Burning Questions for Andrew Fearnside, the Fine and Resourceful Artist

Andrew Fearnside by Clarke Condé – Pyragraph

Andrew Fearnside in his studio. Photo by Clarke Condé.

I work with artists. I’m one of those so-called administrators. I am the leg up over the symbolic wall that blocks the limelight. I am the bottommost monkey in the barrel. My job is to get artists a wider audience. Though I’ve thrown festivals and created gimmicky social media push campaigns and consulted and contracted with artists of all practices, my job has always been that of the megaphone, the slingshot, the thrown buckets of flyers off the town’s tallest building. I’m there to spread the word of an artist’s talent.

My role in any community is a necessary one, and it equally consists of knowing all the avenues and alleys alike as well as collaborating with artists who are privy to their own self-worth.

Now let’s compare my role in the community to that of Keshet Ideas and Innovation Center (KIIC), the powerhouse warehouse for artists to get the business end of art down pat. If my job is to bespeak an artist’s work, KIIC’s job is to get the artist to a place in which her work speaks for itself, loud and clear. An artist who comes up through KIIC’s shepherding is one who’s ready for the actualization of their art as career or business. KIIC provides artists with more than the self-importance of self-worth, but the valuation of that.

So I hooked Andrew Fearnside for an interview. He’s been with KIIC since March 2015, though he’s been tramping the trails of art for a couple decades. I burned with questions about KIIC and how his art practices have transitioned via coming up under their guidance.

Josh Stuyvesant: What has been the most difficult challenge in setting up your business?

Andrew Fearnside: Balance. I’ve found it difficult to remaining focused on production, which is to say on vision and craft, while learning to administer, store, install, ship and market my work. Actual art-making is by no means the majority of an art life.

How has KIIC helped you overcome that difficulty?

Instead of growing a brand, really grow your vision.

KIIC helped me take myself seriously. KIIC connected me with a mentor, Marla Wood, and with workshops that gave me not just crucial information but a relationship in which I could hear and digest some difficult truths. “Displacement!” Marla would say. “Wherever you put your energy, you’re NOT putting it somewhere else. Will you put it in the creative activities that have the greatest potential for profit?”

It took many months to realize that for me, my glib answer in the affirmative would mean gently, reverently laying down a whole lot of projects—or at least seriously rejiggering my relationship to them. I love creative work, and I’m almost always swooning over one idea or another. Thanks to KIIC, my mantra for 2016 is “FOCUS,” which for me means drawing and painting, with 90% of my energy going to clearly gallery-oriented projects, and 10% towards everything else.

Was there a side of you that was against seeking help for your business? If so, what made you decide to reach out?

Actually, no. By the time I heard about KIIC, I was actively looking for formal mentorship and business training. I completed the Ignite program in May 2015, and kept going with KIIC throughout the year.

What was it that caused you to begin looking? Was there a moment? A crisis? A lightning bolt?

The lightning bolt came in May 2014, when I stopped complaining for a moment and reinterpreted all of that venom as necessary. The vital part of myself, the part that has stayed alive through trauma, neurosis, depression, anxiety, failure, divorce, etc.—the part that can sound like the Mass-hole punk I was, at times, in the ’80s—was just trying to protect me. Like a mule, it had dug its heels in while my “adult” intellect tried to drag it towards a dream that wasn’t even ours, this dream of being an analyst and making piles of private-pay cash. In May 2014, I turned around at last—after more than a decade of burying myself, I finally saw what the fuck I’d been doing.

I’d been running away.

And I was strong enough, at last, to get myself together again—literally. From that point on, Art came first. I called it “creative practice,” because I understood that like meditative practice, Art extends into every aspect of conscious life. Everything matters in creative practice, from where you put the forks to how you say hello to people. It’s all Art, and it all has direct bearing on what I do with a pencil and paper when I draw.

We are impulsive, fickle, complicated, confusing and confused.

So that was all good…until I faced the “How will I make a living as an artist?” question. At that point, I started asking friends and mentors for advice. One of them, Kristine Maltrud of ArtSpark, was running a workshop—the Business Model Canvas for Artists—and I took it. She pointed me towards KIIC, and the rest is history.

What advice would you have for someone in smaller shoes than you who wants to monetize and brand their art?

My advice: Don’t.

Instead, grow your practice. Expand your scope! Let your work take up even more space in your life. And then let it take up even more. Leverage relationships: Ask people you trust for honest support. Know that art is exchanged for many currencies—appreciation, community, sometimes money. Identify your version of the key practices of your creative life; is it keeping a journal? A blog? A sketchbook? Weekly work in an improv group? Then find ways to do that practice every day, all the time. Keep inventing new ways to commit to your practice.
Let the brand emerge over a period of years.

Instead of growing a brand, really grow your vision. Be clear about it. Be articulate about it. Put it out there. Then revise it, and put it out there again. Dare to be in process. Face your fears again and again, because your fears are not just yours—they’re the fears of our culture, our time.

Would you say that there’s a stubbornness amongst many artists that prevents them from reaching out?

We are impulsive, fickle, complicated, confusing and confused. We need community, and we need solitude. We need space to speak boldly; we need to be able to take all those loud words back. Of course we’re stubborn! If we weren’t stubborn, we’d never start our work, let alone finish it. We need presenters who value process over product as much as we do.

We all need support in figuring out the difference between creative practice and wallowing in the trough of our creative loves. We all need help making friends with self-discipline.

Ah, self-discipline, that gamey bastard. What’s your recipe for staying self-disciplined?

A creative life is the only life I need. But in committing to it, I’m committing to a kind of devotional practice—not to profession.

In the moment, I’ve got a palette of techniques. Give myself permission to be done with a particular creative task, even if it’s not done. I allow myself to step back when my focus has gone from lively and supple to hard and brittle. When I start to get pissed about missed lines or missed shots, it’s time to come up for air. Let the confetti fall, let the air clear, and see what the heck is going on in the work. If I can’t figure it out—time out!

I’m working on substituting health-promoting, happiness-promoting activities during break time instead of draining ones. Instead of checking email or grinding in Warcraft, I do some dishes or take a walk or do some stretching or write down made up stories about this fantasy world I’ve got in my head. Gotta have more than one idea in hand for those moments, or the bitterness of that brittle focus can win out and drive me towards addictive habits.

Over the course of a day, I’ve got this over-arching method that I’ve been adapting from Getting Things Done by David Allen. For me, survival tasks, including dishes and roof leaks and kids’ homework, all have to be settled—either done, deferred or delegated—before I can focus on artwork. Getting a system together for digesting all the incoming to dos, day after day, was crucial to gathering together my scraps of self-discipline, such as they are, so I could make art.

Over the long term, I’d say that figuring out how to be creative about EVERYTHING has been a way to stay disciplined about art practice. Everything is Design, really, and Design is a big part of Art. An example:

As a visual artist, what general challenges do you face on the artscape?

As an emerging fine artist, what markets are open to me? And of those, where can I count on financial success? Every painter faces those questions, and neither have clear, reliable answers. We have to make our own paths, one step at a time.

Visual art is a part of every aspect of American life, and yet few fall in love with its history. Like every artist, I have a long history of love affairs with art and artists that have shaped my understanding of what painting is, what it can be, what its ethics are and its shadows. Part of my responsibility—and joy!—is in connecting others with my artistic sources, long-dead teachers, and curious passions.

A creative life is the only life I need. But in committing to it, I’m committing to a kind of devotional practice—not to profession. My first job is to focus and work at my craft and my vision—not to make products. It’s been a long journey, but I feel more at peace with it than ever before, in part thanks to the support and education I received through KIIC.

What tools and what confidence do you have now that you didn’t have in March, 2015?

I have so much more clarity about myself and my creative aims. I worked hard in 2015, and was lucky to find opportunities to show—thank you, Pilar Westell of Zendo, and thank you, Bryce Hample of Winnings—and cycling through the creative process with a variety of ideas really helped me understand what I’m actually, whole-heartedly committed to at this time in my life: Drawings and paintings that somehow shelter a flickering bit of life, generally related to spirit and soul and beauty.

What are your plans for this new year? Feeling ready?

Yep! I’m ready. In fact, my plans for the year are already well underway.

I’m working on ideas for teaching opportunities. I’ll be leading a workshop on my version of paperclay at the Open Space Visitor Center on Friday, 1/22/16; it’ll be a chance to see if I enjoy teaching. If the feedback is good, I’ll offer more.

I’m working on evolving a series of landscapes I began in the spring of last year. To that end, I’ve committed to drawing every day, searching out the visual language of landscapes that are both esoteric and exoteric relationships. Check out my social media feeds to check in on my progress towards this aim. I’m grateful to Page Coleman for offering to show my work in tandem with that of veteran artist Gail Gering in April.

I’ve begun portraits of two Albuquerque actors with a view towards making a series. I’m looking for actors who would be interested in being active participants in a portrait process.

I’m drawn towards still lives at the moment; in the summer I plan to begin a series of Memento Mori paintings.
With those bodies of work I’ll be applying to group shows all around the world, and looking for more places to show here in Albuquerque and in Santa Fe.

Keshet Ideas and Innovations Center is hosting a two-day grant writing workshop January 11 and 12. Join them to learn about the right money for you and how to get it!
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About Josh Stuyvesant

Josh is a mover and shaker and doer and maker. He makes things with words, woods, metal and mettle. He cofounded Humbird NM in 2013 and is dedicated to giving Albuquerque artists the leg up they so deserve.

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