My Life Changes
In my mid-40s I started to deal with some mental health issues. Like a lot of people, for many years these issues had been hidden behind the exterior where I still presented a strong image of a functioning human being. I never thought that they were serious enough to merit deeper attention. Rather I always convinced myself that they were going to get better if I could just get more organised or try a bit harder. Eventually they became sufficiently disruptive to my wellbeing that I was forced to get some help. This was a great decision and the past decade has seen me truly discover who I am and allowed me to evolve into a more authentic me. This has been an incredible transformation and has taken me on a rocket-fuelled creative and spiritual journey into the 4th dimension! I now take a balanced approach towards taking care of my mental, emotional, physical, spiritual and creative needs. It’s never perfect but I’m always aspiring to heading towards optimum wellbeing. Creativity is critical to this process and consequently I always keep it at the centre of my life.
I went through the first 20 years of my career as an economist. In the past decade I have evolved into the Artist-Economist. This has made me passionate about sharing with others the power of the artist- prefix. It may be a cliché but I firmly believe that everyone is an artist in the sense that they have an inner creativity that needs to be satisfied for optimum wellbeing. In this sense, whatever someone’s identity, I believe that putting the artist- prefix before it is a powerful statement that has dramatic yet practical implications.
Becoming the Artist-Economist
I always loved art but only found my own inner creativity in middle age. When I became an artist I considered leaving a successful economics and business behind. In fact this turned out not to be the case. Rather than letting my business identity go I realised that I was both an artist and an economist. In effect, I had supercharged the left and right sides of my brain so that, acting together, they are a really powerful combination whether I am doing business or making art.
A good starting point is to question
how I know that I am an artist?
As an artist a good proportion of my work is an attempt to understand what art is and why, at my core, I know that I am an artist. In my case, this is interesting because I am not particularly talented with my hands. At art school most of the other artists were significantly more technically proficient painters and sculptors than me. However, I knew with some certainty that I was as much an artist as anyone else on the course and, indeed, I felt a strong kinship with a whole series artists that inspired me (Robert Rauschenberg, Marina Abramovic, Yves Klein, Robert Smithson, Martha Rosler, John Cage, the Fluxus movement, 1960s minimalist artists to mention only a few).
In the book “Just Kids’ Patti Smith explains how, even though she wasn’t yet famous, she “felt an inexplicable sense of kinship” when she saw Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the members of Jefferson Starship in a bar at the Chelsea Hotel just before their performance at Woodstock. I really identify with this feeling.
Thus I’m always interested in exploring what it is that makes me an artist. I think the answer is that there is nothing special about me. In fact, if everyone is an artist, it will be possible for me to feel that kinship with any other human being that is ready to explore their own creativity.
The importance of experience over object
One of the propositions underlying my work is that the wonderful experiences offered by art are an internal phenomenon, something that happens inside the viewer, rather than being external to our inner senses and perception. The art industry tends to focus on objects because this is what can be bought and sold. However, for me, art is within in the subject (viewer), and the art object can only be a poetry transmission mechanism between artist and viewer.
My job as an artist is to find poetry everywhere
I consider that my job as an artist is to find the poetry in every moment regardless of where I am or what I am doing. In this way, for me, the most exciting art often tends to be non-conventional. I love galleries, exhibitions and traditional art forms. Indeed, this often gets me very excited and passionate. However, I am most excited by finding poetry in the unexpected, sometimes even banal, moment. In this way, I tend to focus my work in non-conventional forms and outside of the gallery system or art industry.
Gallery v sketchbook work
I have often found that the most powerful art ‘moment’ is at the time when the work is created or first shared with another person. In this way, I tend to avoid trying to perfect my work so that it is ‘gallery ready’. I have no interest in excessive refinement of my work in order to make it flawless. I tend to work quickly and churn out a high volume of ideas and work. I prefer to get these ideas and works out in raw form in order to share them rather than spending ages trying to perfect a selected subset of them.
That said, I appreciate that, in some circumstances, a flaw in an art work can be disruptive to the viewer, so it is an area of my work where I try and find the right balance. Nevertheless, I treat my website as a sketchbook so that I can ‘show’ all my work that has reached a sufficient level of resolution even if it is still in draft form.
A mindset of
My starting point in making work is one of radical equality, avoiding pre-set distinctions, labels, borders and coding. This is set out in the Radical Gallery Proposition, from which all my work emanates. Focusing on the viewer’s experience, the Radical Gallery aims to activate art works outside established conventions and codes. This not only proposes radical ideas on the definition of art, it has also offered me new insights on urban regeneration, economic policy, self development and the meaning of life. My hope is that all of my work is informed by this attitude.
I don’t need to be paid to make art
At art school I became known as the person who didn’t think that artists need to be paid! This was a misrepresentation of my views. I do believe that art and creativity are fundamental human needs as important as breathing, eating and sex. In this way, I do not need to be paid to do it! In fact, just as it would be absurd to expect to be paid to breathe, there is something flawed in expecting to be paid for making my art work. That said, I appreciate that making art a full-time occupation requires some way of covering living expenses. So I have no problem in artists being paid for their work if they do this full-time. Further, I would be happy if art collectors wanted to buy my work. I’m just never going to focus on that upfront as I may be more likely to do in my other business ventures.
BA Economics (1985) and MSc in Economics (Queen Mary College, University of London 1986).
Started my career as an economics lecturer before joining the Government Economic Service in the DTI working in the area of international trade policy.
30 year career as a consultant in international trade policy and law (global trade laws, WTO negotiations & disputes, free trade agreements etc). www.cliffstevensonconsulting.com
MA Fine Art (distinction) - University of Brighton (2015)
From 2015 onwards I have combined my business career with being an artist, trying to be the Artist-Economist in all aspects of my life.
One week residency at the De La War Pavilion activating the Radical Gallery Bexhill. Culminated in tours of the activated gallery space as part of the De La Warr's Dear Serge event. (25- 30 May 2015). See DWLP video below.
Activation of Radical Gallery St Leonards at De La Warr Dear Serge event at Project 78 Gallery (tours of the gallery 19 July 2015).
10 day residency at Project 78 Gallery, St Leonards (Aug/Sept 2015) - daily tours of the gallery and further development of the works using Project 78 as a sketchbook for the duration of the residency.
An artist talks to an economist - a lecture performance at Fringe Binge!, a night of interdisciplinary performance by five MA students from the University of Brighton. Part of the Brighton Fringe (18 May 2015 at Marlborough Pub Theatre, Brighton)
An artist talks with an economist performed at De La Warr Pavilion Dear Serge offsite event at Project 78 Gallery 19 July 2015.
An artist talks with an economist performed at the opening event of Art in Romney Marsh (curated by De La Warr Pavilion/Dear Serge), September 19 2015.
Regular public tours of the Radical Galleries Brighton and Tunbridge Wells (December 2014-July 2015)
From fear to infinity, the evolution of a new economics. A lecture at the Pecha Kucha event given by the artist-economist. De La Warr Pavilion (1 October 2015)
Editions 15 and Editions 16 - Group show of all artists showing at Project 78 in 2015 (December 2015/ January 2016) and 2016 (December 2016/January 2017), Project 78 Gallery, St Leonards.
Tours of Radical Gallery Tunbridge Wells - Part of Tunbridge Wells Artsfest Festival, Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, August 2019.
Video of De Le Warr PavilionResidency (May 2015)