Thought's and Reflections by Amber Imrie-Situnayake
I was one of the lucky, the few who was able to keep up a healthy studio practice after leaving the womb that is 'University'. This wasn't for lack of extreme forward planning. I had spent 5 years between high school and my graduate studies working "dead end jobs" before returning to education.
So it's safe to say, that I knew what lied ahead for someone with a BA even from a good University. My magic 8 ball would say "outlook was bleak." I had to put into place a system that could help me avoid dropping the art practice I loved. In my junior year I started an art collective with my friends and we began to book group shows at gallery spaces and book shops throughout the city. This started my community and kept my spirits up.
My first year out I spent working as an after-school art teacher. During the week, I would spend from 6am-2pm in the studio before heading off to work. Then, I generally spent either Saturdays or Sundays lesson planning or making work in my studio (aka my living room). I essentially pretended I was still in school, making up deadlines for myself to keep the work flowing and getting shows at the few places I could.
It wasn't until a year and half after I left school that I started to go to shows. I started in the only manner I knew, to Saturday Stroll the First Friday galleries in Oakland. This was fun at first, but soon, I lost interest. I found the few galleries who showed compelling work and I was enjoying a good amount of what was being shown, but I needed more. While Saturday's calmer aspect let me talk to curators and owners, I was alone. I didn't have a stable exhibition buddy. And I'm not the artist to press my work on people. So I wasn't about to tell any of these curators that I was an artist and had them my card... and frankly I also knew my work wasn't strong enough yet. I needed to build my community and hope (aka work-my-ass-off so) the work followed suite.
I needed to meet people but galleries and artists; the relationship is complicated. I feel like my professors were giving me powerful advice, "go to shows". But the advices was subtlety flawed. The relationships between galleries and artists has changed. It wasn't too long ago that galleries and curators had portfolio days and now I'm told it's unprofessional to hand a gallery curator your card. But wait, it's a business card. Isn't that THE way you meet people professionally in any other career?
Well I've been told they prefer to see submissions online, but you and I know they are rarely seen for months or years if at all. A lot of galleries have bold texts on their websites saying NO ARTIST SUBMISSIONS. So tell me, what is the professional manner? Secondary introductions? Every curator is different and cold calling is no fun. Not for any party involved. It's not always fruitless, but 99% of the time you'll never hear back anyways.
So, nearly two years out of Uni, I decided to start Venison Magazine. Venison gave me a new way to talk and interact with the art community. To see, investigate, and talk with artist's about their own work. It gave me a way to approach people in a manner that wasn't awkward and self-serving. It allowed me to dig deeper and foster relationships. This started to push my art practice in exciting ways. Not only did my work improve but I started to learn from and become friends with artists I admired. This was emerging through an equal business endeavor, publicity. I had something to give and in exchange I got answers to my questions.
I can't say I'm BFFs with every artist I interviewed, but I have made a many powerfully uplifting and encouraging friendships through this magazine. Some of which has lead to shows, meeting curators, collaborations and jumping barriers that I was hoping years of going to the saturday strolls might accomplish. I have learned that going to shows can be great. But it's pretty fruitless unless you are plugging into the community involved.
I don't really have any sound advice on how to get involved in that community, but from my experience, meeting other artist in my position has propelled me through years of painfully awkward gallery openings and countless wine-overs. It's also good to have someone to talk to while you loiter next to an artist or curator you're hoping to talk to!! You can view my work here. And follow my studio practice on Instagram: @amberimrie
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