Footnotes: the emerging artist

Being Valued

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.

(see drawing)

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.


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 Comment

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

Be visible

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.