The art of giving back
With the return of its annual sale of work by queer artists, where all proceeds go to LGBTQ+ initiatives, member-run art agency Artiq is supporting community through charity
By Louise Wise Thur, Jul 16, 2020
‘It’s important to show the society in which we live, and the art world has a duty to do that better. Queer Frontiers was established to focus on queer artists, and allies who are tackling queer subjects to underline that’
Let’s go back to the beginning – what led you to start the charity initiative in the first place?I started the first Queer Frontiers in 2017. As a gay man, and more specifically a gay CEO, I was thinking how I could leverage the network that I’d built throughout my 10-year career to raise money for LGBTQ+ charities I’d worked with, and also to showcase queer artists and allies from around the world. In 2017, it was a really small event right next to the Admiral Duncan on Old Compton Street. And then for the second edition in 2019, Hiscox sponsored it properly, and we had 20 global artists, from Brazil to Poland to South Africa. We raised about £27,000 for the Albert Kennedy Trust and Switchboard. And so this year, we were all geared up to go again, but coronavirus took the wind out of our sails. We were like, maybe we’ll just wait until next year – and then someone said, why don’t we just do it?
How will this year’s edition be different?We’ve got even more of a diverse collection of artists, from Alia Romagnoli who’s a queer Italian-Indian artist, right through to Ricardo Peris, an awesome Spanish illustrator. We’re conscious of the fact that people will be looking at it from home (it’s all pictures, not sculpture). And also, because of coronavirus, we know that everyone will be conscious of their pocket, so we tried to keep the works more affordable. So, one print is £30, there’s another at £180, and then it goes all the way up to around £5,000. And we’ve got some quite high-profile artists involved, like Maser, an Asian-Irish street artist, and Helen Beard, whose artwork is of a lady, um, engaged in a self-sex act.
Do you have a personal favourite?They’re all great. I absolutely love Romagnoli’s work. The piece ‘Sparked’ is really beautiful. It’s inspired by 1970s and 1980s Bollywood films, and it’s a collaboration with her friend who’s a henna artist. They’re just really gorgeous and really sexual as well. Also, Z’ev Faith, a trans artist. It’s just a very raw study of his body and the process of transitioning. Sometimes, when people talk about trans, they talk about before and after, and it’s never about the during. He’s in the midst of his transition, and is showing how raw it was, and is.
‘I have seen many different friends now buying art; they’re considering what’s on their walls, curating Zoom calls, thinking about what should be behind them’
Are the selections based on a theme?This is more around self-expression, which we thought was really appropriate at this time, in terms of both celebrating queer artists, but also in terms of what’s happening with the Black Lives Matter movement. So, there’s a real focus on it being both gender-diverse and sexually-diverse, but also ethnically diverse artists.
Do you feel that queer artists are in need of better representation?Yes, 100%. I don’t think it’s just in the visual arts, it’s in the rest of the cultural sector as well. At every opportunity it’s important to show the society in which we live, and the art world has a duty to do that better. Queer Frontiers was initially established to focus very much on queer artists, and allies who are tackling queer subjects to underline that.
The charity element is a huge factor. Who does the money go to?We’re raising money for the Renaissance Foundation, but the artists have a choice. They can either donate 100% of their commission, or they can do a 50-50 split between the artist and the charity. I think it’s really important that artists actually get paid. It’s very easy for creatives to be asked to work for free. And yes, a lot of them have been badly affected by the crisis. We did a survey of artists who we work with back in April, and the statistics are quite scary.* Few of them had more than two months’ reserves worth of cash, and this was before the SEISS was announced – and I think a lot of our artists slipped through the gaps.
Surely this sale is also good timing, as we’ve never looked so much at our same four walls and wondered how to decorate them…In fact, this was a big argument for wanting to do Queer Frontiers this year. The Artist Support Pledge has been massively successful – people are buying. I have seen many different friends, who have obviously known me for a while and have never bought any art, now buying art; they’re considering what’s on their walls. I’ve started talking about curating for your Zoom calls, thinking about what should be behind you. Although the pieces in Queer Frontiers might not always be appropriate for that. I mean, for example, one of Peris’ pieces is called ‘The Deeper The Trauma, The Dirtier The Sex’.
*Eighty-five per cent of the artists surveyed by Artiq make less than £20,000 a year from their art and 65% are making less than £10,000 a year. With an average annual spend of £9,841 on studio rent, materials and other overheads, many are making tiny margins on their work, even though nearly seven out of 10 are working as full-time artists.
Queer Frontiers runs until Wednesday 22 July; queerfrontiers.co.uk