I wanted to conduct some interviews with artists who have spent one year out of education and have faced the big bad art world at it alone. I was interested to see how artists have coped having to juggle work and their studio practice, as this is something that I am concerned about for me in this next year.
The first artist I interviewed was Seamus Green, a painter who graduated from University College Falmouth with a 1st class degree in 2011.
Seamus Green, Last Light on Flushing,
oil on canvas, on board, 2012, 30cm x 30cm
Elizabeth Dismorr: What do you miss (if anything) about being in an educational environment?
Seamus Green: I miss a lot about Art School. I think the immediacy, social set up and the feeling that you are part of something special as a unique group of practitioners is what I miss most. Having the space and time given to you for 3 years to develop a practice with the support of a peer group and tutors is something I didn’t fully appreciate until it had gone. I fully immersed myself into the college environment; I was hungry for knowledge and hungry to become a good painter, at the time this felt like it could be achieved through dialogue with friends about our practices and spending a lot of time looking at work on the internet or in the library. Looking back now, I would love to be there doing it again. Now I just don’t have the time, money or space to fuel such an intense period of working where you can dedicate all your efforts on to a very specific output. College gave me a glimpse of what it is to be painting every day.
ED: Do you feel that you have managed to balance earning enough money to live, with practising as an artist?
SG: On the one hand yes and on the other no. It has taken me a long time to get into the rhythm of working and balancing painting, it is so easy to get disillusioned and lose your way when you have to be focusing on essentially working 2 jobs. I’ve ended up working in a supermarket which obviously isn’t ideal but I have been very surprised at how much I have actually enjoyed having that social interaction away from anything art related. However, supermarkets have a tendency to want to push you up the ladder quite progressively and they can start to make you believe that it is a fantastic thing to be taking on more responsibility, earning more money and challenging yourself to succeed in the business. I am a very driven, ambitious and (I hope to think) hard working person so it is very easy for me to direct myself at anything and I will try my hardest to do well. This is what has been so difficult for me to balance, a working life that pays the bills with prospects for a ready-made future and an art practice that is a real slow burner and feels like I’m constantly in the dark waiting to see where it will end up. It is a struggle to pay the bills and keep the practice chugging along but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love painting and I’m quite happy sitting it out and waiting to see what comes along, as hard as that might be.
ED: Have you done any unpaid work experience/internships/volunteering since university? Do you think these will stand you in good stead to finding a job?
It isn’t really work experience but I felt like I gained a huge amount of knowledge through the setting up of a group show called Between States which was initiated by myself and 3 of my peers. Having to put all the work in to setting up the show, I think we all gained a huge amount of understanding in how to make proposals, write statements, market the show, curate the work in the space etc. It gave me a real buzz and made me think about trying to get some work experience in communications and marketing exhibitions.
I have been volunteering at Trelissick Gardens (as much as I can but don’t get along nearly half as much as I would like). Trelissick is an incredible National Trust garden set along the Fal River; it is very beautiful and very inspiring to spend a day working in such a stunning place. If gardening wasn’t so physically demanding I would definitely love to follow a route into working in a place like Trelissick. I just wouldn’t get any painting done – I’d be far to cream crackered for that. I think any relevant work experience is essential to get a job you want these days, I have a friend who’s on a residency at a school where he gets free accommodation, studio space and food. In return he has to teach the students at the school and he is now being given increasingly more responsibility in teaching as the residency goes on. Not only this but he has been given space and has the time to make his own work for a solo show at the end of the residency. For me it is clear that having that kind of experience under your belt is invaluable when you come to apply for the next position. Although, if following your practice as a career is what you want to do, I don’t think working an irrelevant job is bad at all. In that situation the best experience you can have is actually dedicating your efforts to going to the studio and continuing to make work.
ED: Have you managed to participate in many exhibitions/events in the year since you have graduated?
SG:I’ve been really lucky to have exhibited a number of times since graduating. As the course was coming to an end I wanted to get my degree work out there as much as I could so I entered a lot of competitions and open calls. I managed to get accepted on to the Discerning Eye at the Mall Galleries in London, the show seemed perfect for me because it focuses on small works (all of my canvas’ are 30 cm x 30 cm at the moment). I was then accepted on to the RWA 159th Autumn Show in Bristol, this again was a fantastic opportunity to get my work out and about in a prestigious Gallery setting. Then at the end of 2011 I entered the National Open Art Competition where I won the Teddy Smith Young Artist Award, this was the biggest break through for me because the prize was £2000 and has been an unbelievable help in supporting me financially over the last year. Another incredible part of the National Open was that the award winners were taken on from the exhibition at Minerva Theatre to the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. The award winners’ show at Pallant House was just amazing, the gallery is such a great building and the show ran alongside the Edward Burra exhibition which was absolutely superb.
After digesting the ups and downs of open call exhibitions I decided it was time to put on a show with my peers. I wanted to be part of an exhibition that felt like it was adding to a critical discussion and the control of the process of showing was in our hands rather than someone else’s. Myself and 3 of my peers put a show on called Between States at the Exchange Gallery in Penzance. This has been the highlight of my year, showing with my friends and being in control of our output right up from actually making the work to marketing the show and writing statements. The process was a real learning curve and it is something I have felt very proud to be part of.
ED: How has your practice evolved since you left university?
SG: My practice has evolved a lot since graduating. Many aspects are still the same and I am still developing ideas that came to the fore when I was working up to my degree show. However, being outside of that environment has allowed me to open up and take a lot more risks. I feel gutsier with my work because I am less precious with it as I spend less time looking at it and being around it like you are at college. I feel the space that I now have to give my paintings due to other commitments has actually allowed me to be more concise or direct. Don’t get me wrong, I’m more lost now than I ever have been with my work but for some reason to me it now feels more meaningful. At college so many factors come in to your working process, a lot of that being self consciousness about peoples opinion, but now I have a much more mature relationship with painting where I feel it is an honest conversation rather than a contrived one (if that makes sense?).
ED: What do you hope to achieve in the next year in terms of your practice and career as an artist?
SG: This last year, post graduation, has taught me some very valuable lessons. Myself and my partner, Katherine, decided to stay in Falmouth because we are so in love with the place and Cornwall as a whole. We wanted to get to know it again outside of the intense pressures of College and we wanted to do this so much that we didn’t take any other options in really. We didn’t think that the majority of our peer group would be leaving, we just made a snap decision in that mad time when you’re graduating and thinking what on earth am I going to do now. It has been the best decision we ever made but it has also left us pretty solitary. So the next year looks to be a very exciting one, we are moving to Bristol in the hope of getting studios at Spike Island where we can begin to start building a support network again. It has been very difficult to stay positive without the company of other practitioners in a similar position to me. Over this next year I hope to achieve a better sense of stability, keep developing my practice and hopefully tip the balance so there isn’t such a reliance on the day job. Basically, if I’m still painting or practising I’ll be a happy man.
ED: What advice would you give to anyone about to graduate in an arts related subject and keen to make it as an artist?
SG: I think the degree show is such a flash in the pan and for me it was far less important than the hard work I had put in to making and asking the questions about the work itself. So baring that in mind I found it really important to find a studio space as soon as I could so I could continue asking those questions while they were still hot.
It is extremely difficult to do what I have done by getting a studio on my own with no one else around to stay critically engaged with (this might suit some people of course) I would say a better idea would be to take advantage of the incredible artist run spaces and studio organisations that are available across Britain. Apply to rent space from places like Spike Island, The Royal Standard, The Lombard Method, Bow Arts etc – where you will be thrown in to a rich environment of practitioners at all different stages and with lots of different ideas. You need the support of others in a similar position to yourself, so making connections with other artists is so important.
I would also stress the importance of the long haul and, remembering that as tempting as it is to want to skip straight to the big time, your practice actually needs a long time to develop so just because you might be working a crap job to get by today, doesn’t mean you will be later down the line. So really appreciate those days that you struggled to find the motivation to actually make something in the studio rather than wishing away the hard work.
Finally, be as active as you can. Put on shows, talk to artists, do it yourself because it won’t get done for you.
You can find out more about Seamus Green and his work by looking on his website: http://www.seamusgreen.blogspot.co.uk/