By Imasha Costa, Arts & Literature Editor
Art has always been placed as a male-centred form of expression where the male gaze is represented, and the pieces that are famous are usually those of men. With the surge of social media outlets like Instagram and Twitter, visual art has evolved itself, which has further allowed us to see the dominance of male-centred art. Nevertheless, expression through visual art has also allowed women to express themselves and gain popularity by using their own voices.
When it comes to the community of visual artists, the support within is large and comforting regardless of gender. Whilst supporting each other, it is also a platform for those who are emerging artists to share their art, discover different things – such as how and where to make prints – and even gives the much needed push of selling your pieces for the money that you know they are worth. As March is also recognized as Women’s History Month, I was very lucky to chat with Ciara O’Neill, Kate Escolin and Ruth O’Connell, a few of my favourite Irish women in visual art, to understand the hidden gap that is present for many women who are emerging in the visual art sphere.
Ciara O’Neill, also known to many as @ciaramakesthings, remarks about a gap that is frequently unnoticed but is very much present in the community. O’Neill is a visual artist from Dublin and has been self-employed in the business of visual art since she graduated from NCAD. O’Neill states that “female artists often sell their prints for less and I have noticed that. I think we basically undersell ourselves, I guess. I think it’s really funny because when I do look at the prints that my friends sell, and if they are [priced] slightly higher than mine, I do not go like ‘Oh that’s way overpriced’, and I do think it is a perfect price. But when it comes to my own prints, for some reason I go ‘I do not want to seem like I’m asking for too much money’”.
O’Neill states that male artists usually put their worth on their artwork, but also says that, as a woman, there is something ingrained in her that she should not seem like the greedy lady who is asking for too much, or being too bossy when it comes to pricing her work. She argues that it is like she has to be “really polite” at all times. The artist also describes her art as falling into two different categories, where there is a political side, and then a social side. She finds art as a form of therapy and is aware that ever since her platform has grown larger and started reaching more individuals, more people are able to read the message that she is trying to portray through her art.
Another visual artist, based in Kildare, who spoke about the gap and claustrophobia of men within the community describes her first ever art event, which consisted of six artists, as mostly involving men. Kate Escolin, known as @tinygreens states that her first event was “scary, and the fact that I was only eighteen and that they were all older men who knew each other made it intimidating and I felt alone. But that changed when I started going to more events and seeing more women present”.
Escolin’s art mainly consists of panelled comics and digital work. She also describes her art as her own story and says that “sometimes my art is just for me. They might just be drawings, but I would also do comic strips of things that I would really be passionate about such as periods, sexual harassment and things that would strongly resonate with me”. Entering into the art industry has allowed Escolin to also figure out that the art directors for exhibitions are usually men. Whereas women, in that same working environment, would often be freelancers who work from home or work for themselves, which she found interesting.
And finally, Ruth O’Connell, known as @ruthismessy on Instagram, is a new emerging visual artist in Cork City, and states that there is now more of a supportive community regardless of gender than when she started out properly in visual art, which was early last year. She states that “when it comes to support, everyone is always sharing other people’s stuff and the community is really cool and motivating”. Admirably, O’Connell would love to call herself a queer artist, however she has decided that, at the moment, she is unable to resonate with it, especially when it comes to taking political stances. Something that she admires being able to draw is faces, and being able to present her current mental state through the eyes that she draws on them. O’Connell believes that the drawing of other people expresses something that viewers can relate to.
Starting and Running Small a Business: Quotes from the artists themselves
“I started properly getting into visual art around the first lockdown last year, when I got an Apple Pen as a birthday present. It was finally then when my girlfriend had asked me to start uploading my artwork online, to Instagram. I think the first artwork that got so many shares was when I started out with the ‘Don’t Lose Your Head’ piece, and it was really nice of people to share it. I had then decided that I might as well get prints of this. So, I ordered ten, and they completely sold out; I then ordered twenty and they went very quickly as well. I now have an Etsy where I sell prints and jewellery/tobacco tin boxes with art pieces on them, and I think this is really class.”
“For me, I guess, it started out in secondary school. I started a group with a few girls from school. I made stickers with my art and sold the stickers. I had also made logos for companies, and that’s when I started to get noticed and realised that I can actually do something with my own art, and maybe I could turn it into a job if I wanted to. I think by 2018, it got more serious, when I started to go for more events and was asked to do a lot more commissions for bigger clients like coffee shops. I now run an online shop where I sell my prints, and I occasionally tend to do commissions, but I mostly sell my prints online”.
“I guess you could say that it was more of a learning curve for me. I am self-employed right now, and I know that I am never going to be employed anywhere, now that I am twenty-six and my resume says that I am my ‘own boss’. I guess, since I was sixteen/seventeen, any of the money that I got, I had earned myself. I did art in college, but I teach music as well, which allows me to have something to fall back into just in case. After I left college I was like ‘What am I going to do?’. College was also quite honest about the future, since I was doing fine art, it was all about working for yourself. However, making paintings is quite expensive, unless you are a millionaire, then you are really lucky. I knew that I did not want to work for other people, so I decided that I wanted to do prints”.
“With my current online shop, I have been able to see great sales, and sometimes sales are booming during the Christmas period and the holidays. Then there might be a month where things are slow and there would be nothing happening – like March, unless someone would like a Patrick’s Day illustration. But I am really liking how it is all going. Recently, I got involved with several other artists for the Medusa collective, which was a pop-up shop that helped support victims of Image Based Sexual Abuse [IBSA] in Ireland. We gathered as artists and made prints, jumpers, and anything else that we could. We were a group that really worked well with each other”.
Finally, I would like to add that with the growing community of visual artists and the love being spread consistently, women have been able to empower other women and respect the art that grows out of the other. It might be March, and you might not require a Patrick’s Day print, but I would recommend supporting these artists by buying some of their incredible prints and also keeping an eye out for other artists.