In a discussion on how to increase art accessibility, Maisie Cousins, Jerkcurb, Lava La Rue, and more, explain what art spaces mean to them
“I never went to art school, I failed the art courses that I did take in school... I just looked at a lot of things, and that’s how I learnt about art.” In the BBC’s documentary, From Rage to Riches, painter Jean-Michel Basquiat recounts that a major inspiration for him to create was by having access to, and seeing live works in museums and galleries in New York City. While he was alive, Basquiat also commonly referred to his mother and their trips to the Brooklyn Museum as the fundamental ignition for his entire career. Now, Basquiat holds the record for the most expensive painting ever sold, and his presence as an artist largely steered the art world away from its stale and pale reality. If Basquiat didn’t have access to art institutions, there is a potential that the world would have missed out on one of art’s greatest revolutionaries.
Everyone in the world should have the same access to experiencing art that will move them, but many struggle with being outpriced from mega-institutions. Add this to the fact that many marginalised communities still don't see themselves represented within art history, and the elitist cycle of the art world perpetuates. Aiming to eliminate the inaccessibility of art is Art Fund’s £5 Student Art Pass (launching today), which gives pass holders free entry to over 240 galleries and museums across the UK, as well as half-price entry to major exhibitions. From the V&A to the Tate Modern, the pass is a step closer to making sure art and its never-ending wonders are accessible for all.
To celebrate the Student Art Pass, we asked six London-based artists to reflect on the first time they went to a gallery, and how art spaces have influenced their work.
LAVA LA RUE, MUSICIAN
“I think the first gallery I ever went to would have been the National Portrait Gallery on a school trip in year 7. It was interesting because I went to a very mixed, inner-city community school, and you could see the difference between the kids who had creative parents or backgrounds, where they would have been exposed to going to institutional art galleries as part of swanky holidays abroad and, I suppose, ‘knew the drill’... and then kids from backgrounds where they were never taken to galleries growing up.
“I remember my friends and I got in trouble for wandering off. I guess we didn’t really know how to act, and the National Portrait Gallery can be quite intimidating. I was with two Muslim girls and one Lithuanian girl, and all those scary old white British faces on the walls weren’t really relatable, so we’d make fun of it.
“The only paid exhibitions I’ve gone to are the ones my bursary covered when I studied photography at college or when I got gifted a free ticket to Soul of a Nation: Art in the name of Black Power at the Tate modern – which genuinely changed my life” – Lava La Rue
“I also remember a trip to the V&A. That was a moment where I was fully engaged and inspired as there was stuff from all over the world. It was so big and beautiful, and full of cultural artefacts – I felt like a tomb raider. That moment at the V&A definitely exposed me to the idea of going to galleries and museums outside of school – and actually being something cool. I’d start going to galleries to do still life drawings of the sculptures and it became an actual motive for me. Then when I went on holidays, I’d convince whoever I was with for us to have at least one day where we went to a local gallery or museum.
“The only paid exhibitions I’ve gone to are the ones my bursary covered when I studied photography at college or when I got gifted a free ticket to Soul of a Nation: Art in the name of Black Power at the Tate modern – which genuinely changed my life. The queue went right around the corner and I had honestly never seen a queue of PoC like that dominate this space normally taken up my tourist and white middle-class couples. It felt empowering. That did show the difference when you get a blatant shift of representation, and it was so beautiful and important.”
“To witness art in real life, being face to face with it, forces you to make a gut reaction based on instinct, and you’re more likely to leave your predetermined conceptions behind. You notice the details, the way the paint looks, the way it reflects light, the whole thing the way the artist intended it to be viewed. It does not compare with seeing things in books or on the internet.
“I was spoilt in that I got taken to a lot of art exhibitions when I was younger. My parents would have shows and drag me along to the openings. I remember eating Pringles, drinking juice, and playing with fire extinguishers. I don’t remember the art too well. As a kid, I think confusion turned into boredom. I didn’t know how to engage with art in a physical space until I was a bit older... the first time being the ‘Blood Head’ by Marc Quinn. I remember experiencing mixed feelings of disgust and wonderment at the work; a life-size cast of the artists head, made entirely out of his own blood, static and frozen. It felt living. That visceral feeling really stays with you.
“To witness art in real life, being face to face with it, forces you to make a gut reaction based on instinct... It does not compare with seeing things in books or on the internet” – Jerkcurb
“The curiosity of being presented with something very different to the everyday impacted my work as an artist. Galleries and museums are a portal into different cultures, different passages of time – from the ancient to the contemporary. I think these trigger primal instincts of exploration. Asking questions, learning answers... I think this is what creative inspiration is.
“You realise when you get out of the UK how much we take for granted. We are lucky in that there is still so much on offer for free; the Mediateque room at BFI, the Barbican Conservatory, lots of hidden treasures scattered across London. It saddens me to think that they might not be free for much longer. Paying for an experience obviously affects the way you approach it, it becomes much more of a rare event. How can you learn if you are under the stress of a financial burden?”
RHEA DILLON, PHOTOGRAPHER AND FILMMAKER
“I remember when I was younger going down the tunnel for Exhibition Road at South Kensington and feeling like an explorer about to uncover the gold of the art world. Back then, I was a big fan of the Science Museum's children's explore area. Also, the Natural History Museums Globe escalators blew my mind. It wasn't so much that first time in an art space that impacted me as an artist, but more so the fact that those types of spaces encourage you to look deeper than the surface area of life. That inquisitiveness and the search for the deeper meaning as to why something really exists in a space has never left me. I apply that to my art by always questioning to go that bit further. I feel like I am still priced out of attending galleries – it still happens now to be honest. When you can't afford something, it instantly makes you feel like you don't belong, which installs shame in most people. If anything, it just gave me a love of research and finding the right deals.
“It wasn’t so much that first time in an art space that impacted me as an artist, but more so the fact that those types of spaces encourage you to look deeper than the surface area of life” – Rhea Dillon
“Spaces like The Underground Museum in Los Angeles are crucial because it's so liberating being in a black-owned space that has never othered my being there. Many reasons why people of colour haven't been to galleries is because they feel it isn't a space for them from not seeing themselves on the walls or in the attendees in the room. Some prolific ‘institutions’ don't reflect us at all. Or for only a couple events, one month out the year. It's important to make sure the doors to art are open to all and stay that way. Art is the highest form of hope. When you can tell a story through a series of images you can speak to people no matter their language or background. That power of unity is incomparable to any other field.”
CHLOE SHEPPARD, PHOTOGRAPHER
“The first museum trip that has really stayed with me was when I went to MoMA in New York, in 2012. We were on a school trip, so we would have seen everything there. There wasn't a particular artwork that stood out to me, but I was so happy to be in New York with my friends and surrounded by art – the main thing that drives my life. I felt so free and full of hope, and it's a feeling that often comes back to me when I'm in other gallery spaces. I remember when walking around that I wanted to know the feeling of having my work up somewhere similar one day. I found it motivating and I always leave MoMA with an impulsive desire to create something different to what I've done before.
“I’m someone who likes to be completely immersed in what I love, and galleries and museums are a place for me to do that physically” – Chloe Sheppard
“As a person, I'm someone who likes to be completely immersed in what I love, and galleries and museums are a place for me to do that physically. Being totally surrounded by what you live for can be overwhelming, but can also conjure up so much inspiration. There is so much more to discover in this world that can have such an impact on the direction of your work, so art spaces are important because those are the places that can end up shaping who we are as creatives.
“It's important for institutional art spaces to be accessible because art is life-changing and everybody should get the chance to experience that for themselves.”
ZAIBA JABBAR, ARTIST AND CURATOR
“My earliest memory of going to an art space wasn't necessarily the first time but it was the most profound. It was a school visit to London's Museum of Moving Image which was based in the South Bank Centre and is now sadly closed. It's funny... maybe back then you wouldn’t have called it art, but the ‘artwork’ that stood out to me the most was actually seeing a zoetrope. I found the mechanics utterly compelling and fascinating. From there, I was forever drawn to the magic of a still image morphing into a moving image. Ultimately, it triggered the desire to create images that moved and the appreciation of the craft of creating a progressive fantasy.
“Art spaces have enabled me to progress because they make me aspire” – Zaiba Jabbar
“The mystic of art is something that you feel and it speaks to the spirit of life, rather than a practical economical justification. I am always reminded of this when I visit any art space. It's important to see ideas celebrated and shared to encourage and remind us of the beauty of this path. I don't think I could validate my art without looking to institutions like the Tate, Hayward, LUX, V&A, Somerset House and the ICA, as well as all the local small galleries, that facilitate platforms that grow beyond the walls and land they inhabit.
“Art spaces have enabled me to progress because they make me aspire. I engage to intellectualise my own process. I create to aggregate and to mutate and develop so I can expand my horizons. That, in turn, leads me to new undiscovered facets of the art world – a perpetual tombolo of discovery! Making these spaces more accessible brings new possibilities because new ideas and new ways of seeing the world will always pave the way for delightful new trajectories which we will shape the world around us. But this only happens when we encourage new voices to the discussion that otherwise would not have access.”
MAISIE COUSINS, PHOTOGRAPHER AND ARTIST
“When I was around eight-years-old, my mum would take me to the Tate Britain and there would be a trolley with pens and activities you could do with certain artworks. I remember drawing lanterns based on the painting ‘Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose’ by John Singer Sargent. I think I then always looked at the details in paintings and could spend ages studying one.
“Sometimes I feel like I already am priced out of galleries, so I tend to not go to any shows at all when I feel it is too expensive. Art spaces are important to me because they reassure me that the work I’m doing is worthwhile. Looking at a piece of art on a screen is absolutely nothing compared to the real thing. It’s important to make institutional art spaces more accessible because art should not be for the rich.”