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Tell us a little bit about yourself...

My name is Rory, I am an artist and curator, and I work as an operations manager for

a commercial gallery. I am originally from the West Midlands, but I have spent most

of my adult life in cities, living in Newcastle, London and since 2018, Berlin.

In 2020 I founded Slice, an artist-led curatorial initiative through which artists and

curators are invited to develop exhibitions and events across various locations in

Berlin. Through Slice we looked to explore different disciplines, exhibiting both leser-

represented and more established artists alongside each other.

While developing Slice and running its exhibition program, I continued to exhibit my

art and work for a commercial gallery. Eventually I had to make the difficult decision

to hand over Slice to a new team at the start of 2023 to concentrate on my own

practice and pursue other goals. Nevertheless, it has a legacy that I am proud of, and

it has convinced me of the need for artists to come together to create opportunities.

In terms of my working week, I now work 4 days for the gallery and typically spend 2

mornings and 1-2 full days in the studio per week. I aim to get 21 hours in the studio

which allows me to still have a good balance between family, work and other life


In the studio I usually work on paintings, drawings and sculptures simultaneously. I

like to be surrounded by different objects and images and to develop a body of work

for exhibition. I also spend a lot of time documenting my work, photo editing,

developing my website, applying for exhibitions and going to see shows. I enjoy all

these different aspects that are peripheral to the making of art, and I think that for

most artists, these are integral to an ongoing practice. Even my work for the gallery

allows me to be continuously around art, to have conversations with other artists,

curators and gallery workers, to share viewpoints and continue to learn.

Exhibition highlights for me include Durch, Slice (with Oliver Lunn) 2023, the Ruth

Borchard Self-Portrait Prize 2021 (shortlisted), The John Moores Painting Prize 2021

at the Walker Museum (long-listed/exhibitor), The Clifford Chance Purchase Prize

(2016 - shortlisted), The XL Catlin Art Prize (2016 - shortlisted), Fracture, Lewisham

Art House (with Katie Hubbell), and All Have Noses, Fat Relic (with Rhys Thomas).

What made you choose this career?

When I was thinking about applying to university I had no idea what to study. I was

mostly interested in playing in my band and going traveling, but I knew that I loved

making art so I chose to continue. It wasn’t until I was on my degree that I felt that I

really wanted to be an artist, or to be involved with art in some way as a career. I

started to learn more about art, gaining a better understanding of art history and

created strong bonds with other people who were interested in making objects and

images to express themselves and understand the world around them. After my

Bachelor’s degree I stayed in Newcastle, working in call centres and doing theatre

ticketing work, before moving to London to do my Masters degree. I then worked as a

decorator, picking up bits and pieces of freelance technician work (hanging artwork in

galleries and private homes) before a tutor from my Masters set me up with a job as

a technician in a gallery. From this point on I have kept working, making art, trying to

learn and taking on more challenging roles, eventually moving to Germany and

settling in Berlin. This move led me to start curating exhibitions and set up Slice,

alongside working for a commercial gallery. It was a way to meet new people and

show work by exciting artists, but also to get to know the city. Moving countries and

learning a new language and culture is hard and can be isolating, so it is important to

find ways to meet new people. It takes courage, but also creates opportunities for

growth and collaboration which is incredibly rewarding.

Did you go through formal education? If so, what did you study and where? If

not please explain your journey. 

Yes, after completing my A-Levels, I did a 4 year long BA (Hons) degree at

Newcastle University (2006-2010), followed a few years later by a two year long MA

at the Slade School of Fine Art (2013-2015) in London. Studying in different cities

was life-changing for me. Many of my closest friends are people I met while studying,

and I can honestly say that I had some of the best, and hardest times of my life

during these periods. It is not easy balancing education, finances, relationships and

jobs, especially when many students do not have the same financial pressures or

time constraints. That said, I believe that the students who had to work and were

driven to do well at their studies regardless, gained a different outlook and were

better exposed to the realities of making art while working paid jobs (as most artists

have to do).

Did this have a positive or negative impact on your chosen career?

My degrees definitely had a positive impact on my career. It is competitive to get a

job in the arts, and it can be a very opinionated environment that is full of sensitive

people…myself included! After a year of working odd jobs following my MA, a tutor

came through for me, validating me to a gallerist who hired me as a result. So as a

direct result of my studies I found employment in a reputable gallery and had a way

to support my artistic practice.

When I began work it was clear that I had a good understanding of contemporary art

and artworks (again, as a result of my studies). I understood the framework in which

the gallery operated and even knew some of the artists that the gallery represented

personally which further helped me foster relationships. This gallerist was good to

me, and when I took the decision to move to Berlin, she recommended me to a larger

gallery who hired me, and where I have continued to work. A lot comes from having a

solid network, which can begin with university, but I think that it is important to be

genuine and committed to others rather than to build a ‘network’ superficially. If

reciprocal, relationships can be invaluable.

On the other hand, I have seen how studying art can put many people off making art

or having a job in the arts. If taught badly, studying can force students to create work

within specific trajectories rather than allowing them to explore and realise their own

individual approaches. If I had advice on choosing an institution to study at, it would

be that gut feelings are usually trustworthy. If you feel good in a place, it could well be

the right move.

Who inspires you?

I know this sounds cheesy, but I believe that it is important to constantly surround

yourself with positive people who inspire you, who can support you, provide

guidance, and who are brave enough to tell you hard truths, but also say when they

are struggling. For me, this is my wife, my friends and my family. My wife shows me

every day what it means to be authentic and invest time and energy in the things that

are important to me. I am constantly inspired to move forward with my life through

being with her and I am better equipped to do so because of her. I am inspired by my

parents and my sister as the kindest, hardest working and most authentic people that

I know. My friends as well, give me support and share with me their worries and trials

in life, celebrating my successes and picking me up when I’m down.

In the arts I have often been inspired by successful, historic artists, but nowadays I

am mainly inspired by anyone who does something for others. This might be a group

of artists who put on exhibitions of their friends, a curator who has turned their

bedroom into a gallery space, or a famous artist who chooses to use their position to

fund and promote art projects that wouldn’t otherwise have the means. It is easy to

put others down, particularly when they don’t have knowledge or experience, but it is

incredibly difficult to maintain the energy to go out and help others thrive. It takes

courage to try to do anything that has a chance of failing or receiving criticism and I

applaud anyone who is crazy and brave enough to try.

What’s the scariest thing about your job and how have you overcome it?

People. I am an introvert, but as an artist and curator I talk with a wide range of

people and occasionally have to defend exhibitions or pieces.

Also as a gallery employee, there are some very privileged or successful people that

I have to speak to and even occasionally have dinners with.

I have found it helpful to treat people on the same level; to bring people off the

pedestals that I have placed them on, or take them out of the boxes I have put them

in. They become less scary when you laugh with them.

Work by Timo Seber (Slice 2021), image credit

What do you want to change about your industry?

First, I would encourage any readers to see Julia McKinleys fantastic response to this

question on her Ore Projects career page about the issues with class and

discrimination in the arts. These are sentiments I wholeheartedly agree with. So not

to be repetitive, I would add that another big issue is the environmental impact of

selling, shipping and storing artwork.

Artworks are sent all around the world for exhibitions and for sales, which has a

considerable environmental impact. At art fairs in particular, hundreds of galleries and

buyers fly from different continents to show, view and purchase artwork. Many

gallerists now choose to take trains instead of flying, which is a good step, but there

is still an environmental cost to this process that is important to recognise. As it is not

always possible for galleries to survive and pay employees or their artists purely by

selling locally, and many cities rely on art fairs as part of their financial infrastructure, I

do not see this changing anytime soon. I also do not have a great solution for the

current system other than to streamline the art fairs into fewer which would be a good

first step, and to work more diligently to consolidate shipments to clients within

particular areas of the world (which would mean clients having to wait a long time to

receive artworks).

To add to this, in the event of a sale, or at the end of an exhibition an artwork is

usually newly packaged. This results in a large amount of plastic-based packaging

waste. I understand that no one wants to spend tens or even hundreds of thousands

on an item to have it delivered in dirty, torn packaging, and for any transport artworks

should be protected properly. However, I would love to see development in ‘green’

packaging alternatives for artworks, which could cushion artworks from transport

damage, as well as keeping them dry from moisture, particularly in long-term

(sometimes decades-long) storage.

What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your field?

When I was 25 I wasn’t sure what my next steps should be. I was living in Newcastle,

working in a call centres as I previously said, while most of my best friends had left to

pursue Masters degrees or find interesting jobs in London. I was unhappy. At this

point my girlfriend at the time forced me to go to a music festival, which I could barely

afford and had no desire to go to, but I saw that it also had an interesting visual arts

program so I went. In a side tent, with only two other people in attendance, the

Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller showed a documentary film he had made of

the artist Bruce Lacey. Bruce is a cult figure who is completely mad and energetic

throughout the film, despite being in his late 80s. I remember a scene where he went

into his garden alone, dressed as a spaceman while shooting barbie dolls into the

sky with rockets to celebrate the graduation from high school of his granddaughter (or

something like that). In short, he appeared completely liberated from inhibitions and

had found a way to bring his art and life together without borders. After the screening,

Jeremy Deller answered some questions. I knew his work to be political, such as his

Baghdad car bomb work (literally a bombed wreckage of a car from the Mutanabbi

Street book market), but after watching this documentary it was clear that his work

spanned different disciplines and covered a broad range of interests. I raised my

hand and said ‘as artists we are often asked to write statements describing our

practice, or are forced to place ourselves within certain trajectories of art history, how

would you describe your practice as a whole?’ He rightly looked annoyed at the

question and said ‘I, and most artists I know, just do what they are interested in’, and

moved on to the next question.

It is hard not get jaded when so much success is happening to others in the arts.

There are millionaire gallerists and artists who can be harsh and arrogant. Negative

voices will whisper their criticisms, feigning intellect as a reason not to do something

(anything). Don’t listen. Art can be amazing and life changing, particularly when art

and life flow together. Go see shows constantly and enjoy them, be open with people

and try not to become inhibited by certain ways of doing something. Just do what you

are interested in. Don’t try to be or please a particular person. Be authentic. Anyone

who did anything interesting did it despite negativity from others. It is all a process.

There is not one path or one way of doing something so do it your way and be open

to opportunities. Be ok with change, keep learning and hold on to the people who

share your values.


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