Between curating a group exhibition, working with Papergirl Wollongong, creating a magazine, teaching art classes and developing her own body of work for a solo show, Wollongong artist Tegan Russell has also found the time to the launch her new gallery ‘Now You See Me’.
“There’s probably too much,” she says, laughing, “But right now I'm working on booking out the space until the end of November, every week with a different artist. Pretty much at the moment this is one hundred percent my life, it's every second of the day from when I wake til when I sleep.”
Sitting in her Crown St gallery, Tegan is surrounded by brightly coloured works of her own making. She is clearly comfortable in the space, pushing aside Copic markers and Posca pens to absentmindedly sketch on the surface of the stained and splattered table. With a Bachelor of Creative Arts from the University of Wollongong under her belt, Tegan left Honours in April and within two weeks had an art gallery space and exhibition in the works. The concept of her Honours proposal and project was an exploration of the connection between art and life and follows Tegan's idea that everyone is an artist and everyday life is essentially an artwork.
“I have this kind of concept in my head which I find impossible to explain to other people,” Tegan explains. “But I just employ it in my way of being and everything I do. Because my ideas were so out there, the [Honours] system didn't really allow for what I was looking to create. There wasn't enough research to back myself up so they wanted me to simplify my ideas, but that felt limiting. We as artists go through life molding our experience in whatever way we choose to. So whether that be painting, cooking or bricklaying, whatever it is, I don’t think it matters, it’s the way you actually do things that makes them art or not.”
This concept developed after she experienced her first solo show, where Tegan became so stressed by the pressure and process that she found herself "sacrificing her life for her art."
“It was actually someone close to me who said ‘Instead of looking at your art as your life, what about you look at your life as your art?’ and that completely switched how I look at things,” she says.
Tegan believes “art has become misunderstood”, seen as something that belongs to only some members of the community and she hopes to make art accessible through Now You See Me. The gallery was originally intended as an online platform, and is now comprised of both a virtual and physical space. The physical gallery will remain at 3/157 Crown St until the end of November, and Tegan hopes to eventually see people pop up small spaces in their own communities under the NYSM banner.
“That’s why it’s called Now You See Me,” she explains, “Because the physical spaces will appear and disappear, and also because it’s getting artists seen that otherwise might never have been seen.”
The virtual space is an online art gallery that presents weekly exhibitions of emerging artists, with online profiles that can function as an individual website. Tegan views the website as an agency as well, having already been asked to represent artists, and believes that NYSM is filling a gap by providing commercial representation for emerging artists. The NYSM gallery website aims to show art to mass audiences without the cost of a physical space and without incurring costs on the artist having to print or frame.
Tegan started her own business in Year 11, had her first group show in her first year of university, and held a solo show in the final year of her degree. Along the way everyone from friends to teachers questioned her timing, wondering why she didn’t simply wait, and while Tegan didn’t understand her decisions at the time, she’s glad for the experience.
“I think in my life I’m always a step ahead of myself in a way,” she explains. “It was stressful, but if I hadn't done those things, then now instead of having my first business and first show, I have a gallery, a website and I have re-branded my whole business, and it’s a really strong business as a result.” She pauses. “I definitely wouldn't want to relive it though! Those years, they were hard and it was stressful and I didn't understand why I was doing what I was doing, but I felt like there was something else pulling me along.”
While Tegan has been successful in marketing and selling her work, she has noticed that not all artists are capable of personal branding.
“I don’t consider myself a better artist than a lot of the artists around me in terms of practice, but what occurred to me was that these artists weren't getting themselves out there in the same way, and I feel that their work deserves to be seen and sold just as much as mine does,” she says. “I’m never interested in going to [commercial galleries] because I don’t like the work that’s being displayed. I prefer to go look under my friend’s bed and see the art that they’re hiding from the world, so I saw this gap where there was all this amazing art and I wanted to bring that art out where it could be seen.”
When it comes to mediums and methods, Tegan isn't particular. Speed and availability are what she’s interested in, finding her idea or image most important and the process to be secondary.
“For me, an artwork comes as a feeling or intense drive that comes over really quickly, and I need to capture that in that moment, so for me I can’t work on something over a period of time, it needs to be there and then in that particular situation,” she says. “But I think being an artist isn’t just about creating your work, it’s how you and your work relate to the community and how you inspire other people and uplift everyone around you. So I’m not just creating art, I’m also inspiring others to create art, so by doing that more art gets created than I physically could create by myself.”
For those who believe they have no artistic or creative talents, Tegan also runs a creative independence course with the aim of helping others develop a creative practice.
“The only thing I can really say outside of giving someone an hour lesson is just do it. Be aware that it’s scary and everyone finds it scary, so don’t be afraid of creating something ugly, there’s no such thing as a mistake,” Tegan explains. “But I know from working with people, they need more than me saying go for it. It's like, if you were bungee jumping you could just jump, or you might need someone there talking you through it, and then some people might need to be pushed off the edge, but either way they will all be fine in the end. Different people need different things, and if it was bungee jumping I would need to be pushed!”