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Kelsey Lu
Kelsey Lu, Artist, Singer-Songwriter @kelseylu69Creative Direction Emmanuel Olunkwa

How to survive in the New York art scene

Fellow artist Emmanuel Olunkwa meets six emerging visionaries to discuss survival, drive and faking it in one of the world’s most competitive cities

No one ever has all the answers, remember that. Everyone is making every move up as they go, not knowing what is to come next. As an artist, student, and friend, I have learned to read, carve out space for myself and pursue what intrigues me the most and not let my failures define but inform what projects I take on, let alone the stories that I tell. There are endless factors that inform one's success: intuition, time, space, desire, motivation, intention, and exposure.

Last month, I asked art curator and critic Stefan Simchowitz a few questions about his art and business practices. As an artist, businessman/woman, it is good to have reference points – positionality is important, information is power – so as someone who has a practice that is often questioned, it was a necessary insight.

After speaking with Simchowitz, I thought about my close group of friends and people who inspire and continually challenge me artistically. Each person has paved their own way by either utilising resources at hand or exploiting the system in place to accommodate their needs. Taking this, I turned to a community of young New York-based artists to gauge their thoughts on what is it like being a young artist today.

FRANCES COCKSEDGE, ARTIST

In order to survive one has to get started, and sometimes there is no other way of getting there unless one is chosen by someone influential or respected. How did you get started? Are you self-actualised, did you go to school, or were you chosen? 

Frances Cocksedge: I just received a BA in art history/visuals arts from Barnard College two weeks ago (an intensely academic school) so, for the past four years, my attention has been focused on learning and developing my practice there. So, speaking in terms of career path you could say my life is just “getting started” now, though I have also organised and curated two DIY art shows and made efforts to put myself and my work out there as much as I can without needing to depend on gallery representation or the pre-existing art institution. With the development of the internet and social media, my generation of artists possess so many resources and opportunities to put our work out there ourselves that we can’t wait around and depend on being discovered by someone else to get started.

“With the development of the internet and social media, my generation of artists possess so many resources and opportunities to put our work out there ourselves that we can’t wait around and depend on being discovered by someone else to get started – Frances Cocksedge

How did you get to this position and what is like occupying the space that you are in? What drives you? What informs the work that you make?

Frances Cocksedge: My life is very much in flux right now with my recent graduation, so I am currently working on carving out my own space and figuring out what my next steps will be. However, the driving force that keeps me going within this confusing transitional phase is my confidence and belief in my painting and sculpture. My most recent body of work is informed by the confusing surplus of visual information we are bombarded with daily – both on our screens and in our lives – and the despondent feelings that come along with it.

Do you feel like you are faking it or making things up as you go? Or do you believe in what you create and the reasons you make what you do? 

Frances Cocksedge: The latter, no question.

How much of yourself are you willing to share with the world? And at what cost?

Frances Cocksedge: I am willing and eager to share my work with the world, which, though it obviously stems from my personal thoughts and feelings, I do not view as synonymous with myself.

ALEXANDER MURET, PAINTER

In order to survive one has to get started, and sometimes there is no other way of getting there unless one is chosen by someone influential or respected. How did you get started? Are you self-actualised, did you go to school, or were you chosen? 

Alexander Muret: Well, it’s an exciting thing, really. You go to the third level, and then the fourth. Why? Why! You don’t want to leave. I’m the number one rock star on the planet. I painted the human soundtrack, I painted the sky, I painted the floorboards. Do you know what I mean? So what I want to sum up to everybody out there is this: spend a night at the museum and challenge the meaning of life.

How did you get to this position and what is like occupying the space that you are in? What drives you? What informs the work that you make?

Alexander Muret: It’s best to live like the make-believe people who live in fiction. This is my world, being a literary figure is wonderful.

“I don’t expect to be understood at all. I don’t understand myself, it’s an ongoing process. I don’t know much. What I do know is that I have no idea, that is the reason I do what I do” – Alexander Muret

Do you feel like you are faking it or making things up as you go? Or do you believe in what you create and the reasons you make what you do? 

Alexander Muret: I don’t expect to be understood at all. I don’t understand myself, it’s an ongoing process. I don’t know much. What I do know is that I have no idea, that is the reason I do what I do. Life’s a big picture and the only way to understand it is with smaller pictures.

How much of yourself are you willing to share with the world? And at what cost?

Alexander Muret: It’s a nights and weekends type of relationship.

TALLULAH PAPOYANS, ARTIST

In order to survive one has to get started, and sometimes there is no other way of getting there unless one is chosen by someone influential or respected. How did you get started? Are you self-actualised, did you go to school, or were you chosen? 

Tallulah Papoyans: No one has ever told me to be an artist/make art, it is something that I have had a constant desire to do. I am still in the early stages and the future is a complete unknown. No, I have not been “chosen” yet – I think it gets a little tricky when one’s ass kissing qualities don't come naturally.  

How did you get to this position and what is like occupying the space that you are in? What drives you? What informs the work that you make?

Tallulah Papoyans: Conceptually my work is informed by the people I see and the things I experience – both the good and the bad and the things they say, the clothes they wear, the music they make. These moments and everyday encounters with people will always play a vital role in the work I make. A lot of my work comes from the dissatisfaction of this world, not feeling like I have a place and needing and realising, that I have to create a space for myself that doesn’t yet exist. I always feel this underlying guilt when I'm not working on a piece, drawing, or creating – something similar to Christian guilt.   

“A lot of my work comes from the dissatisfaction of this world, not feeling like I have a place and needing and realising, that I have to create a space for myself that doesn’t yet exist” – Tallulah Papoyans

Do you feel like you are faking it or making things up as you go? Or do you believe in what you create and the reasons you make what you do? 

Tallulah Papoyans: If you don't truly believe in what you create then what is the point. This lifetime really does not need any other contributions of bleak art. Personally, if I can't see myself in a piece of work that I make, I feel frustration and have no desire to stand by it. In regards to “making it up as you go,” I feel like we all are, as long as you are not forcing the direction and the ideas that inform what you are making, then making it up as you go is really just another form of growth.   

How much of yourself are you willing to share with the world? And at what cost?

Tallulah Papoyans: I’ll never spell myself out for people. I’m in all my work and I think that goes for everyone and anyone who on a basic level who cares about what they are doing. Fuck the hashtag – there is nothing better than looking at a drawing and feeling, even seeing the way someone approached their work and decided to execute.

BENJAMIN BARRON, PHOTOGRAPHER

In order to survive one has to get started, and sometimes there is no other way of getting there unless one is chosen by someone influential or respected. How did you get started? Are you self-actualised, did you go to school, or were you chosen? 

Benjamin Barron: I still feel like I'm just getting started. I went to school for photography and founded my magazine, ALL–IN, during my final year. Many decisions led me to where I am now – I believe that everyone is self-actualised, and we all have the means to make radical change if we want to.

How did you get to this position and what is like occupying the space that you are in? What drives you? What informs the work that you make?

Benjamin Barron: A lot of energy got me to where I am now. Everything has a cost, and I've spent a lot of time and space to be here. My parents gave me a strong work ethic, and had me do internships as a teenager instead of going to summer camp. Interning for Wes Anderson one of those summers was a really important experience – I've continued working constantly since then. I was taught to never be too comfortable. Living in a world where my existence and perception might not be accepted gives me reason to live.

“I was taught to never be too comfortable” – Benjamin Barron

Do you feel like you are faking it or making things up as you go? Or do you believe in what you create and the reasons you make what you do? 

Benjamin Barron: I believe entirely in what I put out into the world. There's too much waste – if you're going to say something, make sure you know what you want to say.

How much of yourself are you willing to share with the world? And at what cost?

Benjamin Barron: I think we live in a society that overvalues sharing. I'm not interested in making my body or personal life a commodity. I believe ideas are the most valuable things we possess, and should be shared with everyone.

KELSEY LU, ARTIST

In order to survive one has to get started, and sometimes there is no other way of getting there unless one is chosen by someone influential or respected. How did you get started? Are you self-actualised, did you go to school, or were you chosen? 

Kelsey Lu: I got started by inhaling my first breath of fresh air. I did go to school, but left in a timely fashion to pursue my personal endeavors outside of the constructs of the conservatory art institution. Whether I'm chosen or not, I have been blessed. 

How did you get to this position and what is like occupying the space that you are in? What drives you? What informs the work that you make?

Kelsey Lu: I got to this position by working hard, and riding my own internal wave instead of forcing things to happen. There are several things that drive me, one of which is the classic heartbreak, and that can come in many forms not just when it comes to a certain someone or someones in your life, it can be heartbreak over the condition of the world. Occupying the space that I'm in right now can at times be difficult to navigate, not only as a woman but most importantly, as a Black Woman. There are a lot of men in this industry, and it's easy to get overwhelmed by it. I guess that in itself is drive to keep working hard on my own.

“Occupying the space that I'm in right now can at times be difficult to navigate, not only as a woman but most importantly, as a Black Woman. There are a lot of men in this industry, and it's easy to get overwhelmed by it. I guess that in itself is drive to keep working hard on my own” – Kelsey Lu

Do you feel like you are faking it or making things up as you go? Or do you believe in what you create and the reasons you make what you do? 

Kelsey Lu: I don't think faking it, and making up things as you go along are the same thing. With my music, and what I create in general there's a real sense of improvisation which I find to be the realest moments. It's based off of feeling, and you can't always map out your emotions. The reasons I make what I do are all real, quite the opposite of fake. 

How much of yourself are you willing to share with the world? And at what cost?

Kelsey Lu: I'm willing to share with the world as much as I want to share, and if it starts to feel like too much, I'll back off at any cost.

LUKE RANDALL, FASHION DESIGNER AND MODEL

In order to survive one has to get started, and sometimes there is no other way of getting there unless one is chosen by someone influential or respected. How did you get started? Are you self-actualised, did you go to school, or were you chosen? 

Luke Randall: I go to Parsons for fashion design but a lot of the work I've gotten has been circumstantial and from friends taking a chance by utilising me in one way or another. 

How did you get to this position and what is like occupying the space that you are in? What drives you? What informs the work that you make?

Luke Randall: It doesn't really feel like I've done much. Everything I've done just happens and seems normal while it's happening and then it's done and it's on to the next thing. My drive comes from a fear of not doing enough to please myself. 

“My drive comes from a fear of not doing enough to please myself” – Luke Randall

Do you feel like you are faking it or making things up as you go? Or do you believe in what you create and the reasons you make what you do?

Luke Randall: I suppose a mix of both. Although I value authenticity more than anything, people can only be so calculated with what they make and do so at a certain point things have to be improvised. 

How much of yourself are you willing to share with the world? And at what cost? 

Luke Randall: I'm willing to share everything with the world because it doesn't really matter at the end of the day. Things don't really need to be personal for the most part.

Follow Olunkwa here, Ahlbom here, and Teofilo here