Making it: Three artists reflect on their first big break
Every artist starts somewhere. Whilst talent and tenacity are must-haves for any artist hoping to make it big, the road to success isn’t always a smooth ride. The industry can be daunting and fiercely competitive, especially for those at the threshold of their careers. Often, it’s one moment of recognition that propels a trajectory forward. Whether you’re a painter, sculptor or sketcher, what does it take to get your foot in the door? And where do those doors lead? ArtWeb talks to three burgeoning artists about their first big break, how it came about and what came next. These success stories prove that hard-work can take you far, but sometimes, a stroke of good old-fashioned luck can make all the difference.
The solo exhibition: Hugo Brazao (Madeira, Portugal)
Hugo Brazao is an artist living and working in London. In 2017, he was invited by the director of MUDAS, Contemporary Art Museum of Madeira to stage his first solo exhibition. “She’d heard about my work through word of mouth, Madeira being such a small place, and was trying to show more of the younger generation of artists from the island,” he told ArtWeb.
Two years after graduating from his MA at Central Saint Martins, London, this opportunity came at a pivotal time in his career. “It was important to have a space where I could experiment with my ideas and show it to an audience. In many ways this exhibition shaped the work I make now. For example, it was for this exhibition that I started working with textile and making my work site specific.”
For Brazao, this exhibition became a catalyst for growth, but it didn’t come without hesitation. “At the time I was very anxious about it, returning to the place you grew up to present yourself in this way can be very scary. But, it made me take my work to a level I haven’t been able to explore before.” He has gone on to win the VIA Arts Prize (2018) and secure a string of solo shows.
The dream collaboration: Dominic Myatt (Leiscter, UK)
For London-based drawer Dominic Myatt, it wasn’t an exhibition but an artist book that catalysed his artistic career. “A friend from university was working for MNK Press in Japan and contacted me about making a book of drawings, which became (no kissing).” Though it wasn’t an overnight success, it afforded him a certain notoriety, with outlets such as Dazed, Wonderland, Huck and HungerTV all running features on the publication.
“The opportunities that lead from that came slowly but steadily, although there was lots of attention about it online”, he noted, adding that soon after “the book was purchased by TATE for their library, and eventually led to Vivienne Westwood reaching out to collaborate on a collection.”
Following this, Myatt was awarded a scholarship to the Royal School of Drawing (2018–19), resulting in a group show at Christies, London (2019). He continues to sell his work through his rapidly expanding online platform, and regularly collaborates with up-and-coming fashion labels such as ART SCHOOL, London.
The confidence trick: Eleanor McCaughley (Dublin, Ireland)
Irish painter Eleanor McCaughey was a year out of college when she came across an open call in the Visual Artists Ireland bulletin for an auction at Avenue Road Gallery, Dublin. “They discovered my work when I entered one of my paintings into an auction there, it was a fundraiser for the new gallery,” McCaughey told ArtWeb, illustrating the importance of getting one’s work ‘out there.’
“The show was an important milestone in the progression of my work. It was the first time I had the opportunity to work with a curator and discuss my art in the public realm.”
This exhibition sparked a domino effect for McCaughey, and was immediately followed by a second invitation to exhibit, bestowing her with a new sense of resolution. “After these experiences, I had the confidence to apply to more open calls and it gave me the determination to push and develop the work.”
Eight years on, with numerous exhibitions and awards under her belt including shows with the National Portrait Gallery, London and Galerie C.O.A, Canada, McCaughey’s career demonstrates that confidence is key.