Paul Mitchell speaks to Sandy Christie, our Art Local Hero. Sandy presents an altrnative route for artists trying to disseminate their work to a wider audience, eschewing the traditionally proscribed avenues of gallery-approved selection in order to go it alone with a system of open submissions, self-publication and guerilla exhibiting.
"An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one." Of course, Turner-winning art galactico Tracey Emin thinks American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley failed, as it were, to see the bigger picture, with her oft quoted perspective that "Taste cannot get mixed up with what's good and what's bad", and that less recognised artists than herself would have "made it if they were any good". It is easy to preach when camped out in an ivory tower of publicity, but for the countless artists who struggle for both recognition and indeed economic viability, this view smacks of both extreme arrogance, and appalling taste.
Enter Sandy Christie, Edinburgh-based artist and self-styled "biggest blagger in town". Sandy considers himself as an all-rounder ("I work with painting, videos, installations") who does indeed aspire to Emin-esque recognition, but has resigned himself to utilising alternative methods of self-promotion until the gallery curators come a-knocking. For some years now he has been busying himself by producing and disseminating his own work through a series of zines called Sandy Meets. Zines are small-circulation, non-commercial publications that are produced and distributed by their creators, documenting topics as diverse as sci-fi, science, political views, and in this instance, artwork.
"Sandy Meets is just me recalling conversations I have with my friends, but I replace them with drawings of famous people, or fictitious characters in order to explore the cult of celebrity and turn it on its head with the use of Scottish colloquialisms and everyday scenarios". With a keen awareness of the limited showcase opportunities available to artists, Sandy feels a new zine he has launched might provide some of the solutions. Paper X is designed to be an open submission (anyone can contribute) vehicle for artists who want to retain complete control over their work and share it, not because they have any expectation (or in some cases desire) for commercial and/or critical approval. Eminently noble in theory, it still requires a huge effort on his part to put the project together; attracting submissions being part one of the challenge:
"I leave blank source books around galleries, cafes, art college etc and people can draw directly into the books. Mainly people email their submissions to me. I advertise it quite a lot on Facebook. I've got 2,000 friends but there is a Paper X group with 600 members, so it acts as a good support group. I send out emails to college and gallery mailing lists. Issue one was fairly ad hoc, but more people are wanting to get involved in Issue Two, which I'm putting together right now". Meticulously collating the submissions, Sandy prints them in his own flat before setting out on the road for the hard sell. It's clearly a labour of love requiring a great deal of commitment, but one which he hopes points the way towards a business model which others may use.
"Finincially, I'm not running at a great loss thankfully. It costs about £1.50 a book to produce and I sell them at £2.50 each, with over 800 copies sold so far. I go to zine fairs a lot and tour around. I've been to the Glasgow CCA Zine fair, the recent one in Edinburgh and I'm hoping to go to London. I moonlight at galleries and openings etc and then try to sell it." It is this constant willingness and dedication to promotion that has garnered him a reputation as blagger par excellence, appearing as he does at almost every available art-related event, peddling his wares. Occasionally feeling like "a maniac who's just trying to sell books", he is in no doubt that this relentless hard sell is important in order to generate recognition for the work.
"As an artist you've got to be able to convince people of what you're doing. With little or no funding you need to be a bit of a blagger to get spaces, sponsorship, materials, and so on but it is worth it just to see the end product or people enjoying themselves at an opening. Artists working together to form exhibitions out of nothing, even if they only last for two hours [this is a reference to an open submissions event, Artoscopic, in the surreally wonderful surroundings of St Leonards Tunnel, Edinburgh which Sandy has organised for the past two years] is an amazing experience. What matters is the event happened! This creates a buzz and enthusiasm and hopefully inspires others to do the same. So for me the true definition of blagging is getting stuck in to see what's out there, stirring up the dust if you will." Sandy Christie, tireless campaigner and worthy Local Hero, blag on.