Colin Hambrook on adopting an 'artist name' / 1 February 2011
Supporting artists to develop their artistic lives is what drives me to keep [Disability Arts Online] DAO going. It's not something I always get right... and an issue has arisen recently with an artist I am working with, that I thought I'd ask for some advice on.
Identity is key and we don't always want our artist identities to be linked with our day-to-day identities for a variety of reasons. I adopted Mole as my artists' name early on in my career as a visual artist/ poet. Thinking back now it didn't serve me well, although it felt right at the time.
I had a strong emotional connection with the name. It was a nickname my mother gave me as a child and was consistent with the work I began making when I was at art college in the late 1980s and early 90s. Amongst other things the series of poem paintings I created then was about mental health issues in childhood. Some of it is in the NDACA collection at Holton Lee, Dorset.
Mole reflected my proclivity for hiding. Naturally, it wasn't successful or I would be a more prolific exhibiting artist now. [I haven't exhibited much as an artist in the last ten years - apart from in occasional local galleries.] The name went with the territory of not particularly wanting to be known. When I think back now it reflected a lot of the shame and guilt that goes with the territory of being known as someone with a mental health condition.
But I have carried on surviving, much to my great astonishment... and still make work, although the name Mole has all but disappeared except as a signature on quite a few older works. As this issue arose with the artist I'm working with, it got me to thinking about my own choices and wondering how best to advise someone on whether or not adopting an artist' name is a good idea.
There are lots of famous examples of artists changing their names - slightly as in the case of Andy Warhol... or completely as with Banksy, Tracy Emin, Billy Childish - to name a few.
There are lots of reasons why people choose different identities as artists. And I wondered if any of the disability community had ideas on how to go about thinking about choosing something that reflects who you are as an artist?