We had the good fortune of connecting with Elody Gyekis and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Elody, what’s something about your industry that outsiders are probably unaware of?
Something most people, even artists, do not know about the art world is that less than 1% of working artists make all of their income from gallery sales. Those are the elite, extremely successful big names in the contemporary art world. Everyone else juggles multiple sources of income. Not knowing that this is, in fact, the norm for working artists, many carry shame about that, like we have not “fully made it”. I am an artist, primarily a painter. There are gazillions of us out there, all competing for gallery representation, all trying to live the dream of just working in our studios all the time and then having a big solo show once a year that more or less sells out and covers all of our living expenses. The truth is, that is just not how it is. This does not mean that we should all throw up our hands, give up, and get 9-5 office jobs. It means that a creative career requires creativity, not just in our art work, but in how we make our lives work.

Despite not being part of that lucky 1%, I am proud that I have made a living as an artist for about 15 years. I have done that by juggling making my own work, showing and selling work through galleries and through social media, teaching art classes that I have organized myself or through other organizations, organizing and creating grant-funding public artwork, taking on commissions on everything from logos to family or pet portraits, and occasionally working for galleries, as an artist assistant, and for art related events. The life of a multifaceted freelancing artist requires a lot of self-motivation, a lot of hard work, a lot of good luck, and a lot of trust in the universe that it will continue to work out as you watch your income fluctuate wildly month to month and year to year. It requires living frugally and setting aside savings when things are flush. A lot of artists put their noses up and say they would never stoop so low as to do some kinds of commission work, and I get their point. But I would rather do that than become a bartender or waitress to supplement my income when things are tight. We all have to make choices about what feels right to us, and we all have to become entrepreneurs and businesspeople, even if we have no training or expertise in business.

Everything I do is all art related, and it is all much more enjoyable to me than becoming someone else’s employee. I love my life, I love the control I have over who I work with, I love setting my own hours, and I love that I get to make beautiful things and be creative all the time. I also love my teaching work and community artwork, sharing my love of art-making with other people and empowering them to make beauty in this world too. I am proud to be part of the 99% of working artists who hustle on multiple levels to make things work.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am primarily a painter, but I also have phases where I take deep dives into other media: sculpture, stop-motion animation, printmaking or whatever captures my fancy and then quickly becomes a new obsession. Regardless of the media, my work is always preoccupied with beauty, femininity, gender identity, the natural world and mythology/fairy tales. You could call me a magical realist. I explore how the stories we grow up with shape our aspirations and the roles we fit ourselves into. Western Fairy tales are preoccupied with getting the hot prince or princess along with the castle and the riches, and killing the bad monster/witch/bad guy along the way. Other mythologies have other dominant themes, and at first glance you might think that a patriarchal view of the gender binary is universal, but if you dig deep enough you find a wide and rich history of gender identities and power dynamics revealed in human history. I draw inspiration from old stories, and use them to talk about contemporary issues.

Outside of my personal artwork, I organize and facilitate large scale public art projects, mostly murals. They are all collaborative projects that involve the local community in the planning, designing, painting, and celebration of the project. In this way, each project is completely unique and site specific, making it more meaningful. Right now I am leading a project in Phoenix, Arizona that is all about “Identity, Diversity, & Thriving in Adversity”. We designed it mostly with LGBTQ youths and are promoting self expression and mental health awareness with the project. I have two young adult transgender interns who I am teaching guide the project to build their self-confidence and leadership skills. It is so wonderful to watch everyone involved grow and thrive and be proud of what they are creating.
Finally, teaching is also a big part of my work. I currently teach online art classes for a school in Manhattan, the New York Academy of Art (NYAA), where I earned my MFA. I teach non-credit elective classes in drawing and painting that are open to all adults. It is so much fun, I get very serious students from all over the country and all over the world who want to hone their skills. They’re small classes and so we really get to know each other. I have been teaching at NYAA for one year, and I have just had two of my students apply to and get into MFA programs themselves, and it brings me so much joy that I am helping them, and others, manifest their artistic aspirations.

There have been innumerable struggles through the dozen years that I have been navigating the art world, but each stage of the journey has been fascinating and rewarding. It feels good to have all of that experience under my belt and begin to use that to guide my students and younger artists who are just beginning to swim in that sea.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I do not live in LA, so instead of talking about places I am going to mention a person here. If you have any interest in or curiosity about performance art, follow the LA based artist Tyler Matthew Oyer and go to his next performance. I got to see his first explorations into performance art when we were friends in undergrad at Penn State University, and he was already brilliantly thought provoking and entertaining in his very first attempts. Now, as his work has further taken shape and matured, you will have an unforgettable experience. Find his work and performance schedule: @tmostudio or tmostudio.com .

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would like to dedicate my shoutout to an entity that no longer exists. I grew up in Pennsylvania, where there used to be a state funded full-scholarship summer art program for teens called the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts (PGSA). It was, of course, cut from our government’s budget years ago, at the same time that art programs within high schools were also decimated. I am so fortunate that I was able to have that experience. The PGSA program had all of the arts together. There were amazingly talented 16-18 year olds that were the best in the state in theater, music, dance, writing, and the visual arts… 200 of us, all thrown together on a college campus for 6 weeks with amazing faculty. We were challenged and encouraged and taken seriously as artists. We were constantly interacting and collaborating across the art forms.

That summer was when I began to gain confidence with who I was. I knew I had found “my people” and suddenly, the idea of an arts career began to seem like it was possible. I had never felt like I really belonged in my rural public schools. To this day, many of my closest friends are people I first met that summer. Many others who I stay only loosely in touch with I get to admire from afar via social media as they do amazing things in theater, music, art, and writing. It is hard to imagine what my life would be like if I had not applied to and gotten into that program, it had such a big effect on my direction in life and my community of friendships and I am so grateful for the experience.

Website: https://elodyg.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elodygyekis/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elodygyekis

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/ElodyGyekis

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.