Coronavirus on the visual arts: ‘It’s become much harder for artists to make a living’
PUBLISHED: 19:15 18 August 2020 | UPDATED: 08:47 19 August 2020
Artists and gallery owners have spoken of the “critical state” of the industry due to lockdown and then social distancing measures.
The coronavirus shutdown brought the closure of galleries during what should have been a busy season and, while some are reopening, measures to be ‘Covid secure’ mean fewer visitors through their doors.
Peter Rumsey, of Mill Tye Gallery in Great Cornard, Sudbury, said it had become so much harder for young artists to make a living - and urged people to visit the gallery.
And Owen Berry, an artist and owner of MF Gallery and Framing in Ipswich, said it had been a “really hard time” for galleries and artists, adding some makers had stopped work, but on the flipside some people were picking up paintbrushes having never done so before.
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Ipswich artist Zac Patsalides, who displays his work at MF Gallery and Framing, has been able to use his time while on furlough to develop his painting skills and is now on the road to becoming a professional.
Mr Rumsey said: “The future of the arts in this country lies with young people. They need platforms for their work. Without the opportunity to exhibit and sell their work, they have no future.
“While facilities to sell online are important (we have our own online shop for example), there is nothing like showcasing your work in the right setting. Ours is a wonderful little gallery, discoverable in a picturesque rural setting, and, although it’s sad to have to consider this, it’s perfectly laid out for social distancing.”
Mr Berry, another supporter of young artistic talent, said online art sales had taken off during lockdown, but “seeing the artwork on a screen was not the same as seeing them in person”.
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He added: “It’s been a really funny time. A lot of artists I have spoken to found their creative side took a bit of a back seat during lockdown - obviously with galleries being shut and not having that outlet to sell their work.
“I’m an artist myself and I found my creative side was put to one side and I was doing a lot more at the home. And there was almost a bit of role reversal: a lot of people who weren’t creative were picking up brushes for the first.”
He said people’s newly-discovered creativity was “brilliant” for his gallery now it had reopened and professional artists are now trying to get back to some sort of normality.
He added: “It costs money to produce artwork. You have to buy materials and canvasses...if you feel you have then not got an outlet to sell by it’s very tricky.”
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Suffolk artist Dominic Upson, who gained a BA in ceramic design from Central Saint Martins and was an apprentice for Lisa Hammond MBE, said he had been in a creative “slump” during lockdown, which his partner managed to get him out of.
“You need the outlet to sell and to find people to respond to your work really or you kind of stagnate,” he said.
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While recognising the importance of Instagram for getting his work seen, for him exhibiting at shows normally provides most of his income, but they have been cancelled because of the pandemic. He also runs classes, which are getting going again, with safety measures in place.
Renowned Scottish artist Sarah Baddon Price, who lives in Suffolk, believes Instagram to be the “modus operandi” for artists - which she said lockdown had proved.
She took part in Artists Support Pledge - an Instagram marketplace aimed at helping artists during lockdown where pieces are sold for up to £200 - but admitted she had now stopped over concerns on the impact on galleries and that the low selling prices could undermine the value of her work.
Her Artspace exhibition in Woodbridge in October will also be put online, however. “I think I would miss a trick if I didn’t,” she said.
Help nurture young artists
Mr Upson, from Battisford, near Stowmarket, is one of the young artists and craftspeople to be featured as part of the summer exhibition at Mill Tye Gallery.
Mr Rumsey said: “What stands out for me in Dominic’s work is the functionality as well as the attractiveness of his designs. He has really thought through the detail with comfort and practicality in mind. It is a totally different experience to drink or eat from lovingly handmade pieces of art than it is to consume from mass produced crockery.”
He added: “It was difficult enough for young artists to find outlets for their work and to make a livelihood before coronavirus, but it’s just become much, much harder. Visiting the gallery will provide a huge boost. Your support will help nurture their potential – and help ensure that the country isn’t deprived of the amazing talent we have in the region.”
Mr Berry added: “The only way to support up and coming artists is to visit your local galleries. We stock original and limited edition artwork from many artists both local and international and it is always a thrill when you can contact them to let them know their work has sold. We also offer a full bespoke framing service where we can help aspiring talent to show their work off to its very best.”
•The summer exhibition at Mill Tye Gallery will be open Saturdays and Sundays until September, to begin with from 11am to 4pm. For more information see here.
•Visit Dominic Upson’s website here and his Instagram handle is @domupson
•Visit Sarah Baddon Price’s website here and her Instagram handle is @sarahbaddonprice
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