Within Issue 02 of Akin Magazine we interviewed Ellie Pennick, a working-class, queer, politically driven, 23-year-old, activist and director of Guts Gallery. We talk about the current climate of the art world, ways in which we can support artists from the grass roots and how their first show was made into a reality.
A: When did you first come across inequality within the art world? Is it something you’ve always been aware of?
E: The Artworld is the same set up as any business; traditional - make it worse - elitist upper class. Infiltrating it is near impossible, perhaps a working-class artist can? Moving to London and going to university brought inequality to my attention. I think I was in a bubble up north. I didn’t realise there are so many millionaires out there which is funny looking back. I soon realised a lot of people had a head start in life compared to me. The only difference between us was financial stability. I refuse to let that affect my career. I will work twice as hard if I have to. What I do recognise is that my inequality is minor compared to some peoples. It’s not a bad thing for an art gallery to operate similarly to a business because it can get the funds to keep it going and open up doors for new artists. The issue is self-awareness, the art world can exist within a capitalist society, and it does, but the model should shift to focus on diversifying its artists and making careers in art more accessible for working-class and oppressed minorities.
Unpaid internships should be scrapped and job offers in the name of nepotism must stop. A conscious effort should be made to attract more creatives in the art industry from diversified backgrounds and pay them a decent amount that reflects their worth.
A: How did you go about starting GUTS and what was the main catalyst for this?
E: I started Guts when I was sofa surfing and living off benefits. I’d hit a low point post-graduation where I’d been offered a place on a course at Royal College of Art but I didn’t have the funds to live; let alone study a 19 grand sculpture course. I applied for a job at a pub in South London and got into talks with the manager who let me use the upstairs function room to put on exhibitions. He wanted to charge the artists and I didn’t support that so went and did my own thing. That’s how Guts was born.
A: You had your first show in May, what exactly went into curating your first exhibition?
E: A lot of it was pulling favours, getting a good deal with the space Ugly Duck and having a strong support network in London of friends and peers who wanted to pitch in. It was mostly through word of mouth and online research that I found the right artists. Finding established artists who were willing to exhibit alongside emerging artists was the difficult part. It was such hard work, my friend Kariss helped out so much, we stayed up until past midnight in the run-up to the show. I couldn’t have done it without her.
A: Why do you think an enterprise like GUTS is so necessary for this current art landscape?
E: Guts is necessary right now because of our values. Any money guts make through commissions or events I put back into the gallery and our commission rate is the lowest in London. We put the artist first and want artists on board who might not get a shot elsewhere because of their background. We want them to do well out of their relationships with us so they can make art for a living.
A: What can we do on a personal level to help change the industry? Are there any other communities/galleries doing great things?
E: We can share ideas and innovate together. Artists, art collectors and art directors are passionate about the same thing. We can harness that energy to swap contacts and bounce off one another to better our outcomes. Let’s breed talent by placing artists in new spaces with wider audiences. This can only improve circumstances for struggling artists by raising the profile of their work. We can share collector contacts to increase selling prospects for artists and bring in investment opportunities for gallerists. Galleries/Communities who are doing great things at the moment are La Bamba Gallery, A Gallery Upstairs, BBZ Alternative Graduate Show, The Bomb Factory, Delphian Gallery, Turf, Beers Gallery, Drool and Feral Horses.
A: Why do you think it’s so important for an artist to be seen exhibiting in the gallery & how can that affect their work/career?
E: Artists exhibiting their work in a physical space is still necessary. It showcases the artists work for the public, critics, press and collectors to view in person. It also brings people together from different sectors in the art world to meet each other. Now a lot of people only know each other through their Instagram handles or talking to them online. Instagram has become a fantastic platform to showcase artwork, now people from all over the world can view art from the touch of their phone. However, nothing beats seeing physical work in the flesh.
A: How do you see GUTS in the future? What would you like to have achieved?
E: For an emerging artist to make it big time and turn around to the Guts team and say “without you I wouldn’t be where I am today.” It’s not about Guts it’s about the artists we work with.