Graphic Grey

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Using our Resources

Last Thursday night I visited the fabulous new pop up exhibition curated by project/ten. Located in the wonderful victorian Morgan Arcade, the exhibition took over some unused solicitors chambers above the arcade.
plus a fabulous fireplace!

The rooms are amazing! Warren-like and filled with dated features, wallpaper and paint tidemarks where walls had been repainted without removal of furniture, they were the perfect backdrop to project/ten's choice selection of contemporary art.

The Gaze (left) and Feeling Too (sold)
Ruth McLees
Even better, though, was the thinking behind the use of this space. For a capital city, Cardiff has very few contemporary art galleries. Permanent exhibition spaces in prime locations are very costly to run and so gallerists either must try to rely on painting sales (and so charging high commission rates to artists) or charge extortionate 'hanging fees' to exhibitors in order to make ends meet. Not great for any of the parties involved, particularly in today's tough financial climate.

So what's the solution?

I've been thinking a lot recently about how best to use the resources already available to us as artists/community in order to realise projects with the minimum of cost. This way there's no expensive outlay or upkeep costs and so projects become sustainable and widely inclusive. Take project/ten's exhibition as an example: the space was already empty and unused and so perfect as a temporary exhibition venue, particularly attractive to the Morgan Arcade as the empty space was filled with attractive art for sale in the run up to Christmas. In addition, project/ten could use the space and then get out before the fallow months of January and February in which galleries make few sales but bills and rent still have to be paid. A wise move.

So here we have it. Arts Councils will have less money to support galleries and exhibitions, but it seems there will still be ways to make such projects and events happen. Think of the unused spaces in your area, the people that you know and the skills they have. What can you offer them in return for their help? All we need is a little resourcefulness and to start relying on ourselves to find solutions as opposed to waiting for handouts so we can make things happen.

The Gaze £900
Ruth McLees

Jon Oakes at project/ten

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Scamming of Artists

No one has any money, right? People are cutting costs, paring down their budgets and ditching everything that isn't absolutely necessary. Or at least that's what the more honest among us are doing in these straightened times. But I've been hearing more and more tales of unscrupulous scammers preying on the unwary just to keep their own pockets lined. And sadly the unwary at the moment seem to be artists.

Take for example the magazine reporter who turns up at a gallery's private view and photographs the event. A lovely spread of pictures then appears in a local publication, and as there has never been any mention of payment, the gallery is overjoyed with the free publicity. But wait... that's not the end of the tale. Years later the reporter has a change of heart and issues an invoice for payment threatening court action, conveniently coinciding with the credit crunch. Could it be that this reporter is now short of cash and preying on what is perceived as an easy target? Without documented proof of any agreement and against a tough gallery owner there's surely no way that the reporter will win here, but the threat of legal action could easily push the gallery to the point of caving in and paying the invoice out of fear just to make the problem go away.

In another such example the emerging artist is struggling to sell enough work to make ends meet. Desperate for publicity and with no spare cash he ends up being given a page in some crummy local paper in exchange for some of his best paintings. He is told the space is worth thousands and he's getting a GOOD DEAL. The advert generates nothing. He now has no paintings to sell as well as no money. The paper who now has the artwork is laughing. No way was the advertising space ever worth that much.

So who's at fault here? The scammers for sure, but the artworld must also wise up! Sure it can be hard making money sometimes, and I've had my fair share of feeling desperation in the past, but come on guys this is the real world. There really is no such thing as a free lunch, and one day you may find your 'freebies' coming back to bite you. Stand up for yourself, and if something seems too good to be true, well, it probably is. I think many artists are seen as easy targets. Business advice in art college is non existant so we have to make it up as we go along and try to hold our own in a tough commercial world. It's time to learn how to be tough, how to say no, how to avoid being pushed around. Don't give your work away for a promise; it's so much more valuable than that!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Christmas at Oriel Ty Coch

Fab work, fab gallery. Take a look for yourself at the gorgeous Christmas show.

Lots of gorgeous paintings, designer furniture and beautiful decorations and gifts. Oh, and my work looks amazing in the barn-like space!

Come along and see for yourself. And if you really can't choose what to buy, how about a gift voucher so your loved one can commission a painting or choose an artwork for themselves?

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Art for Society

An interesting week this week. On Wednesday I was invited to attend a morning of workshops run by The Travelling Pantry at the RSAW. The Travelling Pantry (great name by the way, but where were the tins of beans...?) is an action research project designed to test whether giving ideas, methods and tools to small groups of people can encourage them to start new community projects. The purpose of the workshop was to stimulate and help new project development. The specific pupose of our day was to look at our area and identify the resources we already have which we could utilise in community and social projects.

I've had a thread of creative community projects running alongside my painting practice for a number of years. Something I've noticed is that the communities with the greatest need for projects (and therefore the ones that receive the most funding) are often the ones least likely to get involved (so therefore the funding is under utilised - I won't say wasted as some good always comes out of projects, but this good should go a lot further). So why is this?

I have noticed a chronic lack of aspiration*(see below), and this hasn't been helped in the past by creative social projects that have come to the area with the aim of helping the residents produce creative work (be it visual art, poetry, dance or whatever). People give up their time and put in 100% effort to create something they are truly proud of, only to find that exhibition of their work is confined to a 'local' setting such as the community centre or church hall. This says, "yeah, your work is great, but not great enough to put it where others can see it." I'm not surprised aspirations are crushed, and that after a string of experiences like this, communities become blase and feel they have better things to do with their time.

So how can this be solved? I guess the obvious answer is to enable communities themselves to create and self- direct their projects so they can be involved in something they truly want and feel is worthwhile.

If we can identify individuals and places that link people together then these trusted hubs can be utilised to get communities involved right from the start.

But how to do this? The Travelling Pantry showed us a great way... mapping. By drawing a giant map and adding in places and people that we felt were hubs we identified so many resources (Brains Brewery was the first... not sure what that says about priorities in the room...). And that's just us... what if community representatives and figureheads were invited to do a similar exercise? I think the potential is limitless and very exciting.

*This lack of aspiration is something I've looked at in the past with my Moving Scenes Project. I used posters displayed in community hubs such as the post office to invite people from my locality of Butetown, a deprived area of Cardiff, to have their portrait painted. The resulting paintings were displayed in St David's Hall, an international venue in the centre of Cardiff, thus giving visibility and status to the people who had been involved. Butetown residents were invited to the opening party, and I was delighted to see many of them in attendance, especially when they were spotted in front of their own portraits! The interest and support I received was amazing and the new partnerships opened many doors...

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Invisible Images

So this week's challenge and absorbing idea is how to create an artwork that's barely there. Is art still great if you can't quite see it? Can art be invisible?

I'm finding the work of Robert Ryman endlessly intriguing: it's the white on white that captures me, with the image endlessly shifting and changing depending on the light and viewing direction.

Robert Ryman
Versions IV
This mutable intrigue is what I'm striving to capture through layering and texture. It's not yet quite white on white or completely transparent but that's where I feel it may be heading... See below... 
Sensation of Memory I

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

“Can our leading arts institutions say with their hands on their hearts that there is no waste?”

Excellent article in The Independent – cutting budgets could radicalize culture – allowing for the messages of imagination, radicalism and challenge to be part of the business message, as well as that of the artistic output.

I guess the thing to think about when looking at the Arts cuts is finding a balance between an artist’s/organisation’s creativity and individuality and the need for them to run themselves as a business. Arts funding to date has made available space within which artists and arts organisations have the freedom, time and money to experiment without pressure. It has allowed mistakes to be made and learnt from without monetary penalty, allowing for the development of the individuals or organisations involved and often leading on to future successes.

This is all well and good, and I myself have benefitted for Arts Council grants which have given me the opportunity to experiment and create new work. What I’m feeling at the moment though, is that the funding isn’t so useful when artists and organisations rely on it at the expense of developing their own business skills and real world ability to function, compete and produce.

The funding should be an aid to creativity and innovation and not a crutch to fall back on time and time again for organisations who fail to learn from past (funded) experiences and move their business forward. The Guardian published a debate between leading theatre directors Adrian Jackson and David Parrish. Parrish says that actually cuts in arts funding might even do arts organisations some good. Unlike Jackson who is inclined to think that the cuts will limit what they can do, Parrish believes that it will encourage more innovative and resourceful thinking and it will stop the same things from being done again and again.

Instead of continuing to complain about the cuts, which won’t now change anything, it’s time to start looking forward. What can we do as artists and organizations to ensure we’ll survive? What are we good at? What skills can we learn from business so that we can thrive in the commercial world without constantly relying on funding to sustain us? The arts that emerge from the recession as winners will be respected, leaner, and highly deserving of longevity and success.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Why the Art World Needs the Credit Crunch

Thanks for your comment Kim... (see previous post). It seems that cash flow problems facing the art world just filter down and it's the person at the bottom of the pile who suffers. Unfortunately this seems to often be the artist. To me, the financial crisis will perhaps in a roundabout way do some good by bringing to light the most unprofessional art organisations and perhaps culling them in a 'survival of the fittest' evolution. With fewer grants to sustain lame organisations, the art world may emerge stronger and more professional as a result. The art world needs to be on a par with business in order to thrive. Perhaps this credit crunch is the thing to finally force the art sector to try harder.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Exhibiting in Hard Times - Who Pays?

I'd like to recount my major art 'experience' of the week. As a happy recipient of an Arts Council grant for my current project, I booked a local, well established gallery to exhibit it in spring 2011. The gallery in question had agreed to fund the costs of the show in return for workshops, artist's talks and sales commissions, and had set all this out in a letter to me at the project outset, with exhibition dates pencilled into their diary for finalising at a later date.

All went well with the project for the first few months. As I approached the 6 month mark I asked the gallery to confirm the dates of exhibition so I could begin marketing. This is when things started to feel wrong. I was unable to contact the gallery director, and each successive phonecall and email was answered by a different minion. It seemed noone was speaking to anyone else. Each of my requests for confirmation of dates went unanswered, and I was told "according to our files we have had no confirmation of the exhibition dates. Could you please forward us your grant details." When I queried why this was necessary (my funding was for materials and production of work and not gallery costs) I was told, "we are keen to hear of any support available to hold your exhibition. Can you give details of sponsorships, printing materials and work in kind? I am afraid like all other galleries around the country we are financially stretched..." So the gallery had performed a massive U-turn, going back on its original offer (as set out in a letter to me prior to the project start). Nowhere before had they mentioned that they would be asking me for additional payments from me for the use of their space.

Now I was told "when we wrote you the letter of support in March 2009 we were hopeful that the Arts Council would recognise the role of our gallery in providing premium space for contemporary artists... This funding has not been made available to us and as a result offering marketing and publicity,
technical assistance, invigilation and a prime gallery area is no longer possible... The board... has at a meeting decided that generosity of this kind, which requires staff here to work for little or nothing at all, must be redressed in the interests of future sustainability. Therefore we must ask you to provide some form of support funding... a minimum would be £500."

O.k., fair enough, you're skint, the whole of the country's skint and we're all struggling to survive. But don't you think that it would have been courteous to make me aware of the fact that you had decided to charge me, rather than surprising me with the information 2 1/2 months before the show was scheduled to open?

And the icing on the cake came when I was told by the gallery that the reason they wanted me to pay was because "it seems unlikely that this will be a selling exhibition."

Bearing in mind that I have been making a living from my paintings since 2004 (see gallery) this is a completely unfounded statement, which seems to have the sole purpose of adding insult to injury. If the gallery believes it cannot sell my work, why did they offer me the show in the first place (seeing as they'd take 40% of any sales)? Why do they think that if they tell me they can't sell my work that I will then decide to pay them for my exhibition? It doesn't seem like a wise use of my money to me!

I know times are tough for galleries and artists alike, but surely that's not a reason for going back on an agreement? Galleries requesting that artists pay for their show should make this clear at the outset and not wait until the show is imminent before demanding cash. In general we artists don't have large sums of money lying around; we need to budget for any payments to galleries at the outset of a project. It seems unfair that I'm being penalised by the gallery for not having enough of a grant to distribute around.

So I've decided to cut my losses and to abandon this exhibition. With half a new body of work created I'm going to search for somewhere else, preferably a venue that's prepared to fund my show in order that I can fulfill the Arts Council criteria for the grant I've already received. Otherwise it's back to the drawing board and hoping that David Cameron's right and I can look to private or corporate sponsorship to help me out... Will keep you posted...