forefront of what it is to be an artist, and David Rayson’s analogy sums up beautifully the challenge facing the emerging artist today – how do you get your film shown?
A while ago the phrase ‘professional development’ was on everyone lips, and much funding was aimed at ‘professionally-developing’ artists. However, what the PD schemes often lacked, at the end of them, were the exhibition opportunities, themselves. They were good at helping one to realise a film, but unable or unwilling to show that film.
In retrospect, was professional development not the job of the art schools we all attended? By the time I graduated from the University of Brighton in 2003 we had received only two short lectures on the real world of ‘being an artist’. And, no-one could foretell the isolation of one’s first year out. However, today finding a studio albeit, a cramped shared, just-affordable space, seems to be a priority.
In April, BBC4 screened a two-part television documentary series, Goldsmiths: But Is It Art? This followed a class of Fine Art MA students at Goldsmiths. Gerard Hemsworth, head of the MA course, had two pieces of advice for the graduating students, I paraphrase:
Take responsibility for your work
These might seem rather obvious, but actually, in terms of ‘getting one’s film shown’ they are fundamental to the emerging artist.
3. But what is an emerging artist?
This was the question I posed, when participants in the, aforementioned, Jerwood debate [24 May 2010] were asked to send in questions beforehand. Disappointingly, my question was not on agenda that evening. However, in any debate, is it not important to begin with a definition, so that audience and panel alike are aware of the level of the discussion? I think the chairman, David Cotterrell, had quite a tough job, and it was not helped by the ’me-me-me’ graduate who said he was attending the ‘emerging artist’ debate in the hope panellists could recommend ten commercial galleries he could approach for representation. Oh My God, like Emily Speed*, I was cringing, too. What a selfish question, and after this, the debate was reduced to advice about the bare essentials of ‘how-to-network’. And in fact, there was no debate.
Question: Do you have to be a recent graduate to be an emerging artist?
Who confers the ‘emerging artist’ status and whose aspirations are projected? Is it just a practical term to do with age & experience, student or professional status? Or is the idea of the ‘emerging artist’ a more aspirational term that allows curators and galleries to edit-in or out those who don’t fit. As, indeed, artists, themselves, will do as they begin to assess their own place in the hierarchy of how to emerge.
* See Emily Speed's a-n blog: Getting Paid. Post, 16 June 2010.
Annabel Tilley moved her practice from Hastings, East Sussex to the flourishing new arts community in Deptford, South London in 2009 and hasn't looked back since. She makes drawings and is a passionate supporter of the idea of drawing, and its separation from painting. She is currently drawing her way through the history of English painting in a new series called: Re-drawing, 2012. She is an AIR Council member and the other half of ZeitgeistArtsProjects - an organisation set up with Rosalind Davis to provide professional practice events for artists.