But there is money around! I see it floating above me like unreachable clouds or below me like mines full of gold inaccessible to my humble digging skills.
I see political campaigns produce no tangible objects except for hate and widening gap between genders, races, classes, rich and poor in United States. But even the most unsuccessful political campaign manages to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, while me, who is trying to bridge the gap between the genders (just watch my “Teat Beat of Sex”) and need only $20,000 a year to live and make stuff, can raise a sum exactly close to nothing.
When I just moved to New York I was desperate to find out how one can afford to live in a loft and make art all day long without having a paid gig. I wanted the same thing – a loft and working on my own stuff all day long.
I met people at parties.
– What do you do? – I would ask. In Europe this question is considerate to be rude but in New York it goes even before exchange of names, handshakes and other niceties.
– I am an artist, – a guy would proudly announce. – A painter. I have a loft in Soho.
– Do you make living with you art?
– Well, – he would stumble. – Sometimes I sell. It’s complicated.
– How do you pay rent for your loft? Lofts are terribly expensive!
– Oh.. well… I’ll get another drink.
And the guy would disappear in the bathroom hoping that in 15 minutes I would forget my crusade of getting the truth about his art and finances.
– Do you know who you were talking to? – a friend of a friend would come by and ask.
– No. He didn’t say.
– He is very wealthy, his family is in oil business. See if you can go on date with him.
– I think I made a bad first impression.
I’d turn around and see another guy.
– What do you do?
– I am a painter, – he would proudly announce. – I have a loft in Tribeca.
– Do you make so much money with your art to afford a loft in Tribeca?
I do have to know.
– Well…- this guys stumbles too. – I have to work as a waiter. Sometimes in construction. And the loft is a share with five other artists.
– Oh! I see…
This sounds more like it. Who can make enough money with their art to live in a loft and make their art all day long?
10 years after my arrival to New York I find myself living in a Downtown loft, and working on my art all day long.
How did I do it?
The loft came by chance, in the beginning it was a share with 10 other people. I suffered my first 9 years here to share it with just one person now. It is a rent stabilized arrangement, and it has great limitations (there is a lawsuit hanging over our heads). I still have to pay rent plus lawyer expenses and at times to swallow my pride (share is a share).
I try to limit my expenses – I don’t buy my own clothes, my friends donate them to me. I am lucky to have great friends with great taste, so I don’t look completely like a rag lady.
Just think how much money you spend on brand new clothes (easily $1000-2000 a year?) and how buying brand new clothes ruin environment!
I rarely eat out at restaurants. It greatly limits my social life as people prefer to meet each other at restaurants and there is something about a shared meal that cements a friendship. But besides not willing to give my hard earned money to cooks and waiters I can barely afford an elaborate social life. Even if I have an evening free from my work, I use it to see other people’s films or improve my drawing skills at life drawing sessions.
All the money thus saved goes towards my new project. Animation is a habit as bad as heroin.
Where do you get the money to start with? – you might ask.
Well, let me go to the bathroom first…
… now I am back and let me tell you where the money comes from.
It comes from different sources, it depends on the year and on my situation.
Example: two years ago my Italian friend Niccolo showed my films and watercolors to a famous Italian designer Aspesi (he doesn’t sell in USA, so very few people know him here).
He got excited and asked Niccolo to ask me if I do sculptures. It has to be paper mache. They have to be human size.
I had dabbled in microscopic clay sculptures a 100 years ago (yes, I am THAT old) but never touched paper mache.
– Yes,- I said, – Human size paper mache sculptures? I do them every day.
So I flew over to Milan and with fearful weak knees (but brave face) made my first 5 sculptures. It was a 14 hour work day for few days. I got paid for my work.
– I want 10 more, – Aspesi said. I think, he liked them. He put them in his store in Milan as artistic decoration.
I flew to Milan again. And again. And again.
– I think I got enough, – Aspesi finally said. – I cant turn my stores into Signe’s museum.
That was my income for the last 2 years and now I wont have it. I have to look for something new.
If you want to be an independent artist you have to learn to live on minimal spending and learn to accept unexpected offers when they arrive, and find something new when they expire.
Here’s a sample of my sold paper mache work:
This one is called: “Everybody wants piece of my mind but I keep my thoughts to myself”