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“Work in progress in the studio”Photography by Jess Gough

How to survive as an artist in Britain

UK art star Steven Claydon schools us on how to survive as an artist against the odds

This article is part of a series on art today to support the Dazed x Converse Emerging Artists Award  Check out the rest of content here and make sure to visit the Royal Academy in London before 17th May to see all the work IRL.

UK art legend Steven Claydon shows in spaces from LA to Berlin but he has always called Britain home. Born and bred in London he studied at both St Martins and Chelsea, hanging out at City Racing – the legendary derelict betting shop turned artist-run gallery that once stood by the Oval cricket ground.

Back then empty warehouses and offices were plentiful and the perfect home for artists but Claydon has watched as London’s housing crisis has peaked and the city has been remade for the offshore rich. As part of our series of articles on emerging art today to support the Converse x Dazed Emerging Artists Award we asked our esteemed judge how to survive as an artist in Britain when the odds are stacked against you.

Ride the carousel

“The thing is being an artist is like being on a kind of carousel. Because of the nature of way the market operates and the lottery of selling work and the cost of production overheads and maintaining a studio you can find yourself back at square one very often. You rely on a show or more often now an art fair to propel the work and so you have points when you’re incredibly busy and then you have periods of six months where nothing happens. It’s a real chart of peaks and troughs and you have to endure through that cycle.”

Keep your head

“The art world is a uniquely unregulated environment and it can leave people completely high and dry. Incredibly talented artists I know are without galleries surviving on the breadline and then other people hit that golden mean and are catapulted into worldwide markets. Everyone seems to be in a race to exploit the new but this engenders superficiality, which has an obvious down side. It’s a curious thing. It’s very important to keep a level head within all of this. Don’t become beholden to the market.”

Be inconsistent

“There’s this idea that you’re expected to make a certain type of work to fulfill someone else’s idea of what it is to be a professional artist. Consistency is the biggest myth in the book. I see people that have got their practice completely sewn up before they’ve left art-school which is insane. For longevity’s sake consistency is really dangerous. An artist who is desperately worried about their financial situation is going to be tempted to make things that look like art and feed the market to become fashionable. When they very quickly become unfashionable they’re stuck in a place where they can’t modify their practice because it’s stuck in a rut and they find themselves in a bit of a crisis.”

“There’s this idea that you’re expected to make a certain type of work to fulfill someone else’s idea of what it is to be a professional artist. Consistency is the biggest myth in the book” – Steven Claydon

Stick with the big cities

“It’s great to be in the epicenter of a city where there is so much cross fertilization but this is becoming prohibitively expensive. It’s always been London for me –what’s left of London –it’s starting not to resemble itself, mutating in such a way that it’s becoming as hipsterfied as New York, drowning in coffee. I just want a cup of tea. It’s very difficult to imagine where everyone will go now it’s getting so expensive. East London was suddenly blocked by this alien invader called the Olympics that settled down to stop the spread of affordable studios. So I don’t know, maybe artists will have to commute just like businessmen but they’ll take the opposite commute –out to a studio in Basildon.”

Hide from the developers

“I used to have a studio space opposite Arcola Street in Dalston that sadly got demolished and redeveloped into flats so I moved out to Hackney Wick for a couple of years. Then this place came up here in Dalston so few of us got together and got a lease. I’m worried because of all the regeneration going on that if anyone just even notices this place we’ll be done for. We’ll get instantly redeveloped. It’s really tenuous. Honestly I don’t know where the fuck I’d go if that happened. I’d have to consider leaving the country.”

Suck don’t blow

“I love riding my bicycle through London laden down with resin. You live a parallel existence to your fellow citizens. I think you instinctively end up finding your own path through the economic and the logistical problems of being an artist. It’s like a highly developed version of being a student. It’s about maintaining your perspective in your everyday life as well as in your practice. There are orthodox trajectories and then there’s the idiosyncratic logic you make of the world around you. That’s what artists do. They make a parallel interpretation. You suck instead of blowing.”

Immerse yourself

“Being an artist is a totally immersive thing and I don’t know anything else. You see through the media the way other people approach life and they seem to compartmentalise their lives from their job. It just seems so strange that they can bifurcate life like that. In art and maybe music or fashion it’s total immersion from the get go. From art training you start to see the world differently and so you’re able to inhabit it differently.”

Steven Claydon is preparing for a solo show opening in September at the Centre D’Art Contemporain in Geneva. Check out the rest of content related to our Emerging Artists Award here and make sure to visit the Royal Academy in London before 17th May to see all the work IRL.