I’m writing this as a thought process, to help me make sense of where I am with my art at the moment.
I’ve just backed out of an exhibition that I was helping to organise with HAN (Hailsham Artists Network) as I found the last HAN event too stressful. That event was a success, a Sussex Day ‘Meet the maker’s event held at a local business premises. A business that is a client of my day job business. It was my idea after attending another arts event there and being involved in liaising an artist with the company. It seemed like a natural progression. As the time neared for the event, I panicked that it was going to be a flop so sent out multiple press releases, spent hours on social media plugging all of the exhibitors and invited local dignitaries. They all accepted so I was now liaising with them and the business, ensuring correct protocol was followed, as well as taking bookings for a tour of the factory and co-ordinating the exhibitors.
On the day I packed up all of my art plus extra tables for the cheese and the wine tasting, made up posters for the door and printed out a plan for the exhibitors. Of course nothing goes to plan so I was having to move pitches around, making last minute changes. My attempt at arranging a staggered arrival of all exhibitors didn’t work as several exhibitors didn’t get the message as a consequence of which, 5 exhibitors tried to use the service elevator at once and got stuck. The managing director had to come and release them and the lift was out of action for the rest of the day. Hugely embarassing!
As the event opened I found myself serving the cheese and the soft drinks, ticking off factory tour attendees as they arrived, meeting the dignitaries and making introductions and taking photographs instead of manning my stall. I sold 3 cards to a fellow exhibitor. For this privilege I paid the same £25 exhibitor fee as everyone else. My own fault entirely. I could have just turned up and sat by my stall but I think it would have been to an empty room. We had about 100 visitors including the Mayor of Hailsham and the High Sheriff of East Sussex.
Ok, sob story over. I could see the same thing happening with the next exhibition HAN was organising as it was totally occupying my mind and I try to be in charge, although I really don’t want to be! It’s not that others won’t help, I know they will if there is no alternative and others were already on the case! I’ve got this vision of how it should be and it’s hard to let go. So, I’ve dropped out of both organising and exhibiting at that one. It’s a shame because I know it will be a great venue at a perfect time of year for visitors in Alfriston.
Next for me is the Summer Trifle event in our own back garden. Artists and craft makers from HAN will set up their own stalls and be self sufficient in the marquee and I will be exhibiting my all new work in the indoor gallery/studio space (just me) and I will be staying there to talk about my work with visitors. My new work is called Unframed/Untamed – assemblages of cardboard and other materials made to hang directly on the wall but not be framed, to be free and with no borders. I’m loving going wild with large cardboard boxes and a big knife, cutting swooping shapes then letting fly with paint, ink and other mediums. Longevity is not the aim here. Creativity is the process and the finished piece is kind of incidental. If they are saleable, great, but if not I am intending to photograph them, turning them into a ‘framed’ commercial piece (print or card), before deconstructing them and creating something new. It’s born from a desire to not keep buying new materials which are potentially harmful to the environment – I have doubts about acrylic paints – and to use up what I have, re-using and recycling existing materials.
But, I still have commercial works for sale and need to exhibit those in more commercial environments. I’m really enjoying working on new tree paintings again, all on reclaimed canvases with existing materials, working towards a joint event with a fellow musician/artist which will be an exhibition and concert. We’re having a meeting in a couple of weeks at the venue to decide on how it’s going to work. The hanging space is great, above a gorgeous shop, and it’s used for regular supper clubs and music events. So we’re planning a one day event and the question will be how long we leave the work up afterwards and how we attract visitors upstairs to see it when neither of us live close by. One to work on.
The following 2 commercial exhibitions I’m taking part in are with HAN. Now, a little background of HAN – I started this as a spin off from the Hailsham Festival Art Trial as a way to get participating artists and makers to network. There were Open Studios just a few doors apart that were not promoting eachother, seeming to think that they were competing for visitors. Getting everyone to co-ordinate their exhibitions and open houses/studios to link in with those close by to open on the same days, thereby helping visitors to see lots of venues in one trip, was my main aim. In addition to that the Hailsham Artists Network meetings started to become a vehicle for organising exhibitions and the group took over co-ordinating the art trail. A website was set up with financial help from the festival but we didn’t realise they had stopped paying after the first year which left us with a backlog of hosting fees to pay and no group funds. As usual with groups, the same people started attending the meetings and being active so we decided to formalise the group to try to get more involved and to call in a small membership fee to pay the outstanding bill. Finally, after many months, it came down to 3 of us becoming officers (me being Chair, just as I was about to walk away in frustration) in order to open a bank account. Now we have an account as a not-for-profit group constitution we can apply for funding to help us with various projects which is actually pretty exciting.
Onto the next 2 exhibitions. These are both part of the Art Trail in September. For some reason the Art Trail confuses people. HAN invite artists and makers to host their own exhibitions or open houses/studios or to approach local businesses to show their work during the time of Hailsham Festival. The Art Trail is mentioned by the Hailsham Festival in the main programme and on their website and HAN collate all the exhibitor’s details into a programme which is printed and distributed throughout the town and further afield. Exhibitors pay HAN a set fee to take part in the Art Trail which includes their entry in the printed programme and an event page on the HAN website. HAN will also promote their event on the HAN social media pages, send out press releases and organise a networking evening for all exhibitors to meet and pick up the printed programmes. They can also take that opportunity to swap fliers for their own events.
HAN members can choose to exhibit in the Art Trail at 2 HAN group exhibitions: The Bluebell Barn in Arlington and Gallery North in Hailsham.
The Bluebell Barn is a brilliant venue, a large barn which can take 24 screens plus lots of tables and has room for lots of visitors as well as space for refreshments. It’s a well known venue that attracts tens of thousands of visitors every spring for the Bluebell Walk – so it’s not a hard sell. 20 exhibitors can participate easily for the 2 day event. But although it is a great selling platform for crafts, some of them higher value, it doesn’t seem to be so good for selling works of art. It’s more of an exhibiting and promotional opportunity, good for artists who commercialise their work with cards and other printed items or who run classes or workshops.
Gallery North is a community Gallery in Hailsham High Street – a brilliant position and lovely hanging space with good light and a good hanging system. Paintings do sell there as well as crafts but it is still, after nearly 15 years in the town, sadly overlooked and does not attract lots of visitors. So a group exhibition of likeminded artists and makers who are there to sell should mean that those taking part will do their best to promote it far and wide. This will benefit the gallery as well as the group.
My participation in both exhibitions… I’ll display work and will have a table of my cards and small prints, thus hopefully making some small sales to cover my exhibitor fees if I don’t sell any of the art. I’ll aIso steward when I can so I can talk to visitors, hopefully picking up some contacts for me workshops and demonstrations. I will put together leaflets for both exhibitions, just as I have with the Sussex Day and the Alfriston event, with clear HAN branding so we get a following and are known as exhibiting high quality work. This also helps with the trickle effect of advertising – the more people see the branding, the more likely they are to notice a poster, ad or leaflet for the next exhibition. I will also create an event for both on the HAN website and push on social media. But I will charge for my services doing this as this is what I do as a day job so I am putting together a funding bid for the group to help cover these costs. It’s exactly what we would have to do if we were paying someone else to do the work.
Sadly getting embroiled in organising the Sussex Day event kind of killed my enthusiasm for exhibiting but I’m hoping these next events will rekindle it, especially if I can let others in the group get more involved and I can step back and let them get on with it without sticking my oar in! 😀
In the meantime, I’m taking any opportunity to sketch trees, paint and create my new works. Having finally cleared my studio space in the gallery/garage I have an area to work unhindered – unframed and untamed!!