Sally Cleary is a passionate Australian artist who moved to Paris two and a half years ago. In an exclusive interview with LocalBini, she talks about the challenges of tapping into the Parisian art community as an outsider, and her business idea for facilitating the integration of others in this community. Her continuous pursuit of her passion for the arts in all forms is truly inspiring.
What is your passion?
My passion has always been the arts. It is something I always knew I wanted to pursue. My first diploma was in Visual Arts, and then I proceeded to both an MA and a PhD in Fine Art. I’ve also been involved in the arts professionally. After my first diploma, I worked at the National Gallery of Australia for a few years. I also worked at the School of Art of RMIT University in Melbourne for more than fifteen years, where I taught ceramics and sculpture. Currently, in Paris, I give workshops on creating porcelain objects, and I also do a bit of painting and photography. I work in a large studio located on the outskirts of Paris, which I share with 20 other artists.
What kind of art are you most interested in?
I make a lot of installation art and mostly work with mixed media. Although my focus is in ceramics, and I work a lot with porcelain, I don’t like to restrict myself. I am not afraid of trying new things and working in different mediums. I find the idea of art existing in many forms and mediums very appealing. The French have a specific term for it: ‘art plastiques’. It’s a term that I used to dislike but eventually came to embrace after talking to a French friend of mine. It’s a concept that came about in the 70s that perceived art as something malleable, which can change from one form to another, just like plasticine. For me, this concept makes a lot of sense; I regard art as something that can take just about any form.
How were you able to make a living out of your passion?
I was always involved with the world of art, but what really helped kick-off my career in art was when I was commissioned to do a wall mural for my local area at the age of 25. Since then, I have been extremely fortunate, since teaching art has given me the freedom to do what I want. Evidently, it is not easy for artists to make a living out of their passion. I am grateful for the fact that I was always able to work in the arts community, whether it was through teaching art or through making it.
Luckily, when I moved to Paris it was not necessary for me to make a living out of my art. I started by teaching classes in my atélier, and slowly began to form contacts in the art world. What I really love about the arts community is that you get to meet like-minded people from all around the world. While I definitely feel fortunate to be a part of this community, it is definitely not an easy career choice. To be an artist, you really have to be an entrepreneur. You have to be able to do a lot of different things to support your passion.
Would you say that moving from Australia to Paris was a difficult transition?
I first visited Paris with my family when I was 19. Over the years, I’ve been back to visit it a few more times. But, I only moved here two and a half years ago when I married my husband, who is French. I must say that Paris truly is a beautiful city. Now that I live here, I’ve become accustomed to its beauty, but I remember feeling impressed every time I visited it in the past. What always amazed me were the extraordinary buildings; the architecture of Paris is just so beautifully preserved. I also love the Seine, and the atmosphere of Paris in general- it’s incredible and unlike that of any other city in the world.
However, the transition for me was not very easy. I didn’t really expect the cultural change to be all that drastic, as Australians are in many ways similar to Europeans. But, it did prove to be quite a challenge. I think not knowing the language was one of the biggest obstacles for me. I’ve been learning French for over a year now, and I can more or less get by. I believe that learning the language of a place is really important to acquiring that sense of belonging. In any case, the locals appreciate it when they see that you are making an effort to learn their language.
What about the art world? Was it hard to “access” the Parisian art scene?
Getting in touch with the Parisian art scene was definitely a challenge I faced. I didn’t know any of the local artists, and most of the artists’ organisations in Paris were exclusively French. It was very hard for me to find the information I needed, and so, at the beginning, it was quite a slow process. However, I found that there are a lot of opportunities for foreign artists to give classes and meet up socially. The Parisians are always interested in meeting people from a different background.
Having lived in Paris for a while, I now have a rich circle of friends from all around the world. I am also developing my own business to help artists who come to Paris find all the information they need. The purpose of my business is to give foreign artists tips and advice on networking, contacting galleries, and who to get in touch with. I think it’s really important when you arrive in a new city to have someone “on the inside” who can provide you with the right information.
You said you enjoy meeting people from all around the world. What about travelling? Do you travel often?
I was lucky enough to have travelled around Europe in the past, and now that I am in Paris I get to travel even more! Since my husband is working in tourism, I have been travelling around France with his job, and that’s been amazing. I’ve also visited Italy twice in the last couple of years, and Spain too. As an Australian, I feel very fortunate because it’s impossible to do this kind of travelling from Australia. Even the location of Paris is incredible! The possibility to visit another country just for the weekend is amazing, and I feel that this is something Europeans often take for granted.
Finally, what made you want to become a BiniGuide? What do you want to show travellers visiting Paris for the first time?
As an entrepreneur, I am always looking for something new to do. While I have been teaching Art History at the Paris College of Art for several months now, I was interested in taking up new activities. When I came across LocalBini, I thought that this would be a unique opportunity to show travellers Paris’s art scene, outside the walls of the museums. There are so many on-going exhibitions and so many small galleries that travellers aren’t aware of. Around the Marais District alone, there are more than 30 galleries, all of which are very diverse and represent very different art styles. People who are interested in art can spend hours doing research online and trying to decide which galleries to visit. And it’s often the case that what travellers read online is not always accurate and they end up being disappointed.
That’s why I want to show travellers my favourite galleries and tell them about my passion first-hand. My Experience is an Art and Food Lover Tour that takes travellers around some of the smaller galleries in the Marais District. I have recently been exploring the street art movement, a movement by which street art is moving from the street to the galleries, and I wanted to share my interest in this movement with travellers. I also decided to combine a visit to my favourite galleries with a visit to my favourite restaurants. This is because I believe that art and food are related: good food can also be a form of art. These are all local restaurants that I discovered with my friends in Paris, which are relatively unknown to tourists. Overall, my art and food tour is intended to help like-minded travellers discover Paris from a local perspective.