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Sunday, June 16, 2024

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Dusty O: From nightlife to art life

If you thought Madonna was the Queen of re-invention, you were wrong. The real Queen of reinvention is Dusty O!. We caught up with the self-proclaimed, internationally exhibited ginger queer creator of Dusty O, David Hodge on their lockdown experience as a new artist.
Here’s what they had to say:
It’s been quite a year for the arts from what I have seen. Galleries closed for much of the time and shows cancelled or move to digital-only platforms.
My own solo show was pulled last May due to Covid restrictions and the first-ever London Pride art show which I was curating was forced to transfer from our planned gallery space to an online view only. Luckily this turned out quite well for many of the artists however as many pieces of work sold rather quickly which of course was a lockdown bonus for artists who like everyone else have been struggling to make a living in these turbulent times.
The plus side of Lockdown for artists like myself who also do a day job to pay the rent is that we were offered something that money can’t buy – time.
I had struggled to actually find the hours needed to complete my art while I was working and demand was higher than my ability to create. The first lockdown period of 3 months enabled me to focus on what I was attempting to say through my work and I began an 8 hour a day painting marathon. During this time I painted 40 pictures and as all the galleries were closed I decided I would turn my social media platforms into an ongoing DIY gallery space for my work so I began posting pictures as they developed alongside the finished results with comments and interactions from friends and social media acquaintances. It all became quite jolly and interactive so it helped with the isolation issues a deeply social person like myself was living with during lockdown too.
The ongoing flow of work seemed to catch people’s imagination at home and I sold 20 pieces plus in private transactions. It seemed as if a traditional gallery show was uncalled for as my work had begun to attract its own followers. By selling privately I also managed to keep the prices affordable as the middle man – the gallery – was not taking their cut of the cake which is usually up to 50%. It worked out very well and gave me an outlet to be creative and a small income to help with the financial problems I was going through because of lockdown. Most artists do what they do because they feel they have something to say to the world. Their work is in lieu of a platform to speak so it was greatly satisfying for me to know that I had not idled away this unique opportunity of space and time to create and that people had joined in and made things viable.
Social media can be a nightmare at times but in situations like lockdown, it was an undeniable lifeline for part-timers and relatively unknown creatives like myself as it provided us with an ongoing gallery space that enabled us to put our work out there still while the established ways of doing so were closed down.
When the second big lockdown hit I decided I would teach myself a new skill. I had been watching lots of YouTube videos about David Hockney whose work and process inspires me incredibly. He has used many formats to create work and I decided to try and teach myself the rudiments of digital art and see what would happen.
After a few days of experimentation, I had got my head around the basics of one particular method and was impressed with the speed in which I could work with this format and as money is usually an issue for artists at how cheaply I could produce work and have it printed and posted out to people. Again I set myself a challenge to do one piece a day and put it out for the world, or at least my social media contacts to have a look at.
Almost immediately I received a rather terse message chastising me for my experimentation and saying digital art is not art etc. I thought a lot about this idea and came to the conclusion that it was but just produced in a different way. A friend of mine who is on the board of governors for Tate Modern suggested that had Picasso had an iPad – like Hockney and many more – he would most definitely have used it as a way of making work and expressing himself. If it was good enough for him then I figured it was good enough for me and continued working on a series of pictures which I entitled Absolutely Queer and showcased on Facebook and Instagram. The pictures were of my icons and ideas around gender and sexuality and I would post one a day throughout the lockdown period. I made prints available to anyone who wanted one at the cheapest price I could and put them out for public view. Some prints sold well and some sold none but it was an interesting process and I was enjoying it.
I have always had a very DIY attitude to art as I am untrained and got on the bus quite late in life. Many galleries and influential art critics saw/see my work as a gimmick leftover from a moderately successful queer club lifestyle but I have always endeavored in making my work both personal and honest as my years on the scene had deprived me of both options for far too long. My first 2 solo exhibitions were self-funded with one being held in a cafe and the other in the basement of a shop on Brick Lane. I just invited everyone I knew to come to the party and within 4 years had another 3 exhibitions under my belt including the first-ever exhibition by a Queer and nonbinary artist like myself at The Houses of Parliament. My attitude has been and is that there is always a way and that if the “professional” art world wanted to ignore me then I would just carry on and do things in ways that were available.
Lockdown reinforced that way of thinking as I had nothing much else to do other than work on my art and put it out in the only way available to me. As luck would have it galleries did start taking notice of my output on Instagram eventually and I was contacted by several curators and now have my work on show at several commercial spaces so it was ALL rather positive.
What I am saying here goes out to anyone and everyone, not just artists. It is that persistence and attempting new things can be fruitful in many ways. 5 years ago I had never painted or created any artwork since I was at school in the ’80s. Now it fills my life with colour and gives me a platform of expression that I have never had before. The most important thing about it is to just DO it in your own way and be honest in your approach. I am fully aware of my own limitations, I just decided to ignore them and give it a go anyway. I put my work out there in the ways I have available to me and however, limiting or small they appear to be to others they still bring rewards both mental and material. It’s not about who is the most successful. It’s just about doing it in the first place because you never know what journey life will take you on and you will never know unless you give it a go !
Prints available from www.subversiongallery.co.uk 
Go Social !
Instagram – artbydustyo


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