A Delicious Garden of artistic frolicking with a hint of revolt
An exciting new exhibition organised and featuring work by five recent BA Fine Art graduates opens at Archive in Leeds this week.
A Delicious Garden is an exhibition which celebrates and nourishes early-career artists who are based or educated in Leeds. At the forefront, is the fair treatment of artists; nourishing their artistic practice, supporting creative development and valuing their time.
Funded by Leeds Inspired’s Small Grant Scheme, A Delicious Garden runs from 10 to 16 April at local independent café Archive in Leeds. The exhibition consists of multiple parts including a wall exhibition of new paintings, an opening event with live music and film screenings, an artist-led workshop and a collaborative event with the Leeds-based art collective Double Feature.
A Delicious Garden is co-organised by participating artists Sasha Napoli and Aaron Jolley, both fine art graduates from the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies.
Sasha Napoli graduated from the BA Fine Art course in 2020 and went on to obtain an MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies from the University of Leeds in 2022. The project was initially motivated by Sasha’s personal experience of being an artist and constantly searching for opportunities to exhibit her work. Sasha said:
“I have gradually noticed over the past year or so that an increasing number of exhibition opportunities require making a payment just to apply. Many don’t pay the artists at all, even for basic things such as travel or postage cost. It got me thinking about how there must be a different way to run art opportunities, one that can actually pay artists and value their time and work.
“It was soon after this that I began researching different artistic grants in Leeds. I gradually refined my exhibition idea while reaching out to different connections who I knew could aid me in my application.
“My idea was not only motivated by my own experiences, but also by seeing all these amazing artists in Leeds who weren’t necessarily getting the opportunity to exhibit or even just continue making their artwork.
“Graduating as an artist can lead to such a turbulent time – it’s so easy to lose faith in your work or yourself outside of an institutional setting because you’re searching for validation whilst getting lost in a sea of competition.”
Sasha Napoli. Image courtesy of the artist.
Aaron Jolley, who graduated with a BA Fine Art in 2022, said:
"When Sasha and I started thinking about this project, it was rooted in comparing our early experiences of looking for work and opportunities in the arts as much as it was our ideas for curating a group exhibition.
“I think it’s grown to be a very actively positive thing; focused on supporting people at a sensitive stage of their careers. The commitment of making art has to coexist with financial commitments, so naturally there’s a renegotiation after leaving full-time education which can feel like being a bit stranded.
“Being a fine artist is a legitimate, if often intangible, job role. Paying artists to exhibit, treating your practice as a serious career — these are reaffirming and dignifying. I’m glad we’ve been able, thanks to Leeds Inspired, to facilitate this."
Aaron Jolley with his work at the Sitting With It BA Fine Art Degree Show in 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
The vision and determination laid out by Sasha and Aaron is where this exhibition idea stems from. It endeavours to encourage the participating artists to return to their practice, to allow them to have experience exhibiting outside the institution and work towards a goal through their artistic practice. By enabling the artists to be paid for this opportunity it promotes the best practice around paying, commissioning and valuing artists and their rights. Sasha said:
“For me the most important aspect is having a community that can offer fair opportunities that don’t exploit an artist’s desire to show their work to the public.
“Ultimately, we want to show artists that — although it is an inevitable aspect of the art-world — they shouldn’t have to do these things for free.
“It’s not just these major institutions that can pay them for their time and work, we can do it as artists too! It’s time to start carving our own space and sharing the knowledge of how this can be done so that others can do it. Together, we can create a space of fair treatment and a platform that provides artists with paid opportunities that encourage them to have their practice as a career rather than as a hard graft on the side of another job.”
Screenshot from Bea Allen's film Searching for Matt Stubbs, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
Participating artist Bea Allen, who also completed her BA in Fine Art in 2022, commented on life after graduating, emphasising the importance of community in relation to artistic practice:
“After graduating last year, my practice paused for a few months and it took a while to get back into the flow. But it did happen, and now I’m happy to be creating and exhibiting again.
“I’m really excited to be a part of A Delicious Garden. I love the idea of combining multiple creatives into one event and to be working alongside some other great Leeds artists.
“Life as an artist after university has been fun and I’ve felt free in my practice and what time scales I work to. I’ve found opportunities can come from keeping in contact with people you studied with and always making an effort to attend exhibition openings/creative events.
“I miss studio life a lot! I love the studio atmosphere and working around other artists. I’d say that surrounding yourself with a community of artists is one of the best things to keep you moving and making. Also, the opportunity to collaborate is right there in front of you.”
Aasif Davidson with his sculptures on display at the Sitting With It BA Fine Art Degree Show, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
Aasif Davidson, another BA Fine Art Graduate from 2022, will be taking part in the exhibition launch night. Aasif said:
“I’m super excited to be part of A Delicious Garden and continue to be part of the creative community within Leeds.”
A Delicious Garden aims to encourage exactly this — a community. Through the exhibition and a range of activities – including a free artist-led workshop on Sunday 16 April – the artists invite others to share ideas, art or chat over a coffee or tea.
The wall exhibition at Archive runs for the entirety of the week and consists of new work by Sasha Napoli, Aaron Jolley and Freya Stockford (an artist who attended Glasgow School of Art and has a studio based at Assembly House).
The exhibition opening night on Wednesday 12 April will be a gathering of creativity celebrating different forms of art – with live music performances by Cattleprod and Grand Central Television, alongside art film screenings from Bea Allen, Aasif Davidson and Astrid Butt, another BA Fine Art graduate from 2022. Astrid was the winner of the FUAM Graduate Art Prize 2022 and is now a student on the MA Fine Art course in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies.
A collaborative event with Double Feature on Friday 14 April – Leftovers – will be hosted by the drag king Ian Cell and extends institutional critique into a night of cabaret, drag and art performance. The Double Feature collective said of the event:
“The institution has had its fill – we are left fighting for the scraps. The Delicious Garden has been plundered, and its fruits left to rot. This is the dessert course of the unfinished and the unseen; a fitting end to the banquet. Welcome to a night of the indigestible, the unsavoury, and the bittersweet.”
In the words of the six artists that make up A Delicious Garden:
“Come and be a part of our revolt. This celebration of artistic talent and performance is not to be missed!”
Participating artists include Sasha Napoli, Aaron Jolley, Freya Stockford, Aasif Davidson, Astrid Butt and Bea Allen.
Four of the BA Fine Art graduates from the Universtiy of Leeds (Aaron, Aasif, Astrid and Bea) showcased their work in the Sitting With It Degree Show in June 2022. Sasha’s work was showcased in the Degree Show digital e-vent Simmer in 2020.
Courtesy of Holly Buck.