By Zoë Goetzmann (@byzoesera)
Interview with Art Elusive – London-Based Artist
This week, Cosimo Art Studio Tours takes a trip down to Islington to visit Art Elusive, @artelusive (Purity is her real name) to visit her studio and flat.
This year, the artist is preparing for her second solo show, Something About Existence – a follow-up to her first show, Something About Connection – (a darker, underground, and grunge-debut for Art Elusive), which she curated herself at Dalston Den.
Art Elusive works in oils and acrylics, using spray paint to outline her initial sketches on canvas…
Her work is personal and often autobiographical. She is a largely self-taught artist whose influences range from her own artist friends, mentoring street and graffiti artists, to Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring to Michelangelo, who, as she explains, Art Elusive will use influence from a figurative and from a compositional standpoint).
She is also inspired by London artist Sophie Tea (@sophieteaart) from an entrepreneurial perspective.
In this interview, we talk about it all: inclusivity, accessibility, her painting process (why she will play one song continuously in order to, stay, as she explains, in her own painting “time-loop” until her work is finished), the London art scene, heartbreak, race, DIY-ing her own artistic career, doing her best to maneuver adversity, learning the business of promoting and selling artwork, as well as the process of curating her first and second solo shows.
Zoë: Thanks so much for speaking with Cosimo Art: Studio Tours. Let’s start out with the first question: Tell me your ‘Art Story?’ How did end up becoming an artist?
Art Elusive: My name is Art Elusive, and I started painting when I was younger as an escape from life and what was going on at that time.
And as I’ve just, grown, I guess it’s just been a part of me like I’ve never been able to shake it. So, I naturally just fell into selling my artwork. But, for a long time, I was just painting and just practicing and learning from other artists.
I didn’t go to university. I just painted at college, doing Art and Design.
And then, I dropped out. And just carried on painting, meeting artists, go into their studios, and just learning different techniques and just doing little small group exhibitions and then naturally selling my artwork.
Zoë: Is that where your name comes from? The Art Elusive part?
Art Elusive: Basically, one person called me ‘Elusive’ when I was a teenager, so it kind of stuck.
And then as I grew, a lot of people call me ‘Elusive.’ Like I just don’t kind of dip in and out of like, ‘What’s happening?’ Sneaky…” For a teen[ager], it’s a bit ‘posh.’
I also used to love this song by Lianne La Havas that was called ‘Elusive.’
So, I was like, “This was meant to be.”
So, I started just calling myself: ‘Purity Elusive Art” and then I was like, “I’ll drop my name. I can’t be bothered.”
I suppose as you get to know me… “Yeah okay, cool. She’s here one minute. Next minute she’s gone.”
Zoë: I like the mysterious vibe. Can you describe your art practice? The media you work with, the themes you explore?
Art Elusive: I think, what happens with me, the way that my painting style is… like it goes in [and] ‘loops around.’
So, because I started off doing portraits, just using like acrylic and oils, and I absolutely loved it. Like I practice the hell out of it.
Like I’ve done. I was just going in like, I was just trying to be the best portrait artist. And then somewhere along that as I was selling, like doing commissions, I kind of felt like I was painting for money not for like joy, like not it’s not coming from inside of me like do not mean this is just like what people kind of want to see themselves, which was interesting.
So, then I was like, I’m just going to be more free so I completely abandoned references and I was like, “[eff] that.” I’m just gonna paint figures and bodies and souls, basically what’s inside of you not what’s on the outside, because I’ve done that for so long.
So that’s where all the abstract kind of art comes from. And then somewhere in the middle, I merged them together, but I mainly always use acrylic, some kind of like oil stick or oil paint, and then spray paint like it’s always a mixture on my canvas.
Zoë: Can you kind of describe the process of how you create one of your paintings?
Art Elusive: Basically, it comes from feeling[s], so when I feel a certain kind of way, I’ll be like, “Okay, I’m going to portray this” and I’ll usually listen to the same song.
So, it’s kind of like I’m trying to keep myself trapped in at one time.
So, I’ll listen to the same song all day. I would like just be in the same place basically in here, and I usually just start with spray paint and paint out the figures.
And then I’ll go in with like oil stick or oil paint and I always do like a light wash underneath and so like, [a] base of what it is.
Let that dry. I’ll probably work on another one, but I just keep myself in ‘the time loop’ like that same song like I can’t stop doing it. Mainly it’s just about the feeling.
I kind of attach it to a song and naturally happens. It’s not like something that I practice, but I have observed that’s what happened.
I attached that feeling to a song. And I’ll just rinse it until I’m done.
Zoë: With oils and acrylics, did you just practice [these techniques] in college?
Art Elusive: In college, in school, obviously, my art teachers were brilliant.
Especially in college, my art teacher, Miss Sylvester. She was the best.
But, she basically just taught us everything and she gave us so much freedom as well as like critiquing our work.
So like composition I was always so bad at backgrounds and sh*t like that. She always used to tell me, “You need to try harder” and stuff.
But when I dropped out, I was kind of like had to learn for myself. That’s where other artists came in.
And that’s when when I was using other mediums like spray paint. I never learnt that in college, but I learnt that from actual graffiti artists that I became friends with that gave me advice it. Gave me pointers, do you know what I mean?
Even before my show, like I have a couple of friends that will come to my studio, they’re artists and they look rather than helped me pick what I want to put in my show.
So, my last one every choice was like a collaboration between friends. So as most of this stuff that I’ve learned is just trial and error as well.
Now, I think with this exhibition [at Dalston Den later this year], that I’m doing, and focus more on the composition, because I want to show a feeling, I’m so used to just due to person and a pretty background, you know for a commission.
Yeah, so I’m trying to bring in the real life of what’s going on.
Zoë: What do you like about working with oils or acrylics?
Art Elusive: I like them all like the same. I love them all the same. Because I love trying to marry them together and make them one thing.
So, some people will look at a painting. They don’t even know that there’s spray paint in that painting. I liked them all together.
But I do use acrylic the most like majority of my paintings are mostly acrylic. And it’s just because I like how it dries.
I like that I can quickly go, like I said, I’m trying to stay in ‘the time loop’ so I give myself like 24-48 hours. I just want to do it quick. But still, like just stay in the zone,
Zoë: What do you love most about being an artist? Is there one thing? Can it be a few things?
Art Elusive: I love like, looking at the bigger picture of it. And thinking like, “This is a like, it’s a moment that is happening now. It’s like a state – a part of history. It stays at that part of the timeline.
Like this is what it was made. Yeah, like this [by this] person here. I just like that. It’s like, a part of history.
You know, even the fact that I’m painting people that like really exist, it’s like they’re never gonna be that age again – you know, that’s what I love about it.
And you’ll never be able to be portrayed at that age at that time. Like that again, it just doesn’t exist again.
Zoë: In the age of Instagram, you can just take a photo, but it takes longer to take a painting and there’s another beauty we love a beauty to it. So well said. It’s such a good observation.
There’s probably a lot of things you would change about your world. What is your least favourite thing in the art world and/or what would you change in the art world?
Art Elusive: I think the thing for me, when we’re speaking about the art world, I have to speak about the art world in London because I don’t know anything else.
But here in London, I just feel the one thing that does that grinds my gears is kind of inclusivity, but that’s how I feel personally for myself.
So, that just might be me being, you know, ‘the depressed artist,’ pissed that they’re not getting ‘their in,’ but, you know, I’ve been turned down by a lot of galleries.
I’ve gone, I’ve put myself out there and I’ve been directly shut down… and you’re not immune.
Yeah, I don’t know what why that is. But each time the feeling was kind of the same.
So that’s one thing I would change is like the inclusivity, giving people a chance like why does it have to be about who I know.
And, you know, I’ve even got people – like mates – who are quite big in the art world and I’ve spoken to curators, like, “Oh, yeah, I would like to show” and they’re like, “No, no, what about this person? You know, that person hooked me up with them.”
It’s like, the opportunity is really slim, but I guess it makes you work harder.
And you know, it makes you just a better artist.
So I don’t know, like that’s one thing I would change the inclusivity of it.
Like, I hate that like gatekeeping and like the cliquey vibe… it’s a bit annoying. That’s why I just stay in my studio.
I’ll just do my own exhibitions. I can’t be bothered.
Zoë: That’s the perfect quote for Cosimo, because that’s very much what we tried to do and you’re aimed at emerging artists and like giving them the tools to do their own career, especially because to be an artist, you have to be entrepreneurial.
Art Elusive: I just think like the opportunity like is very small for some reason.
I don’t know if it’s a real thing… Maybe I’m in my head, but I feel like the opportunity is small for me.
And I’m not sure why but I know that I will get to the place that whatever my brain is like driving me towards I know I’ll get there and I know it’s gonna be a beautiful journey.
Zoë: From your perspective, what is one thing that you wish that people knew about being an artist?
Art Elusive: It’s really vulnerable.
It’s not just someone’s painting a pretty picture, you know?
It’s coming from inside you, you know, like, this vision that you have is like coming out of us a vulnerable place to be to show yourself to be in a room full of people showing them you know, what you’ve created from yourself.
Artists are really vulnerable.
You put yourself out there constantly, you know?
Zoë: Can you talk about your solo exhibition: ‘Something About Connection’?
Art Elusive: I had an exhibition [in] April 2022. And the year before – so 2021 – I got in contact with a gallery, the one gallery that was like, “yeah” because I’d done a group show.
This gallerist walked past and gave me his card and he said, “I’ve got gallery around the corner if you want to do a show. Let’s do it.”
So I went to visit him and he wanted to buy one of the paintings that were in the group show.
And he said, “I’ll give you 50 quid and you can have your show for free. If I can have that painting…”
I was broke – I needed the 50 pound. So I just walked around took it off the wall, gave it to him, got the 50 pound and I was like “Cool. We’re gonna plan a show.”
A few weeks later we started putting flyers out and because I wasn’t feeling very confident and I didn’t have many people around me, I said to him, “Maybe I should do a group show?”
I thought, “I have this other artists, he’s a guy, he’s pretty cool. Like maybe I have downstairs, he has takes the upstairs, maybe it’ll be fun, and more people will come..”
And he just completely flipped.
He was, really overly sexual and, well, it was weird man.
He was like, “I don’t want a man that I don’t know doing the show.”
So, I was in this place where I just took my painting back. I was like, “I’m not doing a show there.”
And then, with all that emotion, I was painting a lot.
And I was like, just so broken for a few months.
And then a month before my show last year I decided, “Well, I’m gonna do a solo exhibition. I’m just gonna do it.”
Everything I feel I’m gonna do it – that’s why the room was so dark, because that’s how I felt. I wanted everyone to feel the suffocation that I felt, you know, and it was all about connection with people.
I wanted to portray that and I just went for it. I got myself a studio. It was 350 pound a month. It was in Peckham. I was like just painting, planning, I was collecting bean bags to put all around to make it [the room] black. I had a month.
I shut myself off [from] the world and I just went for it. And I managed to like book people to perform. It was crazy, like how everyone just came forward for me but at the moment, I didn’t realize that so I was feeling just really I was in a bubble, man.
And then after that exhibition, literally, at 10:30, just before the exhibition [was ending], [all] the bubble burst.
It was so weird, because it was a great exhibition. And I’m so proud of myself – but the heavy emotion around it…
I’m grateful for it, though.
And now I waited a whole year to decide to do another one, but I wanted to do it around the same time.
I think everyone felt something in there [the exhibition].
Whether you liked the paintings or not. It was an experience. That’s what I wanted it to be: an experience.
Zoë: Is the show going to be of ‘the same vibe’ or is it going to be like a continuation?
Art Elusive: It’s like a vessel. So it’s like you know, it’s a continuation, but it’s not the same.
It’s a flip of how everything was last year.
This one’s called, Something About Existence. The thing in between our connection.
So even as I’m speaking in between, I might be a bit anxious or thought might come to my head. I want to capture: “that” that thing in between.
It’s more romantic. It’s less dark. You know, I was in the grunge stage now I’m like, “No, let’s be a bit lighter and nice, let’s be hopeful.”
So, it’s a flip on it. It’s not going to be dark at all. Anyone wants to come it won’t be dark. We can say affirmations and sit in a circle.
Zoë: What advice would you to artists embarking on this artistic and creative pathway?
Art Elusive: I would just say: use all your resources around you.
Every single thing is a resource. Even if you’re struggling so hard. Walk around London. There is materials waiting for you to paint on. It.
Do you know I mean? Just use your resources.
Don’t give up trying to find a way. Sometimes, you know, we will talk about ‘burnout’ and stuff. And I practice trying to find a way to be professional with the burn out.
Plan things out. You’ve got to find a way to ride through it.
Because it’s always gonna happen. Just don’t be too hard on yourself, you know?
And don’t shut yourself off from the world – like don’t.
As much as I’m a hermit, I still have my little tribe that’s safe… that can come over.
They do their creative things, or, you know, sit in a studio session. Don’t shut yourself off.
People need to see your craft. They need you in their life basically.
Zoë: What’s some of the more positive things about being an artist in London and having this specific community?
Art Elusive: I think some of the positives are, when you find your people, they’re very easy to just be around.
Being in London like I could love an artist and if they’re from London too, it’s easy access for us to have a conversation, or you know, go to [an] exhibition, or just vibe and make friends with other artists.
You know, that’s the one thing that I love about the community in London.
It’s just so accessible, you can just walk past any studio and be like, “Hey, I just want to like see what’s going on in here.”
It’s such a city that people are like, “Yeah, sure. So, this is what I do…”
Yeah, that’s what I love about it. I’m not scared to just meet random people.
Even though I’m anxious I still forced myself.
Zoë: Do you have any street artist influences? Or artistic influences you like to who you can name?
Art Elusive: Do you know what? All of my influences are all my friends that are just around me, man.
The people who inspire me and I look up to you.
They might not even be a painter. They could be a tattoo artist. It’s weird.
That’s why i’m like it’s a feeling. Obviously there’s famous artists that I love like Basquiat – my favorite artist in the world.
Andy Warhol… That whole ‘vibe’ [and tribe] in New York.
Keith Haring… Like all of those guys, that’s probably the famous artists that I’ve like been inspired by or look up to.
I do love Sophie Tea Art. She’s out of control. I love her work ethic. She inspires me. Her work ethic really inspires me. She just jumped on it and just went for it.
Zoë: For you, what’s the best way [that] you find connections in the art world?
Art Elusive: Go to all the shows. Every show. If someone invites you to an exhibition, just go.
You never know who you’re going to meet.
I met this girl at somebody’s exhibition that makes jewelry. And she just inspired me so much.
Just got to shows that’s the best way and most of them are free.
Zoë: Is there anything you think the art world could do to be more accessible? What sort of ‘baby steps’ could the art world take in creating this type of change?
Art Elusive: This is a political topic is because.. like most things I could complain about – I feel like, when you realize that it comes from you, you have to be the person to break it.
I could be like, “there needs to be more black galleries. There needs to be more younger-led galleries.”
Not even just young people … But I do see a lot and I’m someone who’s mixed race, so for me like my experience isn’t as bad as other people’s.
But I still see that experience and I’m never silent about that stuff.
In regards to the art world, there just needs to be more opportunities for young people of colour to put themselves out there and it not be so difficult and you’re not shut me down and just telling me to go and do a group show because it’s actually tiring.
That’s the number one statement you could give, it’s almost as if you’re not good enough for it, which is quite sad. I would love to personally just do it and just not have to you know, complain and champion for that.
We need more inclusively.
My experience is mainly a race issue. It is mainly a class issue. It is mainly that… it’s hard to articulate.
In the art world, for black people is fucked.. Because even when I went to this exhibition for Black History Month, and the artists who were there, some of them were black, but didn’t speak English – you could tell the gallery owners gone over to find this artist in Nigeria.
But then, if you go to speak to the artists, the gallery owner interjects, and is like, “No, no, don’t speak to him.”
It’s like this is his time to shine… Why can’t I speak to them? It’s Black History Month?… It’s a black exhibition. Why can’t I speak to the black artist?
I just find it so weird.
I saw one black person who was working for the gallery. The first thing I said her [was], “I’m so upset.” I was distressed and I sat down and had a conversation with her and she totally agreed. I knew it wasn’t just me.
But that’s why I’m like with ‘the race thing’… it’s seriously there.
But you just have to, like you said, ‘make your own world’ and not pay attention to this one and just do it yourself and do it better and bigger and sicker and just *middle fingers up* to everyone else.
It’s like the rebel in me.
I don’t know how to speak and write this kind of stuff… But at the same time, it’s so important because if a little girl wants to become an artist, I want her to be able to message me or DM me or whoever else she identifies with and know that she could talk about this – instead of it being hidden away.
Zoë: Also, the same goes for art fairs in general. It’s the all the politics of that world, but that’s just how it works… They have a protocol and tradition.
Art Elusive: I think it’s outdated. It’s so outdated… It’s old.
I’m bored of it. There’s nothing exciting. I go to some of these art fairs and big establishment exhibitions… I’m bored… I’m bored!
And it’s like almost like black people are ‘fashion’ like, I remember last year there were so many galleries that were commissioning paintings that were basically the same, like: ‘black person standing, maybe flowers, maybe a doll.’
It was like a style that was happening, but it was like, “You’re commissioning all these white people to paint these paintings that were originally from black artists,” that exact formula of painting that was successful came from a black artist. It didn’t come from the white artist that you’re showing in [for example] Saatchi Gallery.
Zoë: On the business side, what advice would you give to emerging artists structuring their careers?
Art Elusive: I just think you need to have a basic structure with how you send [artwork], how you package things like just have a basic structure.
And then, from there you build on it. I don’t know after that stage, because I’m still building. I’ve avoided it for so long. That ‘admin’ and all that I’ve avoided. I’m terrible.
But yeah, I think start with your structure, write everything down. Also what I do is I have a book, everything that I sell everything that I buy.
Everything… I write it in the book. I just have to have that.
So I guess just have a good structure. But I’m still working on it.
I’m probably the worst person – like I avoid websites like the plague like I’ve made then and abandoned them.
I noticed people don’t want to buy art over Instagram… Nobody wants to buy through Instagram.
During the pandemic, it was crazy. I got everything.
All my money came from Instagram. All my commissions.
But now, I’m starting to realize: a lot of people don’t feel comfortable just sending you money, hoping that this isn’t a scam, you know, I mean?
So it’s like you have to have something that is professional or something that protects both people.
Zoë: How many sales were you getting through Instagram?
Art Elusive: I was painting daily and every day I sold painting.
I played the daily for a year. I broke up with my ex boyfriend. I was like, in a place where I had to release I painted every single day.
I would post the painting and someone would get it. Just like that. Every day.
About 90. I’ve done a lot of paintings. The thing is, they didn’t make it to my page, because I just posted on my story, someone bought it, came to collect it, the next day.
Like I was raking it in. Now I’m like: “Where are you? Come back!”
Zoë: What would make it easier for artists business-wise?
Art Elusive: I think education. I think I just need a business course. I think it’s all myself, things I need to do myself. Because it’s even stuff like registering a business, that intimidates me.
I don’t want to do that. On Shopify, I have to register a business myself, in order for people to buy stuff using like ‘Visa,’ Amex … etc.” So it’s like, yeah, that intimidates me. I shut down. I’m like, “No.”
When I started making my website, I didn’t realize to actually sell stuff on there, I have to link it to ‘an E commerce [link or portal].’
That intimidates me, I can’t be fucked, like move on.
It needs to be easy. It needs to be like, “right: upload it. someone buys it… deposit the money into your online account.”
You know, artists aren’t good at this sh*t. We have to force ourselves to be good at it.
Zoë: So speaking of: When you’re talking about speaking to younger artists, what is some advice you’d give to you’re younger ‘Purity self,’ or ‘Art Elusive’ self?
Art Elusive: I would say to my younger self: Don’t worry about what other people think of you, your work your process anything.
Don’t worry about what other people think. The most important opinion is your own. That’s what I would say to myself because you get stuck thinking about if other people like your sh*t or like you or want you around in the little community.
The only person that will suffer or the only thing that’s going to suffer is your work. So don’t even focus on it. Just focus on yourself, your work, you know, spend five years just doing the same thing.
Don’t try and be like anyone else. You know, you’re original.
I was such like a people pleaser. I just wanted everyone to like me and like my work, you know?
Now, I’ve learned that, if I ask you: “What do you think about painting?” Does it fucking about what you think? Because if tomorrow I decide to change it, and make it better (in my opinion), that’s my decision.
It’s about me, it’s not about anyone else, you know, and if people resonate with it, that’s when the beautiful thing comes in. Like you don’t have to force that.
Zoë: in the pandemic, though, when you were making lots of sales, [did you have this] same mentality or way of thinking?
Art Elusive: I wasn’t even thinking about selling, you know. I wasn’t even thinking about selling work. I wasn’t even thinking about that.
I didn’t care. It was like an energy. When I was with my ex boyfriend, it was kind of abusive relationship. So he didn’t let me paint in the house. So for a year I wasn’t painting.
So as soon as we broke up, the first thing that I done, was paint and I couldn’t stop.
I couldn’t stop. So that’s what it came from. It was just a lot, like I just had a release, you know?
And I was just churning it out, churning out. My Instagram grew.
When I was with him, I had like 600 followers and now I’m on 2000…
Zoë: But that’s still a lot – it’s such a slap in the face…
Art Elusive: I started loving myself and started doing it for me, not for anybody else. I think everyone just saw that. And it was the pandemic people bought.
The things I was painting were so colourful, vibrant. I was painting everything. It was all kind of abstract, but it was still some portraits. I was doing a lot of commissions of like family portraits, and so I was just, it was almost like a training camp I put myself in.
I was just like painting crazy. I wasn’t using references for most things.
So, I was just learning again… I felt like I’d had a year off and I just had to learn again, and people just loved it.
Like this one woman – she became a collector of mine. She’s bought 10 pieces.
Starting off as three in one week and now, if she likes something, she’s just like, “Yeah, that’s mine.”
Zoë: I feel like when I look at your paintings, even if the style changes, it has a distinct essence that’s “you.”
I’ll say, “Oh, yeah, that’s your style.” That’s why I like it.
It just has this unique perspective, and you can tell it, I think that’s the best.
Art needs to have a story. It needs to be personal to you. And when that’s personal to you, you connect to the audience, it’s going to reach out to somebody. It sounds so cliché, but it’s the truth.