Grafting Under Tory State With Ellie Pennick

What is your background?

I am a working-class queer woman from North Yorkshire. My dads side of the family were miners who suffered from Thatcher's cruel pit closures. I became part of a generation undermined and scarred by the post-Thatcher, neoliberal society in which we navigate. I grew up surrounded by such a loving, strong and political family. We all suffered a lot of loss in the space of a few years, which I wouldn't wish upon anyone. Our sarcastic humour and support got us through a lot of shit. They instilled a strong work ethic into me. Working from such a young age and understanding the value of money and graft has got me where I am now. I grew up quickly and soon realised I had nothing to lose so left and decided to study at Leeds College of Art, working as a pot washer to fund my train ticket. I then moved to London and had the privilege to study at Chelsea College of Art.

What do you do?

I am the director and founder of Guts Gallery. After leaving university in the Summer of 2017, I was accepted onto a Sculpture Masters course at the Royal College of Art. However, due to limited funds, I was unable to study there. I noticed the distribution of wealth within the arts operates on a model which mirrors that of wider social austerity; it disproportionately benefits people who do not experience racial oppression, gender or class discriminations. Instead of adhering to this it spurred me on to create a business venture that benefits other struggling artists myself. I am also a gallery manager at The Bomb Factory Art Foundation, run by the amazing Pallas Citroen. Which is a arts charity that supports cultural organisations and educational institutions to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in the viewing and creating art.

How are you grafting under the tory state?

I have always said to my friends who are in a place of financial privilege, 'the only difference between you and I is stability'. I have never had my rent paid for, I've never had an allowance, I never had a chance to go on a gap year. I've been denied a further education studying a masters and I’ve had to sofa hop when shit has hit the fan. I have had to work my arse off from the age of 14 to be where I am now. I have been inspired throughout this campaign by everyone's honesty discussing grafting whilst suffering from mental health issues. I feel I owe it to them for the first time to be publicly honest about my experience. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar, which is a long term disorder/disability that has affected every aspect of my life. I, therefore, have had to navigate and work twice as hard to overcome this. The lack of funds to mental health services in the NHS is a massive concern but what I have noticed is that creatives have created a platform of understanding and support with each other which I hope Guts Gallery does.

What needs to change and how?

The structural formula that most galleries work in accordance with must be refreshed and updated. To avoid following traditional modelling that is typically impermeable to marginalised artists and undervalued collectors. Many figures and institutions are scared to speak out about inequality in the art world, often in fear of their own precarious positions being compromised. If we are all vocal about inequality I believe we can make a change.

Edited by Isobel Gorman-Buckley

14th February 2020

Photography by Fraser Hanley-Nicholls

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