Welcome to the 8th ‘Special Art Basel’ edition of Open Call! Today we’re talking about how to forget your borders and get outside of your home-turf when you’re an artist just starting out. And if you should quit your job and everything else, or if that’s a bad idea.
A few weeks ago, I got an email from an artist in Israel looking for tips on how to show abroad, and how they felt particularly limited because of where they live. So I asked my friend, Arch Enemy family member, and unofficial Open Call Tel Aviv correspondent, Julie Filipenko if she’d help me out by sharing some of her experiences getting started there.
Email us at [email protected] with any questions you have, concerns, success stories, challenges, or any other topic you’d like to discuss with a Gallery Director. Every other Monday we’ll publish a few of our favorites along with my replies. If you don’t see your email published, it does not necessarily mean it won’t be saved for a future installment. There have already been way too many good questions to make it into just one edition.
Visit my online author profile and stay updated on past editions. Some emails have been lightly edited for length.
I wanted to ask you about getting started as an artist and making it a full-time job. You see I live in Israel, and here there aren’t many options to be an artist and the market isn’t so great too for an artist, so I wonder if it’s even possible to become a full-time artist around here. If you could give me some tips or advice on how I could get myself out there it would really help.
Patrick & Julie at Art Basel
Patrick: So this is all you, how would you start out your response?
Julie: So, I would say today we live in a very special time for artists. The internet changed everything, you don’t really necessarily need gallery representation in order to get noticed by audiences. You have your own audience on social media, so you can just put your art out there and it will already be seen. Another thing I’ve noticed is that galleries like to work with artists, as a starting artist I got an impression that galleries like to work with artists who can sell themselves.
I once had a question from an artist from Tokyo. She was a really young girl and she started talking about how she prices her artwork and was like, “I can’t make a living off artwork, help me! What do you do? Nobody is paying for my art!” And I basically just told her that you have to get a day job and –
P: Put in the work!
J: Yeah, and you have to do it simultaneously and if you start to profit more and more off of art then you can quit your day job.You don’t just quit everything and now you’re an artist.
P: I’ll get emails for this and people will say they’ve decided to be an artist and some of them even have family, and they ask if they should quit their job and make their family live off of savings so I can become an artist –
J: No! We do other things besides the job we do to pay the bills, we all do. And you have free time to meet with friends or do other hobbies, so that free time, at first, you have to direct that into art. It’s sacrificing.
P: What was the first good experience you had showing overseas and outside of Israel?
J: It kind of happened so gradually. For me it felt natural. I started with a gallery in LA called Swoon Gallery, and what’s special about this gallery is that it doesn’t have a physical space. It does pop-up shows and she works with artists I admire, but it’s not a physical space. So she invited me for my first show there. And then from there I had on my resume that I showed at a gallery.
P: Did that help? Do you feel like it started getting any easier from here?
P: How exactly did that show come about?
J: Well, the internet and how it connects people and makes the world a smaller place, and I met some artists and we became friends and one of them was really nice and said, “You’ve got to get out of Israel” and he introduced me to Swoon. I didn’t even ask him to do it. It was amazing. What I believe in is that if you do your best, and do the best that you can, things will gradually work out and build up. And people really respect if they see that you’re doing something with love, and that you’re putting in effort. They get interested if they see that you are serious about what you’re doing.
P: The person who wrote this email seems to believe there are some limitations that are specific to where they’re from and to Israel and the scene there. Do you think there’s any truth to that?
J: Yes – but that’s only if you let yourself be dependent on your immediate location. I never planned to show in Israel, me personally.
P: Was that a decision you made, or was showing there just not really part of your plan?
J: It wasn’t a decision. I actually started showing in Israel recently, which was a pleasant surprise! It’s funny, I started showing abroad and then galleries there were like, “who is this Israeli artist that’s showing abroad and not in Israel. Let’s start selling her art here too.”, and it was a pleasant surprise and I never planned on that, because there’s a certain mindset about art, what’s legit art, what’s not, and they aren’t familiar with pop surrealism or those genres.
P: Is there a good scene for other types of art?
J: It’s developing, over the past few years it has been developing at a pretty fast rate and there’s more recognition and respect for street art and anything contemporary, and respect for it is on the rise and galleries are starting to experiment with it. Like I recently got contacted by a gallery who only shows classic art, but they’ve recently started working with younger artists and this movement so that’s new for them.
P: When you were just starting out and making an effort to get yourself out there did you try anything that didn’t work at all?
J: Well, after art school I was very confused. Just about what kind of art I was allowed to do, and what not. And I was stuck for a few years out of school and I didn’t do any kind of art just because I was afraid that there is work that you’re allowed and not allowed to do. But then I finally realized that’s something you decide for yourself and I did whatever I felt like doing and my style started developing from there. I didn’t have any specific plan. I was just serious about it. I started building something up and things started happening around it.
P: Was there any particular time where you started to feel like what you were doing was working? I don’t mean having confidence in your work, but that your effort was really starting to pay off and things were coming together. Was there a moment?
J: Two years into that. It was gradual. Once you start getting gallery propositions you’re just so busy working that you don’t really have time to stop and look at it from outside and be like hmm oh wow I’m getting somewhere. You’re just busy doing it. I quit my day job and that was about that was a thing. But about two years into that yes, I was like “whoa, I’m actually doing this”. I quit my day job. About half a year after that. I said, “wow. I quit my day job. I am a full-time artist.”
P: What was your day job?
J: I worked as a waitress for many years and then I started working for a gallery.
P: Is that the job that you quit?
J: Yeah, I did not enjoy it very much. I am a very independent person. But what I did get out of it, is it taught me how to communicate with people and how to maintain a professional tone and to answer in the most accommodating way.
P: Was it an easy decision to quit?
J: It was a scary step! But was gradual, I went from full time. 10 hours a day, 6 days a week and I would just draw on the weekends, but again it’s about sacrifice. I would just not meet up with friends at that time. I would draw. So it went from full time, to part time. To three shifts. Then I decided I didn’t need those two shifts anymore, I needed that time to prepare for shows. Sometimes in Israel people come up to me, really young artists and they ask me, “how did you start showing abroad?” and they ask me that before they have even developed their own style. They’re just starting out. They haven’t even made much art but they’re already concerned with how they are going get it out before it’s even done and I’m like, “Hold your horses!”. First just focus on your art. Make art. Improve it. It happens gradually.
P: It’s funny because we get that a lot too and you have these conversations sometimes and you know they haven’t really tried very much yet, but they’re ready for the payoff. I don’t think that’s just artists. Maybe people want instant gratification.
J: They’re ready to be a superstar!
P: Haha exactly. But you spent a long time working things out and needed to accept that you were in the drivers seat and things like that and only then did it start coming together.
J: Yeah, it was very gradual and then it started coming together for me.
P: Before that happened though, when you were dialing in your style, was that feeling coming mostly from within yourself and you building up your own confidence or was there also outside feedback?
J: Well for me personally, and it doesn’t have to be this way, but for me is that Instagram saved my life. I should get a t-shirt like that! I think it is hard to continue creating constantly if you don’t have an audience to share it with. I was stuck for a few years I would have rather gone out instead of painting alone in my room, but then Instagram let me post drawings and things. I had no intention of making it into an art blog like it is for me today, it just started out as a hobby and then gradually became more serious. And for me it’s more fun when I have an audience to share it with. Whenever younger artists ask me I tell them the internet is your best friend.
P: Did people find you on the internet or did you have a plan to promote yourself?
J: I didn’t have a plan I just wanted to do something to increase the quality of my life and then it became serious on its own. When I noticed it was becoming more serious I put in more effort, and that’s kind of it. The way things happen, it’s all a surprise. You cannot plan that you’re going to run into somebody by mistake.
Thanks for writing, good luck!
Patrick & Julie
p.s. Julie’s new show Secret Dimension opens December 11th at Arch Enemy Arts. Someone should make her an Instagram t-shirt to celebrate.
Have a question for Patrick? Send inquiries to [email protected]
Patrick Shillenn is the co-founder and director of Arch Enemy Arts in Philadelphia. He doesn’t think he has all the answers. He just wants to have the conversation.
Follow him on IG @pshillenn & Twitter @mathclub