Weymouth College student Craig Wilson chats to Chris Shaw about Three Works
CW: What was your initial intention with Three Works - especially coming at it from the point of view of being an artist yourself?
CS: I think my intention with Three Works was to do something quite drastic that involved reaching out to other artists. I moved to Weymouth from London in 2013 which meant I no longer lived around the artists and galleries I knew, so Three Works was mostly about keeping a bit of what I liked about living in London close to me. I wasn't at all sure anyone would accept an invite to show in a space I'd built myself in a far-flung town at the end of a train line, but it's been one surprise after another.
CW: Did you have much prior experience with this sort of project or with curating a space?
CS: Not really. Mindy Lee kindly offered me a chance to curate a show at Blyth gallery a few years ago but it's not an experience I cherish. I did learn something, though - not to overcomplicate things. With Three Works, I got rid of all the stuff to do with themes and titles and blurbs. I don't ask artists to respond to anything now. I just ask them to put three of their works up. If they choose to participate in a Q&A a bit later, then great.
CW: How do you discover the artists you end up exhibiting?
CS: Two of the first people I exhibited at Three Works I found on Facebook. Another artist I met happened to come to one of the PVs, and the artists that exhibit with Three Works always have suggestions. People send me stuff, too.
CW: Have you always preferred to make things happen yourself? A DIY ethic so to speak?
CS: You can't do anything by yourself in the end. It's taken me years to understand this. The conditions have to be right for things to happen in the way you want them to happen and for those conditions to be met you might need to take chances and make decisions based on the hand you've been dealt. You need to be flexible and sometimes in order to put yourself first, you have to put yourself last. To be DIY, you need a great deal of support. You have to ask for it in the right places.
CW: Did you/do you engage with other outside opportunities to exhibit work?
CS: I used to, but rarely these days. I got sick of receiving "We regret to inform you..." letters. "We regret to inform you that you are not part of our clique. Nobody we know has ever heard of you and you're not one of the usual suspects..." etc. The art world's guardians are often full of shit. Having said that, you have to fight irrational and negative thinking of which quite a bit still lurks in me. A lot of what failed and got rejected did so because it just wasn't good enough.
CW: What qualities do you look for in an artist/piece of art to exhibit at Three Works?
CS: It varies. But usually people that can edit their work well prick up my ears. I don't pick and choose the work people put in the shows, but if I know roughly what they're going to bring then it's fine. The surprise element is what keeps it interesting for me, too.
CW: In which ways do you promote yourself as an artist, and how do you promote Three Works?
CS: I put my own stuff on Facebook etc. - does that sound pathetic? Ha! - and I've decided I'm going to exhibit in the Three Works space as long as I have it. Maybe once a year or when I've done something I feel is worth putting out there. Not as part of the Three Works programme, though - that would be a bit cheap of me.
Three Works will be a slow build if it builds at all and that will be achieved in part by word of mouth in conjunction with the various social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. I spent £1000 advertising Three Works in Art Monthly, but that was a waste of money. There are no quick solutions to the age old problem of getting people to come and look at your stuff. I guess it boils down to plain old persistence.
CW: What sort of support do you draw from (friends, other contacts, organisations etc.)?
CS: My dad left me £20,000 when he died in 2014 and that's gone into kickstarting the project. It's nearly all gone now though. My mum's encouragement all my life is much appreciated too. I'm lucky.
CW: Around this time next year I will have to organise an exhibition of my work outside of college, either solo or perhaps with fellow students - do you have any advice in this regard?
CS: It really depends what you want and where you think your work will fit in. Don't waste your time approaching galleries that won't entertain what you do. Also, I would say you don't have to have an exhibition next year. But keep making work. Work work work! Go out and meet people. Visit their studios. Give each other crits. Be friendly and reliable. Think long-term and aim to make your best work in your eighties.
CW: Where do you see Three Works heading in the future and what are your hopes for it?
CS: I'd like to create Three Works Mobile. Move it around. But it's like a new organ transplanted into an old body - there's a big chance of failure and rejection. So I just need to be careful I don't get ahead of myself. Ambitions can undo good things if they're not kept in check.
CW: Are there any particularly useful resources, online or otherwise, that you think are beneficial?
CS: I don't know. People misuse Facebook and post all kinds of boring bollocks on it but I follow Matthew Collings on there amongst one or two others. His page is great if you're interested in ideas to do with painting, and not just to do with painting, either. You don't have to agree with the views espoused there, but he's very open and generous with his knowledge and his time, and when a group of them get chatting it's really diverting and educational.
CW: Do you have any 'words of wisdom' regarding your art and practice you could pass on?
CS: No, I don't think I do outside the trite and obvious.