Artist Erika Gofton, Founder and Director of The Art Room has created a space that supports artists at all stages of their practice and allows them to experience what she wish she'd learned in art school.
West Art Now spoke to Erika and photographic artist and Art Room teacher, Ilona Nelson, about a life of creativity and learning.
Why did you start the Art Room?
E: It came out of a personal need.
When my son was four I needed an income but I also needed something that allowed me to be in the studio during the day and have flexibility.
I started teaching people at the local community centre and I really, really loved it and then ran classes out of the Substation for a while.
Then set up the Art Room at the Cotton Mills in Footscray and now we have our space here on Hyde Street.
I think taking on this space, renovating it, has made me take a step back and evaluate what I do want it to be.
It will always evolve, but it comes back to what I wish I’d got at art school and that’s what it has become.
What do you wish you’d learned in art school?
E: Going through art school you were never taught or had a discussion about a career as an artist or how you were going to survive outside of that three or four years of school.
You were in this bubble where everyone is supporting what you’re doing, but when you leave it’s ‘how do I survive now?’
And that’s not just financial, but what decisions and steps to take to create a sustainable career that’s going to last your life.
As artists we see it as a lifetime thing, but it’s almost like a dirty word to talk about the business of being an artist.
I think this idea as the artist living in a garret is a complete fallacy - particularly as a female artist with a family.
You need to understand that you are going to have to work in a job at some stage, unless you are a star that gets plucked out of art school, you’ll have to support yourself by having a regular job and if you are really determined with your work, you’ll do it alongside that.
That’s the hard thing with the myth of the artist - all it does is make those that continue to work and support a practice feel like they’re not real artists cause they’re not giving everything up and living off two minute noodles.It just perpetuates that myth. And living on grants - there isn’t a lot of funding.
I: I did my degree almost 20 years ago, but we only did a term on exhibition proposals and how to run a show.
Dealing with galleries was another thing that was never discussed, but that’s your goal when you leave, but they never talk to you about it, it beggars belief.
The major thing I’ve learned is how to promote and market my exhibitions.
But the biggest lesson is to be honest with yourself and put your work as the first priority, always.
Do not bother comparing yourself to other people. It’s impossible to compare because everyone’s unique.
And don’t take your rejections personally - you cannot do that. Cause it’s nothing to do with you, it’s to do with the judges preferences which you have no control over.
Threshold by Erika Gofton
What makes the Art Room different?
E: It’s the kind of people we get involved, the kind of energy that’s here, hopefully it’s really supportive, but challenging at the same time. It’s not, “that’s lovely, move on”, it’s getting the students to push what they’re doing and make the best work they can but in a supportive environment.
People have become involved along the way. First and foremost they’ve got to be nice people, don’t want to work with any egos.
Any teacher that comes in here, has to love teaching and see it as a real privilege. It’s about passion.
All the teachers are professional artists, and if they haven’t taught at uni, they’ve been practicing long enough that they’re the kind of educators you’d get if you went to one of the art institutions.
We have a range of students everything from complete beginners to Masters students.
It’s great to have them alongside the complete beginners, because they learn so much from that unaffected approach to art, but the other side is that it expands the beginners minds to what art can be.
Did you have a defining moment when you knew you wanted to be an artist?
I: I always have been as long as I can remember. When I was 9 or 10 and we were at our caravan in Queenscliff and I was walking around with my Icehouse tape and walkman and composing photos. For me, being an introvert, I was so painfully shy, that was how I expressed myself.
E: I think I always have done. I can never think of wanting to do anything else.
How do you juggle your art, work and family life?
E: I don’t have an answer.
I: You don’t do housework.
E: What’s an iron?
I: Everyone does it completely differently, but the common thing is you cram it in when you can. No procrastination. You think about all that time you had and wasted before you had children!
The Full Stop, Ilona Nelson
What’s wonderful and what's challenging about living life as an artist?
E: My heart skipped a beat when you said what’s wonderful. It’s the creating. Self doubt is what’s not good about it.
I just love making, particularly drawing. I get pure pleasure out of it.
I do have moments where I hate what I do when it’s not working. I’ll have a day in the studio where I’ll be: “I am awesome!” and I’ll come in the next day and go what was I thinking? That’s shit.
I swing between loving and hating it sometimes, but I can’t not do it, it’s a compulsion.
I love working. I love the aspect of being capable. Being a maker, I’m able to put together something that extends beyond the studio, like what my husband and I did with this space.
I: I’m not seperate from my practice. It’s all one life. All of it’s wonderful.
My biggest challenge is time, but that will change as my kids grow.
I’ve always had this weird blind faith in my work and I’m all about doing things that push me out of my comfort zone. If that makes me sick I’ve got to do it.
What I’m pushing for is to just go for it. Lay it all out there.