In Conversation with Verity Babbs
It’s always so encouraging to see first-time buyers benefitting from the Own Art Scheme, so when we saw Verity Babbs’ YouTube video ‘Verity Babbs Art: in conversation with Emily Bampton’ pop up in our inbox, we were thrilled to be introduced.
Verity Babbs is an art owner (yay!), an artist liaison at Own Art gallery Rise Art, a podcast host, a YouTuber, and an online art exhibition curator, so we were incredibly keen to find out a bit more about her journeys within the art world.
Own Art is a national initiative that makes it easier and more affordable for people to purchase and enjoy original work, regardless of their income and socio-economic background.
There was a fantastic mention of Own Art in one of your YouTube videos ‘Verity Babbs Art: in conversation with Emily Bampton’ – How were you first introduced to Own Art?
Very soon after I first moved to London I visited The Other Art Fair – one of my first ever fairs – and loved it. Own Art had their stickers dotted around and their own table to process payments etc. As I went through the stalls I would immediately go for the wooden racks where artists often put their cheaper, unframed works or works on paper. I was really excited at the prospect of being able to take something home with me and fell immediately in love with the work of Marcus Aitken. Marcus had a series of original paintings on paper, each with a central mark made with a thick, baby blue brushstroke. I had just graduated from university and was trying to find my feet in the art world, and a combination of unpaid internships taken concurrently wouldn’t allow me to drop £50 on the painting without foregoing something else, like groceries. Seeing the “Buy with Own Art” sticker was exciting – I was going to get the painting! I realised at the Own Art desk that my purchase needed to be £100 minimum, and so the mission began to find another £50 artwork to add to my basket. Luckily, I quickly found the work of Georgina Walton, who creates gorgeous abstract works in bright colours sometimes topped with glitter. These were the first-ever works I was able to buy, starting my little collection, thanks to Own Art.
How do you think Own Art benefits artists and young collectors?
The fact that when you buy with Own Art you don’t have interest rates looming over you really made me feel comfortable to make the relatively long-term investment (albeit £10 a month). The payment system with Own Art would definitely convince me to buy more expensive work too, which benefits the artist more directly. I’d hope that artists would also find happiness in the fact that their work is being made accessible to a more diverse audience.
What inspired you to start your Verity Babbs Art video interviews?
For a long time, I’ve wanted to go into broadcasting, dreaming of hosting art & auction programmes (I’m looking at you, Antiques Roadshow). I was furloughed in April and wanted to come out of the lockdown period with a bit of a portfolio. I started by asking my friends from my days of stand-up and improvised comedy in Oxford whether they’d be happy to be guests, and since then have branched out a bit more to emerging art world curators and makers. The goal was to talk about a work of art of their choice, with no pressure for either of us to know anything about the piece, and to use the artwork as a springboard for bigger issues/topics. I’ve had great feedback on them and I hope they’ve ended up being accessible and entertaining.
Could you tell us a little more about your background and how you got to where you are today as a writer, podcast host, and Artist Liaison at Rise Art (a fantastic Own Art gallery member)?
I went to Oxford and finished my History of Art BA in 2019. I spent about 6 months applying for too many jobs to count, and finally landed my Artist Liaison role at Rise Art. During my first 6 months out of university, I did lots of bits and pieces – a couple of weeks of work experience here and there to build up my CV.
I’d been writing for Art Plugged (run by Len Gordon) since November after he reached out to me having seen “looking for volunteer work” in my Instagram bio. It’s been wonderful having a platform I’ve been given pretty much free-reign with to have my work on. Len mentioned starting a podcast in April time and we got started straight away. I asked friends and artists I’d worked with to be our first guests and recorded the audio over Skype. The second series will have better audio editing and a more diverse line-up of guests.
Once lockdown began I had some extra time to think about what my bigger career goals were. I reckoned that now would be a good time to start putting “content” out there to form some kind of online portfolio showing me in front of the camera. That’s when the Verity Babbs Art videos started and I started to reach out to broadcasters for advice on entering the sector. Lots of people have been very generous with their time.
What is the most recent piece of original artwork you have purchased and what drew you to it?
The most recent original would be a work by Beg4cred (Samuel Mead) which I saw in his studio just before lockdown. It’s the outline of a pair of cowboy boots in blue with “killer boots’ written underneath in red. It’s such a good colour combination and it’s a bit anarchic which I like. The piece was trapped in the framers during lockdown but now it’s hung in my cupboard/bedroom in Peckham and I love it.
Why do you think people begin to collect art?
In my video with Emily, we discuss being a new collector and what drives that and I think it comes down to something being beautiful and a human drive for ownership. There’s an amazing academic article that I read in university about museum collections and how the desire to collect is deeply rooted in society, I can’t put my finger on who wrote it now though. I also love having mementos of artists I’ve worked with, and am very lucky that some of them often send me a print to say thanks for any unpaid work I’ve done with them.
Are there any emerging artists you have your eyes on at the moment?
Along with my university friend Josephine-May Bailey, I’m curating an online exhibition called ‘Aurelia Arts Festival’ (@aurelia_arts_festival) which is featuring the work of 13 amazing underrepresented and emerging women artists. For me, it was important to focus not only on new graduates but also on older artists or artists who have children. “Emerging” categories are often age-defined and can be reductive, especially given that there is a generation of female artists over 40 who are as overlooked as those who are trying to find their way in the art world today at 21.
In terms of other artists not in the show I’d like to give a shout-out to, there’s too many to mention. But three upcoming artists you need to check out immediately are Jess Cochrane, Maddie Rose Hills, and Molly Kent.
As someone completely immersed in the art world, how have you seen galleries and art fairs navigating and adapting to COVID changes?
I had just gotten into the swing of attending art fairs and galleries regularly once lockdown hit. I grew up in the countryside, so moving to London in February was an amazing chance to see as much as possible. Obviously the big change because of COVID was that these things stopped happening.
Now that things are reopening the most visible change is the booking system and sanitising measures in the physical spaces. I’m not sure physical gallery spaces will change much further.
Online galleries have boomed and lots of companies in the art sector have realised that they need to move online to keep up access to customers and collectors. It will be interesting to see how much of these services continue to be offered for free.
I’d hope that lockdown gave gallerists and curators time to think about their ethics and goals and that that will lead to more accessibility and representation. The murder of George Floyd and the consequent BLM protests that happened during lockdown hopefully caught a lot of people at a time when they weren’t distracted by much else. I think that all cultural institutions ought to have been spending that time looking inward at who, and what they represent.
Do you have any exciting projects that you are working on at the moment?
Now feels like a really exciting time in my career where there’s lots of potential for new projects and connections. I’m continuing to love my job at Rise Art and couldn’t be prouder of my family there.
Aurelia Arts Festival is running from the 1st to 14th of September and you can catch updates over on our Instagram page @aurelia_arts_festival.
At the moment I’m reaching out to broadcasters for advice and indie radio stations about collaborations and hoping to work with some exciting comedians in the future for my YouTube videos. I’m focussing more on my writing at the moment and trying to get my pieces published on different platforms and in magazines. In September I’m taking a short course at UAL in Art Criticism so look out for scathing reviews and opinion pieces.