Art Student Q&A

ArtStudent Q&A Chapter 1: Getting Out There

I am professional artist AZZURRO; Ask Me Anything! I will respond to any and all student questions regarding my practice and experiences. Follow in my steps or go your own way; the decision is yours. This time I'm speaking to Nick (Insta: @_horror_graf_ ) a fellow art/design student from Christian Brothers College, which is also where I studied street art, completely unaware it would be my full time job a few years later. Nick is completing his visual study on street art and aspires to take on the challenge of working as an artist.

AZZURRO in London, painting for Clink78 Hostel. Nov 2017. 

AZZURRO in London, painting for Clink78 Hostel. Nov 2017. 

N: After reading through your visual study, I saw the events and galleries. It really hit me. I was wondering if there are festivals still going around? Are they still running?
A: There used to be a lot more street art festivals in Adelaide that I haven't seen since studying them in 2012- I'm not sure why there aren't anymore, it could be to do with the fact that street art is integrating itself a lot more into government and council programs- things like the Adelaide Fringe Street Art Explosion, Railcare Arts Grants- there is a lot happening in Port Adelaide but no reason this can't happen everywhere else. A lot of festivals are happening in other states- I like Seawalls in Cairns, Walk the Walls in Caringbah. Street art can be a cliquey culture and I've learned it's best to do your own thing and let the genuine, compatible people prove themselves to you, just as you prove yourself to them through your own projects. From then small groups arrange themselves and what we end up with is the groups of friends working together to produce events that from the outside would look like a company-esque brand, to which membership is exclusively granted. You can try to fit into a group's mould, subject to their judgment of your reach, worth and style (both in your art and as a person as awful as that is) or you could just start your own endeavour with the people you trust. It is a difficult alchemical process mixing creatives together. It can be dangerous territory! (or it can be wonderful). 

It is a difficult alchemical process mixing creatives together.

N: I feel that I've been an artist all my life and the battles that you have with other artists is kinda stupid half the time. Would it be worth trying to start up another festival-type thing?
A: Of course, if you have the drive to take on a project like that I think it'd be an awesome way for you to meet a bunch of people and get a glimpse of the Adelaide artscape. It will not be a walk in the park I promise you! You will quickly figure out the good people out there and you will be confronted by some let downs. I think before you make contact you need to step back and look at who you are right now, what your dreams for your artistic future look like, this is the person you need to honour through your work for your whole life. And then you stick to that, and remember who you were right now in Year 12 throughout all of the BS you encounter. Look after yourself primarily and let group projects be an extension of this.

N: I'd really love to take on that challenge, it would be amazing to do something like that and bring together the art community
A: The walls are there for the taking and there has never been a better time to be a graffer. The rules have gone out the window, there is a lot of scope to make this your own and take design in an interesting direction. I don't know that the art community needs to be together necessarily. I believe art is not democratic. You distinguish yourself through your hard work, which means you control the extent to which your opinions are absorbed, not by default through membership to a group 

I believe art is not democratic

N: But if we can at least respect each other, then maybe people won't be AHs to other artists
A: That's true! I think there is a basic level of respect. It can be bitchy. I stick to myself. I think other creatives that I know, can respect this. I come out and collab when I choose to and do so very carefully and deliberately. Could not care less for the BS. Graff is its own game! Call yourself a street artist or a mural artist and you seem to bypass it- but graff can get nasty. I haven't had many issues there, I'm unsure if this is because of the fact that a lot of the work is done very purposefully for business/government/council but clearly you can choose to move throughout your own circles and stay in a separate world to that drama if you want. I think that's a good choice. You have your youth on your side so use it to your advantage. You don't need to get permission from the 'arts community' to create. Work for small business if you can!

You don’t need to get permission from the ‘arts community’ to create.

N: Did you do any unauthorised pieces?
I've done my fair share of cheeky walls. That stuff doesn't make it onto Facebook or Instagram, unlike my commissioned pieces I'll never know who sees them or how long they will last and I enjoy that

Unofficial wall, collaboration with Roarkij in Adelaide City. Feb 2017.

Unofficial wall, collaboration with Roarkij in Adelaide City. Feb 2017.

N: What's the best paint, in your experience?
Britishpaints from Bunnings. Sample pots are cheap as hell (About 5 bucks for 250mL) and they doooooo last outdoors. None of that mixing guesswork with a whole wall of colours to choose from! It's not as much the paint 'quality' as how you seal it in. A good artist can pull an image together out of whatever is on hand! For aerosols go to Cold Krush gallery (Facebook page) and speak to Adam and his team. Actually that's a great point to start for a research project. 

N: How can I get out there in terms of my art/mural painting?

 In terms of generally getting your name out as a ‘street artist’ the best way to go is to show people what you’ve got rather than telling them about it. Make your art do the talking- both in quality and in how prolifically you are creating. Do your own thing as an artist and people will catch on to what you are about- there’ll never be a moment when you are officially ‘out there’, it is a never-ending process and as time goes on your reach increases. The main thing is that your stuff just needs to be out in the world for people to find, if one person sees your work and is moved then the art piece has succeeded.  
If you are looking to offer your services to businesses- I began by applying for an ABN and starting a website with Wix way back when I'd just graduated before moving to Squarespace when things got too busy to spend a lot of time on tending to the site- which is what you should aim for. I used business cards from Vistaprint which I don’t tend to hand out anymore- I usually just tell people to search for my site in their phone while they’re standing there talking to me. Websites tie everything together and give you full control over how you present your artwork. It can also function as a one-stop workspace for yourself where you can tangibly see your art career piecing together. Facebook pages and Instagram can be good but their crappy alogrithms mean they shouldn’t be relied on and any job offers coming exclusively through those avenues shouldn’t be given full priority- refer people onto your site and if they're legit they'll follow through. You will run into a lot of timewasters as you go, and how you deal with these will determine whether you will succeed as an artist or at least your temperament. It’s not the simple, straightforward jobs that will give you an opportunity to grow (though they are a blessing), the real growth actually comes from the infuriating, messy, demanding jobs from difficult and sometimes incomprehensible clients that approach you with ideas. One of the biggest challenges I can say from two years of corporate/gov/council/private/business work has been getting to know myself in the way that I handle people- this ranges from professional transactions to the freaks that grab and solicit you on the street while you are painting. It's not something I learned serving drinks behind the bar or waiting on tables as I had for 8 years prior. You need to learn how to be flattered but not bewitched by admirers, and how to respectfully keep people at arms length whilst also taking on the parts of their critiques that are useful to you. Your art vision is a precious little jewel that you need to defend- negative feedback can shatter it and positive feedback given in a half-assed way can be so reductive and repetitive (I’m talking 90% of the world who only seem to be able to use the words ‘awesome’ and ‘amazing’ on rotation).

Your art vision is a precious little jewel that you need to defend

Admittedly I don’t take rejection or criticism very well- but then I use that anger or frustration as fuel to push myself even harder and prove my critics wrong so I guess in the end maybe I do, and negative feedback can be a very powerful thing, I sometimes find myself longing for a bit of it. The meaningful stuff will come from your family, friends and lovers, as well as creative peers who start to gather around you organically without you even realising. In terms of keeping yourself safe when you start to get successful, just remember that people will either want to be like you (relatively harmless) or be you- and its the latter that you need to be really careful of. This is something I struggled with for a long time and ended up going to meet with older established artists to try and make sense of it. You need to make sure that your art is satisfying yourself above anyone else- from the inside this job is a non-stop motion picture film, it’s you that has to wake up in the morning, get your shit together, load up on paints and brushes, somehow get from home to the spot you’re painting, spend hours and hours there alone with the thoughts in your head and the music in your earphones, find time to eat, message a few people on your phone, then pack up and get home again only to lie in your bed and do the whole thing again tomorrow until a piece is finished. Somehow at the same time you need to be reading and responding to commission enquiries and making sure there is something else lined up afterwards. It does become routine and you can lose track of how special it is as a job (especially when you are tight on money which is inevitable in life) but it’s up to you how you keep the sense of meaning alive. I remember sitting in my bedroom at 18 with a vision I told myself I wouldn’t let go of during my life- and I’ve always been strong on staying true to that. A lot can change in just one year let alone throughout an entire lifetime- there will be styles you are vibing off, people, places, ideas, mediums of choice that come and go like loosely related chapters in an anthology. Don't go back and edit it, and don't factor in what the cool kids will think down the track, just keep going. Cover all your bases- there is no shame in promoting yourself as an artist and in the computer age there are no rules in terms of how you do this- use every resource available to you, but do so in a way that doesn’t cheapen yourself as a brand and as a living person. This is a job where the concept of work/life balance doesn’t necessarily apply as work is life, so you need to carefully curate every job you do as it is just as much of an experience for your identity as it is the execution of a piece from start to finish. I would say there are times when another part time job is needed to survive, and at other times you will hopefully be able to rely on the grants, art prizes, and commissions available to you. Choose your free jobs wisely. A few times I’ve gone back to slinging drinks over the bar, which have been humbling moments, but ultimately the path to success is dotted with a couple hiccups and tough lessons. Every time I’ve gone full time artist it’s gotten easier and lasted longer, this time its been a year and that’s after 5 years of going my hardest. Despite everything I’ve just said, every individual creative’s experience is totally different. I think that’s the whole point, as a collective we end up filling every gap in the painting, exploring every idea from every possible perspective. Meanwhile you’ve just gotta keep yourself happy, fed, loved, and sane enough for the world to relate themselves to you. 

Art students may use all AZZURRO Q&A materials to assist with their research projects.
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