Interview with visual textile artist Anya Paintsil – we chat representation (or lack of), punch-needle and questioning “fine art”.

Today I’m interviewing another Insta artist find….this one really stopped me in my tracks! Anya Paintsil is a brilliant artist find – I stumbled across her work through The Social Distance Art Project (seriously folx – that is the gift that just keeps on digitally giving – check it out!) and instantly fell in love. It is like nothing that I’ve personally seen recently and the tied in themes of race, feminism and personal expression, just feel so timely.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – me and jack

Anya Painsil is a recent art graduate from Manchester Met, making her way into the arts work and I just know she’s going to have a bright future. Anya’s pieces use methods of rug hooking, embroidery and afro hairstyling to create textile pieces that seek to elevate art and craft practices that have been historically devalued because of their associations with marginalised groups. Anya’s work frequently focuses on the significance of race and identity outside of urban areas, feminism, autobiographical story-telling and fantasy.

I reached out to Anya this Summer for a Culture Vulture interview for many reasons; firstly, her art work is beaut, I love the style and it interested me! It is the type of work, that even though, I stumbled on her work during mindlessly scrolling, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and book marked it. Secondly, she is using a textile medium that arguably is not something that many artists use – it’s quite a traditional medium, but this feels like such a fresh way of using it. I like folx who are doing something quite different and Anya’s work, is just that, very Anya!

So it is my privilege to share our little interview and please check out Anya’s work and show her lots of her support, she is MEGA!

Artist Anya Paintsil leaning against a shop window.

Anya Paintsil

So hi Anya! Can you introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures?

My name is Anya Paintsil; I’m a Welsh-Ghanaian artist living in Manchester.

How would describe your practice?

I’d describe myself as a textile or fibre artist; I work with various rug hooking methods to create wall-based textile pieces.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil Mair at Cylch Meithrin

Can you share with us, your journey into the arts?

I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life; from being a small child creative practice has always been something of a compulsion for me and I would spend hours every day drawing and painting. I didn’t enjoy studying art at school or school at all really, and dropped out of sixth form college and worked, travelled and moved around a lot.

When I was 23 I decided I wanted to work towards a career in graphic design or illustration so I went on a portfolio course in Glasgow, where I was living at the time – I got into MMU (Manchester Met) to study illustration and animation but similarly with my school experiences I didn’t really enjoy working to briefs or not being able to make work entirely in the way I envisioned so I swapped to study fine art after my first year. I just finished my BA and began working with my gallery earlier this year.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – Your Mum Eats Like a Camel

Can you tell us about some of the themes you explore in your work?

My work is largely autobiographical – I explore personal relationships, trauma, and memory, as well as exploring race and identity.

What would you like audiences to take away from your work?

I like to create objects that have a sort of presence.

My work does largely deal with race and identity from my own mixed race African/Welsh perspective – a perspective I have rarely seen represented. I like to explore complex elements of depicting black women and black bodies and hair.

My main aims in my practice are to make viewers consider what can and can’t be included in the category of fine art as well as which makers can be considered “artists”. I do this through my utilisation of craft practices that have historically been relegated to the decorative or dismissed from the high art canon due to associations with utility. I work with afro hairstyling techniques and materials as a way of honouring my heritage as a black woman, and a way to bring wider attention to the significance of hairstyling and hair in itself for women of the African diaspora.

As well as wanting to work with materials I am skilled at manipulating, I want to showcase these skills I learnt outside of an arts education context to in some way convey that literally anything that requires skill and creativity can be elevated to an object that can exist within a gallery setting; this is a way of challenging ideas that real art can only be made by certain people under certain circumstances.

Example of Anya’s work

Anya Paintsil – thirty six inch in six thirteen

Talk us through the process of making one of your textile pieces? How long does it take?

Usually between a week or a month.

I draw or paint nearly every day, in a semi-automatic fashion, I usually pick back through old drawings to come up with ideas for my textiles – I then usually do a more “resolved feeling” version of the initial drawing and then just try to translate into textile form, the design usually changes over the course of making the piece – I always work free hand on to the hessian.

You often use punch needle as a process in your work, why?

It is such a cathartic process.

Labour and the evidence of labour are quite central to my practice. I really appreciate and enjoy how easily I can manipulate my tools in punch needling; I find working by hand gives me far more freedom and allows me to make quick decisions while I work.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – Self Portrait

Can you share with us a highlight of your career so far?

I suppose, in itself, I’m still proper delighted and quite shocked that making work has actually become a career. Being discovered by my gallerist, Ed Cross, on Instagram was wild and unexpected but has been completely life changing. Ed Cross Fine Art is a gallery in London, that works with emerging and established artists across and beyond the African diaspora.

But I’d have to say my highlight so far was learning, that I had been selected to show work at the London instalment of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House in 8 – 10 October.

How have you been spending lock down?

Grieving with my family. In April my Grandma died from COVID. I come from a tight knit family, my Grandma was our matriarch and the centre of our world. Losing her and being unable to be with her or say goodbye due to the circumstances of the pandemic has been so painful and devastating to us all.

My mum was going through cancer treatment when the pandemic began, and I myself am clinically vulnerable so this whole situation has been a total nightmare and the hardest time of my life.

I’m so sorry to hear that and sending you so much virtual love! Do you sell any of your work? Take commissions?

My work is sold through my gallerist, Ed Cross Fine Art. I take selected commissions.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsl – ni yn unig

What are you working on right now? Any projects?

I’m finishing up a couple of new pieces to show at the 1-54 in October, and a couple of other things that are soon to be announced – keep an eye on my social media for more!

Can you share with us a few artists that are inspiring you right now or suggestions of artists I need to check out?

You should check out….

Cas Namoda – a painter and performance artist born in Mozambique, exploring the intricacies of social dynamics and mixed cultural and racial identity in her work. She captures scenes of everyday life, from mundane moments to life-changing events and paints a vibrant and nuanced portrait of post-colonial Mozambique within an increasingly globalised world.

Tiffanie Delune – a visual artist and painter, born in Paris, inspired by the cut outs of Matisse and African textiles; she works with acrylic, oil, pastels, charcoal, graphite, pencils, papers, fabrics, wool, nets, women’s tights, shells and leaves, on stretched large canvas, rolls of canvas and smaller pieces of paper. Her work combines a brilliant command of design and colour with a fearless commitment to exploring her personal history and celebrating sexuality, monogamy, femininity, motherhood, rebirth, agency and freedom. 

Adebunmi Gbadebo – a visual artist, from New Jersey, who creates sculptures, paintings, prints, and paper using human hair sourced from people of the African diaspora. Rejecting traditional art materials, Gbadebo sees hair as a means to centre her people and their histories as central to the narratives in her work.

You’re at the beginning of your creative career which is exciting – whilst the creative and cultural industries are thinking about reopening, evolving and rebuilding – what change would you personally like to see in our sector?

I would like to see

  1. more women,
  2. more people of colour,
  3. more “normal” people,
  4. more accessible language.

Well high five to that – I’d like to see less gatekeeping! This has been a wonderful interview – how can folx stay connected with you?

My Instagram is @anyapaintsil and you can find my work for sale on artsy right HERE.  

You can see my work IN PERSON on October the 10th at the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House – you can get your tickets from HERE.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – feeling powerful with my red nails

What a great interview and thank you for introducing me to three new artists Anya – every artist, I interview, engage with or hang with, I ask them to suggest three-five artists on Insta or in general that I need to check out and let me tell you, it’s been SO bliddy amazing to jump outside of my comfort bubble – I’ve discovered SO many new artists. Brilliant for my curious brain, not so brilliant for my to-do list! (hehe!)

Please check out Anya’s work and please consider buying from artists and creatives this Autumn (going into festive season!) Artists need your support more than ever, so put yerrrr monies where you mouth is! Even if it’s just a card or small print!

Until next time Culture Vultures!

(#AD) The Hancock Gallery – a beaut Newcastle commercial gallery – a MUST visit and a gem!

Culture Vulture visit to The Hancock Gallery

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I recently, had the pleasure of being invited along to The Hancock Gallery in central Newcastle a few weeks ago, to take in their figurative exhibition ‘Between  Distance and Desire’ featuring headline artist Mark Demsteader, Billy Childish, Ron Hicks, Milt Kobayashi, John Smyth, Chris Gambrell and many more.

If you haven’t heard of or aren’t aware of The Hancock Gallery, well you need to add it to your *must* visit list – it is a beaut commercial gallery space in a converted terrace Georgian House on Jesmond Road West in central Newcastle. It is nestled right next door to Newcastle University’s Robinson Library. Their opening times are Thursday – Saturday 10am-5pm and they sometimes host events in connection to their exhibition programme; their exhibition programme tends to change approx. twice a year. They are a fully COVID-19 secure venue and adhering to all social distancing measures. Ahead of your visit, I would check out their website, just in case anything has changed (i.e. a local lockdown or change in opening times). All the art displayed in the gallery space is for sale and they also offer the Own Art scheme, enabling you to purchase work via a flexible payment plan.

The Hancock Gallery – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I was first invited to visit a year or so ago when The Hancock Gallery first opened and it was quickly added to my fave galleries to visit in Newcastle list. The exhibition then, was headlined by Alexander Millar with his wonderful industrial working and football loving Gadgie portraits and other collections of his work. I’ve always been a big fan of Alex’s work so as you can imagine, that was a dream exhibition to view. During that visit, I experienced a warm, friendly welcome, very knowledgeable, relaxed gallery staff and a beaut open, light space which was just a delight to inhabit whilst taking in the exhibition.

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Moving on to my most recent visit, well I was excited about this visit to The Hancock Gallery for four reasons – 1. This was my FIRST gallery visit since lockdown. So, I had pre-Eurovision excitement level butterflies (what can I say? I’m a big Eurovision fan!). I was so excited to get back into a gallery space and take in some art. 2. The exhibition featured artists that I knew but had never seen their work in real life, like Mark Demsteader AND 3. It featured artists that were new to me, like Ron Hicks.  It is fair to say, I was hyped and spent my pre-visit, reading up on the different artists and checking out their Instagram. 4. This exhibition was a figurative one (i.e. depicting figures)! Whilst, I’m much more abstract and conceptual in my art preference, through lock down, I’ve found myself drawn to hyper realistic art of people….. maybe I’m craving human connection in a socially distanced world or may be my taste has broadened, either way, I was looking forward to this exhibition.

The Hancock Gallery Manager Chris – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

For this visit, I had a socially distanced gallery tour (check me out!) with Chris, the Hancock Gallery Manager who took me around the two floors and allowed me to ask him all the questions under the sun – which was brilliant for someone like me who is ever curious. I started my visit with getting some hand sanitizer from one of their hand washing stations and getting comfortable. We launched into conversation about the provocation “Is paint dead?” – like with many things, art goes in trends and things come in and out of fashion. Painting and work using paint, has for the last decade been considered a bit old fashioned…….moreover a few years ago, if you told me, that I was going to see a figurative exhibition of paintings, the images that come to my mind are indeed conventional and a bit……. well dull and not to my taste. The exhibition ‘Between Distance and Desire’ is so much more than that- it was so vibrant, beautiful and for me, really proved that paint is back *in* and how artists use paint SO differently. I was really blown away, how different artists approach figurative work and hats off to Chris and his selection of artists for this group exhibition, because it really worked.

The Hancock Gallery – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

As we moved into the main space, Chris told me more about his role, his ambition for The Hancock Gallery and we also debated the North East arts scene. Chris explained that he is responsible for the curation of the work and selecting artists to exhibition in the gallery space and managing those relationships whilst having the ambition for the gallery to present Internationally renowned artists in the North. As the Culture Vulture, I’m all about championing Northerness and Northern artists but actually, I can get too focused in on that bubble and completely forget about the International art scene, so I really relish having a gallery like The Hancock Gallery  in Newcastle to remind me of the bigger wide world out there; introducing me to new artists and reminding me to dip into the International scene!

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Chris and I started my tour of the exhibition ‘Between Distance and Desire’ by naturally starting with the work of headline artist Mark Demsteader. Like with many artists, Mark’s creative journey to become one of the top figurative painters in the UK, was not conventional. Born into the 60s, whilst passionate about art and gaining two foundation courses to enable him to pursue a creative career, due to lack of opportunity he ended up working in the family whole sale butchery business, before eventually in the 1990s taking a school art technician, where he worked for just over a decade. During this period, he kept building his portfolio, but during a time when figurative work was not of interest to many galleries or the art market, he made little progress but kept chasing that dream; eventually he got his lucky break and was selected to exhibit at a Greenwich gallery alongside other artists and sold several pieces. From that moment, he’s never looked back and is a very successful commercial artist today!

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I first became aware of Mark’s work, when he was drawing his Emma Watson (actress) collection – she initially approached him for a commission and he asked if he could paint and draw her. This eventually turned into a beautiful collection of work which I remember being in the press in 2011. Beyond that, I’ve been aware of Mark’s work as it’s popped up in other exhibitions or in the news. It was wonderful to take in a showing of his work right here in Newcastle.

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Mark’s pieces often feature women with 90s fashion model proportions; the work was beautiful to see up close and to me, it depicts a conventional and idealised version of femininity. Chris talked through the work and I was interested to find out that Mark often paints with his hands, a knife, uses sand-paper alongside “painting by accident” using different layers to build elements of the work. Mark’s pieces seem so precise and neat, so I was surprised to hear this. It was also interesting to learn that Mark has a rotation of 6 models, he uses for his work AND that he thinks about what work might sell, before painting; his best sellers are his figurative works of women, so of course, it makes sense that this is what he paints most of. I found his work really special, atmospheric, beautiful with a hint of comforting sadness – I can’t really describe what I felt was sad about them; may be the facial expressions of each woman connected to the weird sadness I am feeling at the moment in my life, but I felt connected to them. My favourite pieces were the yellow ones – love bold yellow!

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

We then moved upstairs to take in the rest of Mark’s work AND the other artists exhibiting. First up was Billy Childish. Billy is a painter, author, poet, photographer, film maker, singer and guitarist. Since the late 1970s, Billy has been prolific in creating music, writing and visual art. I’ve always considered Billy to be an unapologetic rebel and free spirit, therefore my interest has often been in him as a person, as opposed to his work. He is just one of those glorious humans that creativity and uniqueness flows through their veins and pulsates into everything they touch and do.

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

In this exhibition, Billy’s work was a beautiful and brilliant contrast to Mark’s; it really highlighted how broad “figurative art” actually is. His work was colourful, playful, unapologetically Billy and nods to the fact, he’s known as being a “pop culture outlier”. I wasn’t surprised to hear from Hancock Gallery Manager Chris, that Billy has often rejects the mainstream art scene and yet, finds himself drawn back in time and time again due to his popularity and folx curiosity. Chris also told me, that Billy Childish used to be involved with Tracey Emin – that info I treated like art world gossip and I’m hoping it, may help me in a pub quiz in the future!

The Hancock Gallery’s Chris – Billy Childish’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Next up was Bristol based artist Chris Gambrell and his work – his pieces were stunning, colourful and crayon seemed to be the material used. His work caught my eye as soon as I walked into this room – I loved the colour, the angles, the layers, their unfinished nature and just a hint of *diva* in them. Hancock Gallery Manager Chris shared with me, that Chris had a background in fashion illustration and you can really tell – his work is SO fashion and that is what makes it special!

The Hancock Gallery – Chris Gambrell’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Then we moved on to a new artist discovery for me and a personal favourite from the whole exhibition, American artist Ron Hicks. Ron is a brilliant black artist and his recent work often depicts people of colour in his work – “Static series” (not on view at The Hancock Gallery) represents his feelings about being racially profiled and black representation. Ron is a fascinating artist to read about and to look back at his back catalogue of work – as you will see he used to paint rather traditional and romantic depictions of people, before really flipping his style into something more impressionist and much more to my personal taste. I could certainly see a Hicks hanging up in my house and his work, reminds me a little bit of my fave muralist Dan Cimmermann which is probably why I love it so much!

The Hancock Gallery – Ron Hicks’ work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I next took in John Smyth and Milt Kobayashi pieces! Scottish artist John was another new artist for me! His beautiful figurative paintings at The Hancock Gallery, use decorative patterns to make them feel a bit more abstract. They felt so Instagrammable and perfect for a particular styling of interiors. American artist Milt, was also a new artist discovery (honestly, what a morning, full of new artists!) and I LOVED their work; it’s sophisticated, ethereal, sometimes playful and brought a big smile to my face.

The Hancock Gallery – John Smyth’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

My tour with Hancock Gallery Manager Chris came to a close with me finding out about what the next exhibition is and potential future exhibiting artists – I was sworn to secrecy not to tell, so my lips are sealed but I’m MEGA excited for it and thrilled it’s happening in Newcastle. I’m sure I will be posting all about it on Vulture, so keep your eyes peeled!

The Hancock Gallery’s Chris – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Post tour, I went back round the whole gallery space taking my time, taking it all in on my own and doing Instagram Lives (you may have seen them if you follow me on Insta – @theculturevulturene). I made a wish list of pieces I’d love to buy – I’ve collected so many pieces of art and I can’t wait to fill my forever home with it all. I also spent some time in The Hancock Gallery Art market which is a beautiful space full of cards and art books to purchase – my two favourite things. Art books are such a weakness of mine and they had an amazing book for sale all about womxn artists – which of course was my vibe. They have the most amazing comfy seating in this area, so I chilled whilst checking out a book or two.

The Hancock Gallery (Image Credit Coffee Design)

On the way out, I stumbled onto Elizabeth Power’s work (not officially part of the exhibition but on sale) and it was textbook Culture Vulture – so much so, she’s hopefully the subject of a future Culture Vulture interview.

I left The Hancock Gallery with a huge smile on my face- I had a wonderful time. Social distancing was very well managed whilst feeling really welcoming and it was a lush experience. You can find out more about the gallery, the artists exhibiting there and have a deeks at their online exhibition via the website. Their opening times are Thursday – Saturday 10am-5pm; so, go on and plan a visit to The Hancock Gallery soon and keep an eye out on their socials for future exhibitions and future events.

And thank you The Hancock Gallery and Chris for such a lovely time!

Until next time Culture Vultures.

The Hancock Gallery – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

What is a curator? What do they do? I interviewed The Biscuit Factory’s curators to find out!

Curators are defined by The Oxford Dictionary as “the keepers or custodians of a museum or other collection”…. But what does that actually mean? Who are they, what do they do, why are they important to important to museums, galleries, heritage centres and the creative and cultural sector…..? I honestly believe the majority of folks out there have no idea what curators do and as a profession, as it’s not front facing to the public and a lot of what they do is behind closed doors – even in the cultural sector, their role can be perceived quite mysterious, there is a lot of misunderstanding and (in my opinion) there is often a bit of a disconnect between artists and curators.

Over recent years, the words “curate”, “curation” and “curator” have all be absorbed into popular culture and are so overused to the point of diluting their meaning. Folks now “curate” displays, a sandwich, a playlist…. The overuse of the word is a weeee bit of a trigger for me to go on a rant (understatement of the century – but we all have our burdens to bear)……you did not “curate” a sandwich, you simply made.a.decision.

So as part of my mission to shine a light on curators in general and what they do, I thought I’d reach out to The Biscuit Factory curators and see if they would be up for a Culture Vulture interview. The Biscuit Factory is the UK’s largest independent commercial art, craft & design gallery set in the heart of Newcastle’s cultural quarter of Ouseburn and one of my favourite galleries – I love the variety of work displayed – it’s full of colour and very different types of art and interiors. If you haven’t visited yet or haven’t for a while, it’s a must visit – it’s obviously closed right now due to COVID-19 but will be open once more in the future. You can check out The Biscuit Factor online gallery here to see the artists and art works they have on their books.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

I was delighted that the curators accepted, it can be quite scary Mary to have a stranger come in and question your work and processes – so I was prepared for the “no”.  But I got a big fat yes and I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with them (they were so lovely and lush!) asking all my questions…..and believe me, I had a lot thanks to my question call out on my social channels from my fellow Culture Vultures. Consequently, it was less of an interview and more of a creatively curious interrogation (my Line Of Duty obsession, has made me an EXCELLENT interrogator….”Mother of God..!”). But we did have a lush chat and strayed away from curator talk into debating creative careers and opportunities…..

So here we go, an interview The Biscuit Factory curators; Sam Waters, the 3D curator, Sam Knowles – 2D curator and Mika Browning – jewellery curator; this is a long LUSH interview, so buckle up and it’s perfect for your lock down reading.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – Right, let’s start with some intros for my readers and followers…  

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: My name is Sam Waters; I’m the 3D curator at The Biscuit Factory and I have responsibility for sourcing, managing and displaying the items which fall within the 3D product group here. Things like sculpture, ceramic, glass and furniture; basically stuff which is not wall based, although occasionally wall based too. I also look after the cards for the gallery and a few other sort of ancillary things. I’ve been here since 2010 so coming up to ten years.

Before this I was very briefly at another local gallery which doesn’t exist anymore called the Artworks Galleries where I did a mixture of things and event space things predominantly. Before that I was a self-employed copywriter and photographer. And that’s about it.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: My name’s Sam Knowles, I’m the 2D curator which means I’m in charge of paintings, prints and photography; the bigger part of that by far is the paintings and prints. I spend my time sourcing and inviting people to the gallery, managing their artwork, suggesting what comes here and what might sell the best, cataloguing it when it arrives, displaying it, looking after work in the store rooms that’s not currently on show, making sure all the stock is as it needs to be, putting on displays, making sure the gallery is constantly sort of replenished, should anything sell or be moved or sent back to artists and being the person to get that work ready should anyone want to collect stuff either having been sold or being returned to them for other exhibitions elsewhere.

I’ve been here since 2007; I originally started as a gallery assistant, then took on photography which used to be a bigger part here with a lot of graduate exhibitions. Now I spend most of my time in charge of paintings and prints and beyond that I’ve got some responsibility for how the gallery physically looks in terms of wall colouring and floor layout.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I’m Mika Browning, the jewellery curator and I’m quite new; I’ve been here for a year now. I look after all the jewellery that comes in and the display; it’s quite interesting for me because before this I’d been self employed as a jeweller myself for quite a long time, so I’ve kind of stepped to the other side.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: With you looking after three different departments within one gallery space, how do you all work together and collaborate as curators?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: It can be ad hoc coming together and collaborating. Often we won’t be totally aware of what each other’s booked in but when we’re putting a show together, we’ll make sure that things complement each other.

When we have an open call out like the recent Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020; we will go through the submissions together to pick out submissions to be a part of the exhibition – we had about 1200 submissions from all over the world and we worked together to display the work and shared the load.

But a lot of the time, we’re just in our own departments, getting in our own work; but once the work is here, we realise there’s common ground and if it will work together. There can be any number of reasons why one piece of art can go with another; its subject or colour or style or just the sort of person we think it might appeal to, even if the work itself is nothing like each other. That process tends to be something that happens once we are all actually out on the gallery floor, putting work together, working with what we have and often feeling our way through things.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: You mentioned the Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020 open call out, how do you decide which pieces of art are included in an exhibition shortlist or “make the cut”?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: Well, ultimately it comes down do our knowledge, experience and what we like, which I appreciate is very hard to unpick and very subjective. We display work because we think it is interesting and to attract people to visit the gallery.

But a key decider is if we think it’s got artistic merit in how it was made and as we are a commercial gallery, we have to think whether or not it might appeal to someone to purchase or be of interest to someone commercially.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We use the same principles in choosing successful submissions from this Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020 open call out, as we do for the main exhibitions. But we probably have a little bit more leeway with this, to take a few more chances and to add a few things which are on the margins of what the main, day-to-day gallery exhibitions are. That’s kind the idea of doing this type of exhibition; we try to stretch the Biscuit Factory’s comfort zone a little bit and bring in newer and more progressive work.

We get submissions to the gallery from people wanting to exhibit on a daily basis. The basic cornerstones of the criteria we use to select pieces for all exhibitions, includes 1. the quality of the craft, regardless of what the subject is or what the medium is, 2. the standard of professionalism AND 3. the quality of presentation and the artistic vision. The Biscuit Factory is a very diverse space in terms of artwork displayed but everything that we have here, regardless of its aesthetic or its taste or its style, is of a high quality. The pursuit of quality helps us make choices when selecting work that might not be our own personal taste but we able to appreciate the quality and recognise that someone else might love it.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: As a commercial gallery, how do you tread the fine line, between selecting exciting, new, experimental and groundbreaking pieces and knowing your audience and knowing what they actually want to buy?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We are aware of what sells and we have a sales system, allowing us to see various different product groups and how they are performing – e.g. How many pieces of sculpture have sold in any given period or how many paintings have sold by a particular artist.

So we’re aware of that and we have to be guided by that to some extent. But there’s always a balancing act between being sales driven and the ethos of trying to show a range of works, some of which you accept may not be so commercially viable and we can’t just keep selling and displaying the same things; our visitors wouldn’t want that.  In a way, progression and sales have to go hand in hand because we can’t just keep selling the same type of work or the same artist’s work because eventually the sales would dry up.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I think the scale of The Biscuit Factory is so big, that actually there’s room for a very wide range of work here and we can afford to take some chances and have some really different things. I think a lot of people who haven’t visited us before would be surprised how big the range of work is here – there’s some very contemporary things, some very quirky things and some very traditional things; they all sit side by side quite well, quite comfortably because they are of a certain standard.

We sometimes think we know what is going to appeal to a particular type of Biscuit Factory visitor, but we are often wrong; you know someone who you’d assume would buy a traditional landscape actually goes for the really quirky portrait, or really minimalist etching.  Or they might be interested in all three!

We take pride in the fact that there’s something here for potentially everyone; behind our doors is a whole range of work waiting to be discovered all tucked in here.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think in terms of the jewellery, it’s a different sort of position because most of the jewellers that I work with are more commercial and used to that side of galleries. The jewellery is made to wear and own, rather than being looked at in a gallery, so that makes it a little bit easier for me when choosing between more ‘out there’ stuff.

Jewellers can send in more of their work as it doesn’t take up as much space; they might send a piece that’s kind of really high price and out there in design but then it can be paired with quite a lot of other pieces from a range which are really wearable, so that’s quite a fortunate position to be in as a curator that I can kind of manage to get in both.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: How would you describe the role of a contemporary curator and how do you feel about the overuse of the word “curate?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: Personally, I’m not precious about the word curator and I’ve always been aware that it’s a word that has many different applications or nuances and, people think of it in different ways.

I think it depends where you are as well because there are different kinds of curator and curation so it’s hard to be precious over; if you’re in a municipal gallery or the BALTIC or whatever it might be, even within one city there’s varying different sorts of curators, that aren’t really very comparable.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I guess “curate” is a word that a few years ago was quite niche and not used in the mainstream with connotations as quite highbrow. Now it’s become quite an everyday word and quite trendy, which is perhaps a bit odd.

I’ve been here a long time and what I understand of the word “curate”… or how I understand my job is not necessarily through the prism of being a curator; my job is what it is and when I read about other curators, they’re not necessarily particularly relatable positions to this one.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: For me, I think it’s more… I speak to early stage career artists and creatives in the industry that would like to get into curation and I feel that misuse of the word is removing the respect of the profession and understanding of it as a legitimate career path….  

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It’s diluted it a little bit but you can see that happening anyway through the democratisation of things through the internet and DIY elements across all creative activities. You don’t have to go to a web developer anymore to set up a website for example, you can do it yourself. I guess, the old gatekeepers who defined what a curator is and controlled the role, are dispersed a little.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Everyone’s artistic taste is subjective…. How do you feel if someone doesn’t like an exhibition you’ve curated or a piece of work you’ve put pride of place in the exhibition? Do you take it to heart?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: We’re slightly sheltered from people’s comments about an exhibition on a day to day basis because we’re tucked away in our office getting on with the next exhibition. We do feel it more when you’ve spent 18 months talking to an artist and they’ve then made the work and it doesn’t sell as well as hoped when it gets here.

You can look back and think “maybe I didn’t quite get it right” or “maybe it was a bit too far out for here” but the fact is that sometimes, you can get someone in who you think is perfect for the people who, largely come here and it still won’t sell; that can be very frustrating and disappointing for you and for the artist.

There may be a reason you can identify but sometimes there’s no reasoning for it, it can just be a matter of bad luck or bad timing; you’ve got to get a lot of things right to sell a piece of artwork –  the right person has got to walk through the door, it’s got to be at the right time for them in their lives and head and it might be that there were hundreds of people that loved the work  but they just didn’t or couldn’t buy it. Sometimes when you send work back that hasn’t sold, days later someone will come in saying “have you still got it because I’d like to buy it?”….. A lot’s got to come together all at the right time, and sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think you can still take heart in that, even if you get something in that you love and then it doesn’t sell, it still kind of feels good that you put it out there; people might not be buying it but at least they’ve seen it. Maybe they love it but they can’t buy it for whatever reason, but it still feels nice to be able to be putting stuff like that out there.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: And you never know what it might do for an artist’s career longer term, the fact they’ve been seen. It’s another exhibition on the artist’s CV, another opportunity to display their work and that feels rewarding.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Sometimes there’s a bit of tension between artists/creatives and curators in regards to how work is displayed and some curatorial decisions of exhibitions…..

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I don’t feel I’ve had that very often; I guess you can’t please everyone 100% all the time. I think largely the artists, certainly in my department, are very happy to be here and we all work hard to make sure their work looks good, is well presented, nicely lit, hung straight and hung in an interesting way; I think more often than not the experience is pretty positive.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I’ve occasionally had artists sort of grumble about where their work is, that it’s not their first choice location in the gallery or how it’s displayed; but in most cases that is because they have not quite appreciated the scale of the place, how things are laid out and that it’s necessary to display work alongside other artists’ work – you can’t always get the degree of separation that some artists would like because we have so much work to display.  Our role is to make the best decisions overall and to bring together cohesive exhibitions on a bigger scale. Occasionally that might mean that a particular artist’s work is not 100% how they’d want it to be displayed or they might personally not like another artist’s work that is visible somewhere beyond their work in the sight line.

But, most people are appreciative that you’ve made such an effort to display their work in a sympathetic and considerate way, and are aware there’s a lot of work to juggle and that you’ve made decisions for the best presentation of the gallery as a whole.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: As a curator do you go to other exhibitions and reflect on the curation?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I recently went to the new gallery at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, it was really inspiring!  Also, their shop space was really inspiring to me because that was where their jewellery and some ceramics were; I thought that it was beautifully curated and displayed.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I get out far, far less than I should; I go to the degree shows, just out of curiosity but I feel further and further away from that now with age. I’ve got young children which means my free time is at soft play and not galleries. But I do love going to art fairs, I quite like going to places where there’s a big mix of stuff rather than just going to see one person’s exhibition, but yes I’d like to go out more.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I don’t get out as much as I’d like for all sorts of reasons. I’m always very aware of retail art things and maybe that’s what I’m kind of more influenced by, more aware of and absorb. I’m interested in the psychology of retail and people’s subconscious decision making, so in art retail situations I am aware of trying to read how things are set up, colour temperature, sightlines, positioning of things and the way they arrange the spaces.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: When you work here it is hard to kind of turn off working here and to just enjoy an exhibition or art fair; you’re always thinking, that person could be good in the Biscuit Factory, taking a card or photographing the work or name of artist – so it’s hard to full immerse.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What is the process of seeking out artists to exhibit at The Biscuit Factory and how far in advance do you go planning?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We do get submissions, some aren’t appropriate or quite right for us. The process is mostly us finding things, going out into the world and seeing it in person or online. Using Instagram as a platform is becoming increasingly prominent as a way of finding things for us.

For the big shows, we often book over a year in advance. Sometimes, if we have space available, we might find things and come across things that if the artist has stuff available, we might get work from them in very quickly. As our space is so big and we have such a variety of different ways of displaying things with a flexible display space, we can often shuffle things round and create some space.

The exhibition timeline can be anything from working with someone that we’ve worked with for ten years and booking them in two years in advance for a big show or coming across someone new and having their work here two weeks after you first saw it and everything in between. We have a big quarterly changeover but within that we have an ongoing evolution of displays and bring in new work in quite often; it always keeps the job fresh for us and hopefully fresh for our regular visitors.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What would your advice be to artists and folks who want to get their work into The Biscuit Factory? How should they approach the gallery?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: A lot of people want to show you the complete range of what they’re doing, so you might get a charcoal drawing of an animal, followed by a portrait, followed by a landscape and unfortunately that’s not much help to us. What we really need to see is a coherent collection from somebody, whether or not that’s the animals or landscapes. We’d prefer them to limit themselves to presenting one collection at a time. Some artists try and show you everything they’ve ever done and can do which is too much, instead of honing with focus. And we only take submissions by email.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: It just has to be really good; what I’m looking for are pieces that are really impeccably made and that is something that takes a long time to learn and produce.  The submissions that come through, that are a goer, you know straight away; they come in with confidence, they know what they’re doing, even if they haven’t worked with galleries yet and they’re new graduates, they still have total confidence and a passion about their work. They send in good images because they know that it is worth taking a good image because it’s a good piece.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Often with paintings we’ll get terrible images of the piece – it will be pixelated or they’ll be photographed next to a heavily patterned carpet in someone’s living room….

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It seems an old-fashioned thing to say but when there are typos and spelling mistakes, it sets you on the back foot. When you’re approaching someone for the first time in a gallery, I think it’s very important to be very precise, deliberate and hit the mark in the quality of your photographs and presentation of the work. We don’t have the time when receiving hundreds of submissions to de-pixelate photos or read through paragraphs of art speak. For the best chance, it’s about focusing on editing your work down to the best stuff, investing into quality images, reflecting on the way you’re presenting yourself and your tone of voice.  Top tip: you’re much better sending 3 really strong images than those three being hidden in amongst 15 things – edit, edit, edit, be tight, be professional and get good photographs.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: If someone comes in or sends a good email and is really nice to work with straight away, we think, “yeah I can see us working with you for 6 months and that’ll be pleasurable, easy and we know that we can rely on you”.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: When you depend on people to fill a gallery, you’ve got to be able to communicate with artists and them communicate effectively with you, build a rapport, have confidence in them that they can deliver, be reliable and you can get along with them. That’s what we are trying to gauge from their submission.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Some pieces and collections seem to stay displayed for a while at The Biscuit Factory – how do you decide which pieces stay and form part of the next exhibition and which ones come down?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It’s intuition. Curator’s intuition. As much as we have stats and are led by those things, a lot of it is also instinct. We also talk to artists and get a feel for how their work has been received elsewhere and how they feel it’s performing here. For some pieces and types of work like sculpture and furniture, it really responds to having longer in the gallery and it can take customers quite a while, to finally commit to buying.

This contrasts quite vividly with paintings which generally sell best at the start and then gradually the sales will reduce. For sculptures and bigger 3D things, it’s quite a long lead-in time and there can be a period where you don’t make any sales at all. So, you just commit to it and have faith that more exposure will ultimately lead to the sale.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: There’s different reasons why paintings or prints might stay up; sometimes it’s because they’ve done well and you think there’s no point taking it down because hopefully it will continue to do well. Other times, like Sam says, sales might not have happened but you think “I just know there’s sales to be had from these” and it’s just a matter of time or the right person coming through the door so they deserve to be up.

It can also depend on where the work has come from, especially if they’ve delivered them from a long way away or the deal with the particular artist. Also, I feel if a particular artists work is on display too long, people become a bit blind to it so we might take down so when it goes back up again it’s fresh and people are pleased to see it back up.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What’s the weirdest or the most unusual submission to the gallery you’ve had?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: A sculpted portrait in a jam-jar full of their collected toenail clippings; certainly a curious way of doing self-portrait with their own DNA.

The Culture Vulture: With the state of play of the world, have you seen a move towards protesty or political artist submissions?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Not so much, our submissions tend to be very much about self and people.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Yeah, subjects like identity, gender, feminism; I see more work addressing those issues. There’s always been a lot of that with younger people, but I think there is a little more of that now.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – Thinking about another contemporary issue – the environment! Have you changed any of your practices in terms of wrapping up work and things to do with environmental concerns; has that changed how you work?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: We’ve all been a bit more aware of it recently, in fact we tried just recently getting some cardboard bubble wrap, like a sort of textured, cardboard wrapping.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: Not in terms of the way the gallery works but I’m really focusing hard on trying to get ethical jewellers in, because the jewellery industry is a total nightmare; precious metals aren’t always produced ethically. We’ve had an ethical showcase, shining a light on jewellers working with recycled or Fairtrade metal and it’s my big target to get as many jewellers as possible working with that. I’ve been contacting jewellers who don’t currently work with ethical metals and telling them about suppliers, trying to get that moving here as a wider movement.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: When you’re working on an exhibition install – what’s it like? What tasks are involved?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Well a lot happens on email before the work is here, it can be quite involved, suggesting and selecting what work, covering a range of price points and sizes. Then the work arrives; we have to check it off and catalogue it.

Using experience and intuition, I decide which prints and paintings work well next to each other without competing too much with each other – I spread out colours. styles and sizes so that there’s some balance to what is displayed. You want to be able to see the work as opposed to some heavily laboured curating; an exhibition is about the work, so you don’t want an arrangement that looks very heavily arranged. But you do want people to see particular pieces first, especially if there’s a large piece which you think is going to be a show grabber….The exhibition install is the really fun part of our jobs, we come out of our offices and get hands on.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: The install is a surprisingly small portion of the job though; from the outside, people might imagine that it is predominantly the job. Probably about 20% of our time is spent on actual installation of work, doing displays, thinking about the layout of the gallery, the lighting and the juxtaposition of various things. That’s the fun stuff, that’s what people see and that’s what people might imagine constitutes the job of a curator –  but the job is a lot broader than that and it’s about building relationships, a lot of administration, paperwork, analysis, managing stock, working out VAT codes…..

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think that’s why we work hard to get good gallery submissions because you do so much work in the background and then it’s such a pleasure when you get really beautiful work in and you can take loads of pleasure in putting it on display.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: It can sometimes feel exciting when something’s arrived, you can forget for a while that it’s not just for you personally. For a short while, it’s like Christmas, unwrapping the “presents” and that is a nice feeling.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: And when putting the work up, you start to get a sense of the possibilities and the gallery that you’re putting the work into is kind of ever changing. A lot of the displays aren’t really planned per se in advance so it’s about thinking on your feet; that’s quite energising sort of thrilling.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – I imagine it being like…..remember the 90s programme Itsa Bitsa, where they had loads of art materials and then they’d go as a collective, pick all the stuff out and then it would all be like chaotic and then they’d create something collectively mint out of the chaos…

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: We have two weeks of full-time install for each quarterly show and we’re just on the gallery floor. There can be trollies of paintings going up and down, things propped against walls, boxes of jewellery, boxes of ceramic, whatever it might be and we try to keep it all clean because we don’t close; we’re open to the public. There is a moment where everything is in some state of flux and change and then somehow, normally with five minutes to go before everyone turns up for the preview, it suddenly all looks rather nice and it’s weird.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It is weird how often really interesting displays come out of thin air and I would love to say that it was all very planned; may be at some level it is!  But also, twenty new painting deliveries might arrive at once, I might get twenty to thirty ceramic and sculptures and that’s all got to be arranged into the gallery in a coherent way that does the best for all those artists, you don’t necessarily have the fine details of that worked out but you’ve got a few days to curate it and out of that “something” happens! It just comes together in a way which is beautifully surprising and quite satisfying,

We are always too exhausted to really appreciate the exhibition at the end of the install.  The hour before the quarterly preview, we’re always generally still running around, polishing things and doing labels but there is always suddenly a moment of calm when I go “oh that’s come together and it looks pretty… pretty good and I really like how that sits with that.”

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Pre-lock down – were there any current art trends or futures trends that are impacting and influencing how you select work?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I guess, social media is changing how you select work because you don’t necessarily need to go… I can get a jeweller in from the other side of the country but I don’t need to go see it. Some people are getting really good at promoting their work online I think that’s something that’ll happen more.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Trends can be very subtle; like the colours of frames people choose or the fact that people change from making rectangular work to square work and all those things are subtly moving around all the time.

The Culture Vulture: I’m all about championing that there are so many routes into creative industries. Can you tell me what you studied and any advice you have for future creatives who would like to embark on a creative career path?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I studied jewellery and silversmithing in Edinburgh, so I do have a relevant degree. Then I was self-employed as a jeweller for a long time and then I had a small gallery space on the west coast of Scotland, where I got into the curating side of things!

I did really love doing my degree but if you’re interested in jewellery making, I would totally recommend going and doing an apprenticeship. Art college is great for concept and community but going to work with a traditional jeweller and getting that basis of skills will just set you up.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I have a degree in contemporary photographic practice from Northumbria and then I have an MA in Fine Arts Practice from Northumbria.

Advice for breaking into professional creative industries…… go out and make as many connections as possible, be open to things, attend things and broaden your horizons in any way possible. Advice from an art practice side, I’d say the same really and I think, just get good, in terms of making art!  I think a lot of people aren’t resolute or rigorous enough in getting good and people want… I guess people want to be famous, they want to be in galleries, they want to make money and obviously there’s pressures to be all of those things socially and economically but that can get in the way of building your own voice, which ultimately could be the foundation to your success. Some people want to shortcut that.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: I did a degree at Kent Institute in Canterbury for a year and then I did by BA at Newcastle University. Then I was a bit clueless really, I kind of floundered around for a very long time, reading the Evening Chronicle once a week hoping to find a very high paid arts job with my name on it and not knowing where else to look!

I don’t think my degree particularly did anything much to train me up to know where to find opportunities or to successfully apply for them when I found them; I did apply for various sculpture commissions and things without really knowing how on earth to put together a professional application. I spent some time working various retail jobs and then worked for about 18 months as an art technician in a sixth form college. I moved back here and became a postman, then I got a job here as a gallery assistant. I worked hard and tried to prove myself and when other opportunities came up, I applied and progressed.

In terms of advice, I suppose advice for artists would be slightly different to advice for future curators.  As much as I like my job I didn’t really set out to be a curator so it’s very hard to give advice to set yourself up to be one; I’m sure there are more tailored qualifications that would give you more chance of becoming a curator now.

Advice in terms of being a fine artist; that it’s important to hone in on one aspect of your work, even if you do lots of other kind of work for your own enjoyment. You’ve got to have something which is identifiably you, your signature, something that can be repeated to some degree to apply to galleries and connect to a specific customer base.

I guess, as Mika says, go and get some actual, specific experience, especially if you’ve done a fine art degree as it’s just so broad ranging, wide and potentially a bit wooly. I advise you to go down one route where you can start learning the skills that make you really good at something, rather than just having some ideas and tinkering. It took me a long time to do it; I was doing various part time jobs to free up studio time to make – I’d paint a portrait one week, then get frustrated and think that the new future of me was going to be landscapes and then decide it was printing and then something else… I spent years floundering around like that with nothing much to show for it. It’s only in the last four or five years, especially through working here, that I’ve narrowed everything to one or two things and tried becoming more professional on those. My advice would be to get to that stage, quicker than I did!

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I’d tell them to expect to have to flounder around for a bit. Perhaps now in the age of the internet. 15 years ago, when we graduated, it was a different world or it looked like a different world; it looked less easy to penetrate. Whereas now, I think people have social media and they have their own websites much more quickly;  I think that can lead to people wanting to shortcut it; but the floundering bit is character making, humbling, exposing you to failure and doubt, working out how to fit yourself into the world rather than just steadfastly standing there saying “I’ve graduated, I’ve got a website, world come at me/world fit around me”.

You’ve got to find your way into the world a little and I think it’s that, that is the source of a lot of discontent as some graduates are unprepared for the reality and competitiveness of the world.  You’ve got to expect it and understand that the world is indifferent to you at first, even if you’ve got a website and a first-class degree in Fine Art. The reality is you’re still going to have to work at it really hard; if you’re not prepared and hungry for it, it’s going to be even harder. I’m sure that we’ve all experienced difficulties in trying to find a route into the arts, with our own personal practice or professionally; but I think more than ever people are unprepared for the difficulty and it’s more competitive than ever! So you’ve got to go into an artist career with your eyes open or it can be quite damaging – the world can be quite hostile.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – I do a lot of work with young people and I’m starting to see less young people choosing to go into creative industries because they are viewed as a whole mass together and that there aren’t the opportunities….if you’re looking to go into a visual arts career, then yes it’s very competitive. But if you want to go into graphic design, app development, animation, outdoor event producing, tech  – well there are LOADS of opportunities….

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I feel like it’s irresponsible to send so many kids off to vague creative degrees and fine art degrees; many are left at the end high and dry when they finish. I had this experience in my final year of my BA, literally a couple of weeks before the end of it, we had a seminar about the outside world and how to write a letter to a gallery and it was like a one hour thing…..

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: After a four year degree, I did not know how to apply for a commission or how to write an Arts Council grant. It’s unforgivable that you can get through that amount of degree and not know those things.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Some artists have no awareness of the landscape in which they’re meant to be a professional in or they are meant to be qualified and don’t know materials, don’t know the processes, don’t know what opportunities there might be or how you apply for them. It happens all the time.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: It’s the same with outdoor light installation work – many aspiring outdoor sculptors/light installation makers out of University have brilliant conceptual ideas but no knowledge of the technical aspects of what it takes to make a sculpture durable outdoors and the technical aspects to deliver on a light installation….

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  It happens. Soon after graduating, I had this bronze commission for a school in Jarrow, a big bronze snail, I had no idea how to secure it to the ground and in about half an hour, having welded a couple of bowls, I just filled it with as much cement as I could and tried to wedge some holes into the ground. If that hadn’t worked and it actually needed to be on a stone base or welded, then I’d have been stuck. I had just had no idea at all!

The Culture Vulture: And just a final thing, I am really interesting in this “positivity” ethos at the moment on social, manifesting success and an extreme push towards “only do what makes you happy” across our whole lives – on one hand that’s brilliant but I think we’re gradually conditioning some people to forget that life is hard, that to get to where you want to be it is tough and sometimes you have to wade through a whole lot of difficult and challenging stuff…..and that’s normal and ok.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: It’s really unrealistic.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Yeah, and also you might not even get there, no matter how hard you work; there’s this idea, this myth, that if you work really hard, you’ll get what you deserve.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  Well we’ve all said this but our generation feels like we were told by our parents’ generation that you can naturally – unlike them, who just got a job and had to work hard at it for fifty years, that you can be anything you want to be as long as you set your mind to it but actually to become a very successful commercial artist is not attainable for most people and even if you’re trying, you’re not necessarily geared up for how much work there is involved. I’m sure there’s a lot of people of our generation, that are very frustrated that the false promise didn’t come off.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I think people take it on as a personal failing; whereas it is really a structural failing in a broader societal sense and also there aren’t enough opportunities for all the graduates coming out of Art School. And you know, like Sam said about his experience, you don’t really know what path it is that you’re taking and then you look back and you’ve arrived somewhere.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  You just find yourself in unusual places in your life, take what comes your way and carve out your own opportunity.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: In retrospect, it looks like there was a plan because it led you somewhere that turns out to be decent but actually it’s just a series of coincidences, circumstances, situations and chances; you find your way through it and I think people are perhaps less aware that is the reality of how it is, now more than ever. More people have bigger expectations and are fed this idea of the clear route to something; it’s pretty dubious to set people up like that.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

Wow – what interesting curator chat! You can check out The Biscuit Factor online gallery here to see the artists and art works they have on their books. The Biscuit Factory underpins the livelihood of over 50 staff, supports the careers of thousands of artists and attracts over 100k visitors a year into the local economy. They do not receive public funding, arts council financial support or rely on any grants to carry out work, so for the first time in their 17 year history, they are asking for support and donations. You make a donation or purchase something like a card, or lunch from their café HERE.

That’s all for now Culture Vultures. xx