The artist as exhibitionist

Painting by Helen WhiteThe ever-present dichotomy for many an artist is that the very personality traits that fuel a desire to lose themselves, day-after-day, in a creative bubble of their own devising make it seem (in the over-active imagination upon which they rely), at best, that there is a steep mountain to be climbed and, at worst, a self-destruct button that they risk activating as they confront the necessity of attracting attention to themselves in order for the fruits of their labour to reach an audience. The potential for ridicule or rejection to lie around every corner (responses that would send tremors through the foundations of all but the most confident artist’s belief in themselves) is a harsh reality to face up to when the cosy alternative is to lock yourself away in your studio and churn out the work quite regardless of who sees it. In my own case, consumed as I am by a love of painting that sees me driven and focussed in what I do to the exclusion of all else and for weeks at a time, it is all too easy to convince myself that I am far too caught up in the throes of  high-productivity to be bothered with promoting what I do…whilst conveniently sweeping under the mat the all-important and quite inescapable fact that unless anybody knows about what I am doing, it is all for nought!

Fact of the matter is that art’s very raison d’etre requires that it sees the light of day at some point and the internet – whilst an invaluable tool – is seldom enough when it comes to making regular sales or gaining a reputation in the art-world.

Painting by Helen White

For my own part, I confess, I took a somewhat relaxed approach to finding a “new” gallery to replace the one in which I had made a very comfortable home until its abrupt closure a couple of years ago and, apart from one shelved attempt to put together a joint exhibition with an artist whose vision turned out to be very different to my own, it began to dawn on me at the start of this year that I had ploughed all of my energies into painting and internet exposure for, well, a little longer than planned.  As the calendar flipped over to 2012, something told me that the time was ripe to see my work on gallery walls again and so I set about marketing myself and trying some new tactics.

The marketing paid off as I was immediately approached by two top-notch galleries within 40 miles of where I live and so appointments were made to meet and show them my work. The outcome, I am delighted to announce, is that I have been welcomed onboard by both and so the “mountain” turned out not to be all that steep after all, self-annihilation didn’t even come into it and I find I have even more reason to get back to my beloved painting now that there are actual walls on which the end-results can be displayed!  As with most things, the perceived obstacles in my way turned out to have as little substance as a theatrical curtain made of gauze when swept asside by an arm strengthened by self-belief and a vision of where I wanted to be and in what timescales. I had set myself the goal of being in at least one gallery by the end of June and now I was in two.

The Wey Gallery in Godalming fits the vision of the kind of gallery I set out to find to a tee; it is very-much an “independent”, occupying a prime position in a historic town set amidst the rolling hills of Surrey. Inside, the gallery is pristine, with a surfeit of light and space and is quite obviously run like a London gallery (it was recently listed in Vogue’s Definitive Guide to the Best Galleries in the UK) with a rapid turnaround of events and a lively display of art that is kept fluid and a vibrant with a mixture of household names alongside “fresh-blood” to the art scene.  As soon as I saw my paintings in there, they seemed to “work” and come to life in a way that you forget to appreciate when operating without a gallery-intermediary; and there is something about the whole “exhibiting” stage of the art process that, this reminded me, is every bit as valid as producing or selling it. This stage is all about allowing your work (or better still, a whole body of your work, harmonised in purpose) the opportunity to “sing out” from the walls, to engage the emotions and, perhaps, deeply affect those who happen to pass by.  This is the “performance” stage of art and, I think, every visual artist longs and holds out for this part in the proceedings, if they are honest, otherwise we would all be selling our work on the internet or on market stalls in the current economic climate. I am glad to say that The Wey Gallery selected sufficient pieces of my work to ensure that my artistic purpose is being allowed plenty of scope to “sing out” in harmony from their walls and, as an artist, there is nothing more satisfying than that.

The second gallery that I have joined is The Frame in Odiham, a fateful gallery to find myself in, for this reason: six years ago, when I was having a crisis of direction in my life and was still, very much, tied to an office job that had come to feel like a long prison-sentence, I took a day off and found myself sitting outside The George in Odiham eating lunch on one of the first warm days of spring.  Deep in thought, I can remember that as my eye cast about the High Street and came to rest on the gallery across the street, something ignited in me and (pie-in-the-sky as it seemed at the time) told me that this was the direction in which I longed to go… Six months later, having ditched the stressful job and finding myself with all the time in the world to paint, I started to regard that warm spring day in Odiham as a pivotal one in my decision-making. Nestled as it is, between other independent businesses, at Number 81 High Street which is a Grade II listed building from the early eighteenth century (the whole extent of this old coaching-road through the centre of Odiham is a treasure of historic buildings with a tale to tell), The Frame Gallery seemed to beckon me in and I hope it continues to have the same beguiling effect upon other visitors to Odiham now that my paintings are hanging on its walls!

Another thing that I have been reminded of in recent months is that the solitary aspect of being an artist is a choice but not a prerequisite and whilst there are times when it is desirable (certainly, when I am working on a canvas, I long to be left alone), there are other times when it serves better to remember that there are others like me “out there” facing very much the same (albeit self-created) mountains and crises of confidence; artists who seek exposure, feedback and answers to logistical questions. My recent day out on the Henley Art Trail provided me with a valuable opportunity to interact with other artists and, in one fell swoop, put me in touch with the Twyford Art Group and the Berkshire Artists Network, both of which I have now joined and with good results in terms of feedback, networking opportunities and irons in the fire (all sorts of opportunities to show my work) that are now warming to a pleasing glow.

Helen White Sunset on Loddon

Last but not least, the end of June sees Reading Arts Week come around once again and, this year, and with very little effort on my own part, I find that I am showing two of my paintings at its exhibition which is being held at the Penta Hotel on 23 – 24th June. This flyer (featuring “Sunset on Loddon“, one of the two paintings to be included, along with Mayflower) tells all and I am genuinely looking forward to attending the launch in a couple of weeks time; another opportunity to mingle with other artists and to get some all-important feedback and so take the reclusive aspect out of what I do…except, of course, when I really do want to be left all alone, with my paints!

And so, with some satisfaction, I can now announce that…

Paintings by Helen White can be seen at:

About Helen White

Helen White is a full-time professional artist (painting moments of everyday radiance in oil on canvas), a photographer, fabric designer and published writer with several blogs, on various topics, to her name. Light on Art is her art-related blog sharing recent artworks and inspiration.Living Your Whole Life is a health and lifestyle blog sharing all the many highlights of learning how to transform your health and wellbeing (spiralling out of ten years recovering from fibromyalgia). Spinning the Light is a very broad-based platform of self-discovery where she explores the everyday alchemy that is available to all beings just as soon as they open up to life's fullest potential.Helen White Photography is a portal for sharing her Fine Art photographs which are available as Limited Edition prints.
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