Rug Merchant, Tango Dancer, Lawyer: 6 Artists Share Their Surprising Side Hustles
A recent study says that nearly two in five Americans have a second job. Many artists are among them.
It’s widely known that many renowned artists had day jobs before they hit it big: Jeff Koons was a Wall Street commodities broker, Mark Rothko was a schoolteacher, Barbara Kruger was a graphic designer, and Cindy Sherman was a receptionist at New York arts venue Artists Space.
But it’s not just a historical phenomenon. Some artists find second passions that actually turn into businesses, and even fairly successful artists today sometimes have a non-art second job to make ends meet (to say nothing of the legions of artists who teach in art schools).
That may be increasingly the case, given high inflation and a possible economic downturn. A recent survey by Bankrate found that nearly two in five Americans have a side hustle, and that among them, one in three say they need the money to pay the bills. It’s a worldwide phenomenon, too: a recent global survey of 10,000 workers by marketing data and analytics company Kantar shows that 30% of the workforce has a second job due to economic concerns.
As it happens, artists’ other occupations, both historical and current, are the subject of the show “Day Jobs” at the Blanton Museum of Art, in Austin, Texas. The show “proves that even some of the world’s most successful artists have relied on other jobs to make ends meet—and that those day jobs can sometimes prove key to their central practice, rather than distractions from their primary calling,” wrote Artnet News’ Sarah Cascone.
And art serves as its own kind of side hustle, in a way: famous figures like Jim Carrey to Miley Cyrus, Bob Dylan to Seth Rogen have tried their hands as artists, making work ranging from political cartoons to assemblage sculpture, painting to pottery.
Here are 6 artists who ply a whole other job from what they do in the studio.
Katherine Bernhardt: Berber Rug Merchant
Katherine Bernhardt isn’t just a painter who depicts pop-culture subjects like the Pink Panther, Bart Simpson, and Pokémon trading cards—sometimes shattering auction estimates while she’s at it. Several years back, she also went into business with her sister and her husband under the name Flying Magic Carpets of the Berber Kingdom of Morocco, after first visiting the northern African country more than a decade ago.
“[The rugs] are an inspiration,” she tells Artnet News. “The use of symbols in the rugs relate to my work, and the color combos are amazing, and the fact that they are all made by women is awesome.”
The side hustle has even, at times, penetrated the main stage: Bernhardt has shown the rugs alongside her paintings.
Christopher Chiappa: Designer/Installer
Christopher Chiappa’s work in an assortment of mediums has been on exhibit at venues like the Savannah College of Art and Design’s SCAD Museum, in Georgia, and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, in North Adams. It has garnered him coverage in the pages of the New York Times and Artforum. (For the record, I bought one of the life-size sculptures of fried eggs that got him a mention in the Times.)
Chiappa is also a design-centered contractor, running the New York shop Full Wolf.
After starting out working in Jeff Koons’ studio, Chiappa did some contracting work on the side, building storage space for painter Donald Baechler, and then met entrepreneur Murray Moss and ended up building the Moss stores. “None of this would have been possible without him,” say Moss and Franklin Getchell in their book Please Do Not Touch. These days, Full Wolf helps furniture and design company Herman Miller realize its showrooms and is the East Coast installer for Vitsœ shelving.
“It’s an artist-centric model,” Chiappa tells Artnet News. Artists including Joseph Buckley, Benny Merris, and Luis Salas Porras have been on the payroll. “You’re supposed to be able to have the flexibility to do a residency at Skowhegan or prepare for a show.”
Cary Leibowitz (aka Candyass): Auction House Executive
Cary Leibowitz’s incredible sense of humor comes across in exhibition titles like “I need to grow up and be taken seriously said the clown at the urinal,” “Prequel Nyquil,” and “Phyllis Diller If You Do, Phyllis Diller If You Don’t.” He has shown his equally witty paintings, installations, and sculpture around the world, from the Guggenheim Museum in New York to the Art Institute of Chicago to the Badischer Kunstverein in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Things (presumably) get a bit more serious when he suits up and heads to his day job as worldwide co-head of editions at Phillips auction house, where he has worked since 2008.
“When I’d run into people they’d say, ‘Oh, are you still making art?’” he told Artnet News in 2018. “It was a little embarrassing. But the more comfortable I got with my day job, I got more confident with my art making. Because I have this respectable, well-paid career, I don’t need my art-making to support me. It gives me the freedom keep making art the way that I want to make it.”
Nicole Mazza: Tango Dancer
Nicole Mazza’s fabric artworks can be seductive or sinister, and that’s just judging by the two currently featured on her home page: one shows an orgy at a swimming pool, the other a woman clad only in red pumps who is about to plunge a big pair of scissors into the back of another woman. Mazza, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has earned attention at publications like Vice.
Mazza started dancing tango at 18 years old, and in 2014, when she visited Buenos Aires, where the dance originated, she fell in love. She is a professional dancer to this day.
“As a dancer, specifically tango, an improvised partner dance, there is much at play in regards to what we want to express as dancers, what we can express due to limits of our bodies and what we actually get across to students and viewers when we’re doing a show,” Mazza told Artnet News. “Tango is another form of art that is similar to the visual arts because the ‘product’ is subjective. Some people like what you do and some don’t. You have to have a thick skin and trust in your art—in your dance.”
Virginia L. Montgomery: Graphic Facilitator
One of the artists featured in the Blanton show “Day Jobs,” Virginia L. Montgomery works in mediums including video, performance, sound design, and sculpture, and creates works that bring together mysticism, science, and her experience as a neurodivergent person. Since earning an MFA at Yale, she has shown her work globally at venues including Tate Modern in London, the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston, the Museum Folkwang in Essen, Germany, and the Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Denmark.
When she’s not making artwork, she’s a graphic facilitator, which she describes as a unique profession in which she maps the development of ideas at events like TED Talks and conferences. Her clients include IBM, Google, Pfizer, and Teen Vogue.
“In both my careers, I create connections between ideas via symbols,” she tells Artnet News. “I’m an artist who thinks in symbols. In my fine art, I choreograph symbols, gestures, textures, and sounds to facilitate healing dreamworlds full of moons, moths, and lush colors.”
But there is one big difference between the two professions, she points out: “In contrast to the shorthand legibility of the illustrations I use as a Graphic Facilitator, my artwork invokes surreal, multifaceted associations.”
Ragen Moss: Lawyer
Also featured in the Blanton show, Los Angeles-based sculptor Ragen Moss was a breakout star of the 2019 Whitney Biennial, with cocoon-like sculptures in which, according to the curators, “the artist explores the ideas of space-making and meaning by placing one independent, fully-formed sculpture inside another.” A recent show at New York’s Bridget Donahue, “What Is a Deprivation?” continued some of the same formal concerns while also including lit torches, literally heating up the gallery.
“Being an artist and a lawyer has just made sense to me, and I experience them linked rather than compartmentalized,” Moss told Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles in 2019. “I’m also into both of them, at the level of genuine interest. It’s rarely occurred to me internally that being both is odd although externally I’m aware that having an MFA and a JD is not the most obvious and it does make for a complex weekly rhythm—I have taken conference calls while mixing cement, which is not ideal.”
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