Black Dog Studio aka Simon Yates threw some questions at us about why we started UC and how this all came together.
Simon Yates is a furniture maker turned artist, after taking up a part time fine art course. He describes his practice as being 'on a quest to discover the crossover between furniture and art, but now not so sure.'
During our exhibition Vertical Merger, Yates submitted his piece Gone for Lunch, 2021 - A large scale, mixed media, wall based work. Consisting of various office objects such as a monitor, folders, plants and an office chair cut vertically in half. As soon as we saw the work we knew it had to be a part of the exhibition. We particularly enjoyed the animated elements of the work, including a beeping fax machine and rotating fan - giving off a certain stressful, chaotic vibe echoing the 9-5.
When arriving at the space to drop off his work on a purpose built wooden trolley, the installation process showed off his career as a highly skilled furniture maker, with a refreshing spoonful of professionalism compared to what we are used to seeing. We got to know Simon (Black Dog Studio) pretty well as he was assembling his piece and talked of his studies at the Art Academy London. Where we discovered he was studying under Alison Hand (BA Programme Leader at Art Academy London) who had previously exhibited with us at the Emergent Vision exhibition and part of this show too.
After the exhibition Black Dog Studio got in touch with some questions for us about the motivation behind Uncovered Collective, as part of his research...
What is your background before art school, or did you follow art all the way from school?
Cherish: Luckily for me I always knew that I wanted to be an artist. At aged 8 my Pa gave some oil paints and I haven’t stop since. I went to collage specialising in Fine Art to then lead on to the art school.
Stan: Due to my rather hedonistic lifestyle my journey through art education was going to be inevitably stuttering. I flunked all my A-Levels except art so ended up studying a foundation at my local art college. I dropped out of my first degree and then spent the next few years working and spent time travelling Australia and the far east. When I returned to complete my undergraduate I had hoped it would be a springboard to a more creative mode of living, instead it turned out to be a trapdoor. I had an existential crisis and no longer knew what type of art I wanted to produce or what type of artist I wanted to be. I decided to give up art and try to live life like a normal person. Within three years the creative impulse returned and against my better judgement I started making art again. This process finally led me onto the master’s course.
Mitch: I was originally into illustration and street art, I did a BTEC in fine art but then decided to go for a tattoo apprenticeship instead of uni - after a year of that I quickly got bored of the repetitively and decided to go back to college and then on to university to pursue fine art.
What was your expectation after you left art school and did reality differ from that?
Cherish: My expectations were never high, Life isn’t open being given things on a plate. If you love something you need to work for it, it is as simple as that.
Stan: I fully expected to sell zero work, gain no critical acclaim and the whole process to be a money pit. This is the reality.
Mitch: I didn't really have expectations of what the "art world" would be like, from working part time in galleries during my studies and reading about them I slowly got an idea of how the art world operates. It wasn't really different to how I pictured it, though I realised there was unfortunately more dirty money involved than I first thought.
Where did you meet?
UC: We all met at Wimbledon College of Art studying a Masters in Fine Art.
What was happening at the time / personal context?
Cherish: I done the masters to expand my network and my artistic development. I didn’t really care for the fancy paper, paper means nothing. It’s the work and getting to know the art world what was important.
Stan: I had been working in my family business for about ten years and life had started to become a bit of a grind. I wanted an adventure and to try something new. I was approaching my fortieth and thought if I didn’t make a change now I probably never would.
Mitch: During the MFA course I was on a bit of a political/frustrated bender and meeting Stan added fuel to this fire. We spent a lot of time debating/arguing about our views and luckily (for me) Cherish was there to mediate, it was a very encouraging time and I learnt a lot by talking with these two about different topics.
What was happening at the time / in the art world?
Cherish: We was lucky because this was before covid and we had the freedom just to be an artist and just learn how the art world ticks. Yet there was a massive change over covid so it’s changed since then.
Mitch: Brexit was really the defining factor during the course for me, there were lots of exhibitions and pop-ups about it. The art related to this was a mixed bag in my opinion, either really good or too on the nose. Of course, there was the growing popularity of minority artists rising at this time too but I was just watching this pan out from afar and then just after our course finished the BLM movement really turned up a notch in the art world.
Whose idea was this?
UC: To be fair it was a group effort with the people on our course. We wanted to exhibit and expand our practice. However, it was just us three that just kept it going.
What was the initial motivation?
UC: Originally we had hoped the Collective to be an ongoing network for our class but it soon morphed to try and allow artists to exhibit their work that might find it hard to do so. Chatting with other people with different ideas and visions makes things more interesting.
Did you have a plan / vision of what this might be or where it would end up?
Stan: No not really, we just wanted to see how it would grow organically.
Mitch: It was kind of to create our own opportunities but it naturally became more of an organisation role that's outward facing, as soon as we realised there was so much interest from all sorts of artists who appreciated opportunities just like us.
It appears that you put a lot of effort into doing this, what is the return for you?
Stan: Only the self-satisfaction of doing a good job.
Cherish: Money wise nothing, but networking is a great part of it. The art world can seem small. So this just opens it up.
Mitch: Honestly, I've questioned this myself at times because it certainly hasn't been financially lucrative. For me, I enjoy keeping my feet wet with creatives otherwise it's easy to fall off due to other priorities. Meeting interesting people is probably the most rewarding thing. It's also been really good for practising website/social media ideas which feeds into my career as an SEO.
Did you feel that this was the only way you could get your work in front of galleries or were you not concerned with that?
Mitch: This wasn't really the motivation but it was surprising to see local galleries and artist circles starting to take an interest in our collective. Being recognised by galleries is obviously amazing but the whole point of our collective is to do our own thing without any commercial noise or pressures.
Stan: There are plenty of opportunities out there to showcase your work, although they hardly ever pay. We are part of this ecosystem that one that exists outside the commercial gallery and state funded museum system.
How far do you plan ahead or is the process quite spontaneous?
UC: We are always planning, then when we find the right space we just go ahead and get into it.
Where must you look in order to find new spaces?
Cherish: Everywhere. Even when I am on a train, I’m just looking to see what spaces can be used. Then if I find something of interest, I dig into if it’s a possible location.
Have you noticed that artist-run spaces have become more and more popular with artists taking matters into their own hands instead of waiting for a gallery to discover them or do you think that this has always been the case?
Stan: I think this is a historical trend that started with the YBAs although as I mentioned before I think this exists outside (or more conceptually below) the international art scene.
Why not find a white cube gallery and charge artists to take part?
Cherish: Cause that is nothing new, it’s the same old shit on another day. Also art shouldn’t just be a rich man's game, these white cube spaces charge so much, we want to let the poorer artists do their work.
Mitch: We've thought about doing this for a one off type of show to off-set our usual types of venues, but just at the cost of putting it on. I think as soon as you turn to this type of commercialisation you really risk damaging the integrity of the shows/artworks involved. It takes a very special person and idea to put on a decent commercial show.
Have you thought about how you could model this to try and make it compensate for your time?
Stan: There is a business model out there because other organisations work in this fashion. I personally would feel queasy about charging artists as I feel it is slightly parasitic. We feel the most ethical way forward would be to try and get arts council funding. In the ideal world we would offer a portion of this money to pay the artists for exhibiting with us
How important is it that you invite other artists to take part (It could be just the 3 of you)?
Mitch: At first I didn't care about getting others involved but was just open to it. Since putting on some of the big shows I enjoyed them so much more than our small ones.
Have you thought about applying for funding to put on exhibitions or approaching a project space with a proposal?
Cherish: Yes and one of our first projects, Postopia the space was offered to us for free as we applied to use their space. We have been thinking of applying to funding, it's just finding the time to all sit down and do it as we have other jobs.
To a mainstream audience, the traditional way of experiencing art is through a gallery or museum, how do you think it is possible to bring these artist run exhibitions to a mainstream audience, making them a viable way of discovering new art?
Mitch: So far we have relied quite heavily on using non conventional types of spaces to show artworks, for example Vertical Merger in the old HMRC building attracted a few people purely because of the space and the building. I'm not sure if we're qualified to comment on the mainstream but social media is probably the most effective way to do so.
What adversity have you encountered on your journey?
Cherish: Time and Money, we are all working other jobs to survive, leading us to have less time to do this. All of us came from a working class background, so money is never a luxury we have.
Mitch: Honestly, just balancing every-day life with the collective. Having enough time in the day is one thing but finding the mental energy to change hats from "day job" to "artist" can be difficult some days. I tend to go through phases of motivation myself, that's why it's good to have multiple people involved as they can take the wheel for a while until I resurface.
Would you like to become involved with more galleries or curators?
Cherish: Of course, I’ve worked on many separate projects with curators / galleries and we are always up for linking on projects.
What’s the plan now?
UC: Just keep going and get some funding behind us.