Sue Ecclestone: 'Women make up only approximately 30% of artists in both exhibitions and commerc

Sue Ecclestone is based in the UK and runs the Woman in Arts project, which includes the Holly Bush Emerging Woman Painter Prize, and the Ecclestone Art Agency.

What was the motivation for starting the Woman in Arts project? Why were you especially keen to work with female artists?

I was curating an exhibition at Burgh House in 2015 and a visitor came in and noted there was only one woman artist in the exhibition. He asked me why and before I could answer he replied to his own question by stating “well there are not a lot of women artists are there?”. This is of course a nonsense, but it is an idea perpetuated by the statistics: women make up only approximately 30% of artists in both exhibitions and commercial galleries. Also, there are few women in the top jobs in the art world; I wanted to be part of something that could change the perception that women artists are few and far between and so the Women in Art project was conceived. At first Burgh House and I were looking at the project from a very political angle and thinking of surveying why women are so under-represented in the profession and how we might change that, but during 2016 there were several conferences and workshops dealing with this, including an exhibition by the Guerilla Girls at the Whitechapel Gallery. For this reason the project became more of a celebration of women artists and a championing of emerging woman artists, this seemed a more practical approach that would help artists to highlight their work and talent.


You also started the Holly Bush Emerging Woman Painter Prize, what usually catches your attention when it comes to a painting or an artwork in general? What are your specific interests?

I have a professional approach and a personal one. Professionally, I would like to think I can tell when an artwork has been executed with great skill and that is something I admire greatly – though these may not be works I like or would place on my wall. Similarly, I have a reasonable eye for what will sell which isn’t necessarily that which has been painted with great skill! I think this is because personally I am drawn to work which moves me emotionally in some way and most of us feel the same way. So really what catches my attention is subject first and skill later. As for specific interests, I am mostly drawn to easel art, but sculpture moves me too and I will love to deal with it more.


Do you think that women still face specific challenges when it comes to having and sustaining a successful art practice? I was watching the news a couple of days ago and they were commenting on the fact that all the big summer music festivals have mainly male acts headlining and performing with a tiny proportion of female artists taking top billing or simply taking part. Do you think the art world is still not as open to women artists as it could be? Or are we more equalitarian than the entertainment world?

Ah this is the political bit! Well I guess there are broadly three challenges that face women in all professions. The balancing of career and family, and I don’t mean just having children, usually (though not always by any means) the home-making, caring of parents and other family members falls to women too and it is difficult to build any career if you have those responsibilities. There is also the matter of breaking through perceived stereotypes, by which I mean that because of social norms, for centuries women were not thought to be disposed toward the arts except to sing politely or perhaps watercolour painting. This has resulted in there being, until the 20th Century, very few well-known woman artists and if you don’t have these examples then for some it just isn’t normal practice to have women artists and they are not received in the same way. Finally, I have witnessed during my engagement with artists that women suffer from Imposter Syndrome they don’t put themselves forward in the same way as men, I have many more men ask for my professional help than I do women. When women do come forward they lack confidence in their ability as artists, they are not sure if their work is good or how to price it; whereas the men believe their work is really good and price it accordingly.


What advice would you want to give to artists who are at the beginning of their career?

Know what you want to achieve. The reality is, that artists just like other art professionals (actors, musicians and writers), may struggle to make a living from their art, so don’t expect to have the fame and fortune of Tracey Emin or Damien Hirst. Therefore, look at having another source of income, that way you can practice your art with the confidence that you can feed yourself and you are not compromising what you want to produce in order to survive. The art world, like that of any other, is as much about who you know as what you know, so networking is important if you want your work to be seen by a wider audience.


What are your plans for the future in term of developing your various projects?

There are three more exhibitions planned for this year and the final one is a solo for an emerging woman artist, so this is clearly something close to my heart. Then next year I know there will be eight exhibitions and another Holly Bush Painter Prize. I also recently moved back to my home county of Suffolk and I have a studio space there which I plan to offer to others for painting weekends. This way those who have no dedicated space in which to paint can develop their practice in the peace and quiet of a rural setting.


The Holly Bush Emerging Woman Painter Prize 2017:

Some of the works by the the prize finalists can be seen below and a full list/details can be found here .