By Chloe Darnaud
During the 1960s, dock closures left East London riddled with derelict buildings, which became relatively cheap places for artists to install their studios in. The art scene then began to thrive. A number of galleries opened, attracting dealers, collectors, artists and art students.
Today, London’s East end counts more than 200 art galleries but that is a lot less than there were a couple of years ago. With the recession, the gentrification phenomenon and spiralling property prices, the art scene has progressively moved from the East to the West end of the city. But given the prices of rent, studios, painting materials and with increasing competition which makes finding a gallery more complicated, artists seem to struggle a whole lot more than before. And even galleries are struggling now with Brexit coming along.
“The balance of making art and living out of it is a really difficult one.”
Christine Watson, 57-year-old artist, gives art classes part time in order to support her paintings. “That way I am not entirely dependent on my art, because the balance of making art and living out of it is a really difficult one,” she says.
When she did her masters in London in 1981 she says she was lucky there were no fees for art school, it was easy to get a part time job and studios were cheap. “Accommodation was particularly cheap in Dalston, I used to have a flat there, which now I could not afford. It’s gotten worse and worse,” she says. Now she lives away from the city centre and has her art studio in her garden.
Christine Watson explains group exhibitions are a good alternative, allowing artists to share exhibiting costs. “Getting a gallery to exhibit your work is hard, really hard. And hiring a venue is really expensive, unless you go for a group exhibition,” she says.
Matthew Theobald, painter in London says it’s not really a struggle to be an artist in the city, but later admits he doesn’t always sell art during exhibitions and, some galleries in London he’s worked with, can take up to 45 per cent commission on the art sold. He even says some places like the Islington Art Factory charge £300 in fees.
“Getting a gallery to exhibit your work is hard, really hard. And hiring a venue is really expensive, unless you go for a group exhibition.”
However, he argues it is always interesting to get your work out in new places. “Some exhibitions I don’t sell any at all, but the show is still enjoyable and you get the chance to meet interested people at private views,” he says.
If making it as an artist already seems difficult on its own, in terms of talent, recognition, and competition, the situation for artists in London has become even tougher due to the rise of rent prices, the massive competition and the art galleries’ reluctance to take risks.