Henk Gieskens: Money = Time

This article is first instalment of 2012 LIFE BOAT recipient Henk Gieskens experiences sustaining his career following his graduation and during his time on the residency.

I sound very vulgar but nothing is truer – I left art school thinking I would find a paid job in a gallery, 5 days a week that covered the rent and bills, and enabled me to buy materials to create art as well as affording to rent a studio space…Nothing is less true….

My first position out of St Martin’s was an (unpaid) internship at SHOWstudio SHOP working for Nick Knight and Carrie Scott. The experience was amazing (art and gallery wise) for getting an insight into the art world and how a gallery worked, but I had to take out a loan to pay for bills, rent and food. There was no money or time left to make art or have studio space. It started to dawn on me that someday I would need to pay back the money that I was spending, and realised I would need to find a paid job very soon.

I was not thinking about creating art or having a studio space at all anymore. It was something I missed and wanted to have, but I was focussed on one thing – finding paid work. At this stage, I was 3 months out of college and cared very much about what type of job I did. I felt it had to be relevant to my practice and somehow related to the arts.  Although I didn’t mind what gallery I worked for, I knew that at that time I couldn’t have started working in a pub – my pride was a bit too big to do that yet.

Getting the LIFE BOAT residency made me feel suddenly very responsible and purposeful. Someone was ‘investing’ money in my practice. I could not believe it! I had a studio space for free!

Because it wasn’t financially viable for me to continue, I decided to stop my internship at SHOWstudio SHOP and started work in ‘field marketing’. All I needed now was to earn enough money to pay for my rent and bills. The work basically involved handing out flyers and other branded promotional materials for various big name brands. Though the work can be very sporadic the pay’s all right. It meant I could go to my studio and make small works whilst being able to pay the rent with the money I was earning.  Also I thought a bit of marketing experience on the side could be very beneficial in the future.

In order to live on this income though, it was necessary to save money wherever I could. I would go to Sainsbury’s late to buy all the reduced products which can provide a very random diet! To save even further I started to work on glass rather than Steel and Aluminium. Where possible instead of buying materials I would get them from skips or people’s front gardens where they had dumped it, or I would ask glaziers for spare bits of glass.  Socially, I would only go out when I knew it would be free. All the money that I had left over each payday would go straight back into making work and pushing my practice to the next level.

I started a very detailed budget list to see how much money was coming in and how much was going out. I could see how much I was able to spend a day or a week, and was always finding ways of saving that extra bit of cash. This worked well for a short while, but after getting in to a few more exhibitions and having more exposure I felt the need to have a second job that was more secure and more regular so that I could plan my days better to have more efficient time in the studio. I got a job through one of my friends who works for a Biscuit factory. The pay is minimal, but I can do about 4 flexible shifts a week, which is roughly an extra £150 after tax. This does leave me less time to work in the studio but gives me extra money to buy better materials that I need for exhibitions and my practice.  Knowing how precious my studio time is makes me work more efficiently when I am there. Knowing that I am working towards exhibitions is keeping me focussed and I feel more balanced across the many mediums that I have been trying to juggle for so long.

Recently I got selected to show new work at a gallery in the Netherlands. Because of my financial and work commitments I knew I didn’t have time to travel to the Netherlands and meet the gallerists or view the space. Initially  they were none too happy about this, but after openly explaining my situation; that it wasn’t just a question of the travel costs, but also missing unpaid days at work as well as the cost of making the work, they did understand, and were even kind enough to offer me a commission free exhibition.

With all of these developments, as I reach the halfway point into my residency, I can say that I have the confidence back in to my work that I lost right after coming out of uni. Although it is still sometimes very hard ‘keeping afloat’ and I still often need to borrow money to pay a bills which I find embarrassing – the amount of interest in my work from friends, artist, galleries and collectors is keeping me alive and far outweighs the worries.

Article by Henk Gieskens

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