Why rising star creatives are all about digital

By Sujata Burman

3 minute read

The creative industry has seen it’s own digital revolution in the last few years, accelerated by events in 2020.

Gallery representation, art fairs and institutions are no longer essential tools for propelling the bright young stars of tomorrow. What matters today, is inclusivity, whatever the platform. 

“We should fully embrace and understand intersectionality… always focus on the future, never get complacent and always ask for more money,” artist Phaan Howng tells us. A risk taker by nature, Howng swapped an office job for her art practice back in 2011. Firing up the “small and edgier” art scene in Baltimore, her work tackles complex environmental issues, including the politics behind humans manipulating nature. Howng’s narrative depicts how mother nature would “restructure and reinvent herself into [something] sublime and beautiful”, in a style that she describes as “optimistic post-apocalypse”. 

On digital first for emerging artists & collectors

3phonecall Credit Manjit Thapp
Top: Phaan Howng; photography by Joseph Hyde. Above: Phone Call illustration by Manjit Thapp

On digital first for emerging artists & collectors

Rather than discovery of art being “delegated by the gallery systems”, Howng sees Instagram as a platform where the artists can now “have authority” and take real ownership of their work. In June 2020, for example, she used social media as a tool to sell panels from her show at Baltimore Museum of Art, to raise money for the Black Lives Matter movement and intersectional environmental organisations.

Over in the UK, illustrator Manjit Thapp recalls how daunting starting out was, and like Howng, she sees digital as the most exciting space for future-forward artists. Via online platforms – whether that be a website or on social media – Thapp says artists are able to “fill their portfolio with work that they’d love to get hired to do, by setting their own briefs”. 

Thapp’s own Instagram feed, which has over 100k viewers, unfolds as a portfolio of her exquisitely drawn, empowered women. Her characters have made their way onto book covers, magazines, and come 2021, they’ll be at NOW Gallery in Greenwich for her first ever solo show. “They’ve evolved as I have,” she says, “and they represent a whole host of inspiration, from music, fashion and colours to my culture.” 

Another emerging talent, Margate-based artist Emily Forgot advocates working with digital forums like Modern Art Hire and Partnership Editions – the latter’s mission is “breaking down art’s elitism” to transform the way we engage with it. “I think what appealed to me about both galleries was the accessibility of the art, both remove many of the barriers put up by art institutions – collecting art becomes something more approachable through these spaces online,” she says. 

Forgot is also carving her own Instagram niche that straddles art and design. Her feed ebbs and flows with graphic and architectural prints, including inspirations that inform her newsletter, Muse & Maker, which she describes as a “home for curiosity”.

On being a woman in the art world

Id Vancouver 2 Credit Emilyforgot
Artwork by Emily Forgot

On being a woman in the art world

In an essay written by sociologist Taylor Whitten Brown, he lays it out in cold, hard stats: “Only two works by women have ever broken into the top 100 auction sales for paintings, despite women being the subject matter for approximately half of the top 25.”  

So, how are next generation female artists navigating these tricky truths?

The fact that, as Howng puts it, “dudes still dominate” the art sphere has been a motivator for her since graduate school, where she found herself “working her ass off” to compete with her male counterparts. This plays out in her work as visually stimulating landscapes, sculpture, performance and immersive spaces – Howng is essentially painting her way through these issues.

There is a mutual, mindful positivity among female artists right now, too. Forgot notes the rise in women team leads at cultural institutions she has worked with in the past. While Thapp says: “In recent years there has been more of a ‘spotlight’ on feminism in a commercial sense and that has led to more opportunities for female artists. The conversation about equality in the art industry also feels louder than I remember it before.” 

This momentum has been building for a while – just look at groups like Guerrilla Girls, a group of feminist activists who have been powerfully turning the art world on its head since 1985 – while accolades have been stacking up for women, too. Rachel Whiteread, a maker of groundbreaking sculpture and the first female artist to win the Turner Prize in 1993, was recently made a Dame in 2019. 

So, as Howng puts it, you could say the future for women in the art world is “optimistic, with a little asterisk”.

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