London is enjoying a huge artistic resurgence in independent and artist-run exhibitions. As the commercial gallery scene becomes increasingly impenetrable for emerging, unrepresented artists, they are doing what artists do best. Being creative and taking matters into their own hands. Go out in Peckham or Hackney and you'll find all kinds of exciting artist's studios and pop up projects happening. They crackle with an energy that feels very special, very London.
This doesn't have to mean commercially unsuccessful, either. Thanks to social media lots of artists who aren't represented by the big galleries have massive followings and loyal collectors. It's the same in music. Look at artists like Giggs and Skepta, who have remained independent; their voices clear and uncompromised. Their success is self-made and I think this in essence embodies the creative, independent business model of the future across all artistic practices. The spirit of the entrepreneur and freelancer.
I'm something in between. I don't fit in either box. I'm an artist represented and sold via a handful of commercial galleries, but I also work independently. I cherish that creative freedom.
I've just opened an independent exhibition called I Project You. It was conceived straight after my last two shows, one at Maddox Gallery, the other an art fair at Somerset House. I was exhausted. It was a week I'd originally earmarked for rest, but the moment I sat still, a reserve of energy kicked in and I wanted to get moving and making. I decided to set myself the challenge of creating and putting on an independent solo show in just four weeks. I had to produce the work and turn my pretty messy studio into an impromptu gallery space. I wanted to move away from the structure and confinements of gallery shows and do something new, and that I was in complete control of.
I was conscious of keeping my artistic 'voice' independent and removed from the confines of a conventional gallery environment. It would be more than just a commercial exhibition. This would be a complete programme over three weeks, involving artist talks, school workshops, events, studio tours. So often in the art world there's a private view and all this build up to launch night and then things just drop off. I wanted the private view to be just the beginning.
I've always undertaken workshops with children, it's been an important part of my practice for as long as I can remember. In October I helped to organize my annual collaboration with the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, taking groups of school children to the shows and arranging private tours and drawing workshops for them. One of the benefits of going solo and organizing your own exhibitions is really tailoring your projects to suit your practice. Workshops and community work have always been ingrained in my art. Before this, it was something I did on the side, in between commercial shows. Now, I have the freedom and opportunity to combine the two.
The artwork I create is generally collage based, but I wanted to really challenge myself and take risks in every possible way. Experimenting and creating a project that celebrates community, diversity and engagement, have been my main driving forces. This time round I've been painting, which has really been a massive challenge and risk for me. It's the first time I've painted a series of portraits and I don't actually consider myself a painter.
The exact day I decided to go ahead with the show, I got a call from a friend in a warehouse full of gilded picture frames that needed to go who asked 'do you want any?' So there have been a number of moments like that and I've been working alongside some amazing people who have helped to ease up this whole process.
Working on your own can be daunting. The buck stops with you on everything, not just the art. You have to make everything happen. But there is a freedom and a lightness to it that is very special. But knowing that you can make decisions on every element is really rewarding.
But most importantly, working independently lets you get your priorities straight. Of course you want to sell, but there are other elements, for me it's working with children and schools, that can get lost or forgotten in a commercial environment. But for me, this time around, that is at the heart of what I'm doing and the energy feels so different as a result.