Izabela Depczyk speaks to us about the barriers she faced as a woman and outsider coming into the art world, and how that motivated her to create Her Clique, an online curated art platform which features female artists, supports non-profit organisations, and aims to bring art into the reach of those who have previously been excluded from it. We discuss this changing industry, the importance of inclusivity on all fronts, and what’s next for Her Clique.
Hi Izabela, could you start by telling our readers a bit about yourself and your background in the art world?
When I started working in the art industry, I didn’t have much background in art. I studied politics and international law, and my initial career trajectory was focused on work in media and business. My first professional experience in the art world was at ArtNews magazine where, after a change of ownership, I was appointed Managing Director and Publisher in charge of developing the digital strategy for the traditionally print-only asset. It was then that my interest in art, both as an industry but also as an experience – from collecting art to interacting with artists – really evolved and grew into a personal passion.
Let’s discuss Her Clique. I love the idea that you are reclaiming the word ‘clique’ to make it part of something that celebrates inclusivity. Did that idea come from feeling like an outsider yourself at times?
Absolutely. Having lived and worked in many different countries, I always took for granted a certain ease I had at connecting with people from different walks of life. The art industry, however, was a rude awakening in the sense that getting to establish a network of trusted people proved to be much harder than anticipated. Traditionally, the art clique was quite homogenous. You either had to pay-to-play or spend years devoting yourself to the craft or to the field of art in order to be accepted as someone who may have a valid opinion.
I feel like over the past several years, and in large part thanks to the ‘internet revolution’ of the art world, this homogeneity has been shattered, allowing for new demographics of art market participants, both on the artist and also on the buyer side. A lot of the old formats of art dealing are being challenged and changed for the better. At risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, the internet has created an unprecedented access to artists and to art knowledge, traditionally predominantly granted to the white and wealthy. I am honoured to be able to play a small role in that process of change, building an inclusive clique for all those who want to be part of it.
Clearly, this idea of inclusivity is at the heart of Her Clique, with one of the main aims being to make fine art accessible to all. Is that a difficult thing to achieve though? Do you think the financial aspect is the only part that makes fine art exclusive or are there other barriers you need to overcome for it to be really accessible?
The biggest barrier is access to information. It is hard to participate in a market which still thrives on lack of transparency. Through herclique.com, we are trying to remove a certain perceived taboo from purchasing art and make it a user-friendly experience. All of the artists we work with are prominently featured on our website with their background and achievements explained in details – all the information is there. Moreover, we film a video portrait of artists we collaborate with to encourage that human connection with the creator of the works we offer.
Compare that with going to a gallery, where artwork prices are often not even listed and where inquiring about the work or the artist can be an intimidating and awkward experience. I know that a lot of brick-and-mortar art galleries are changing that exclusive model, by offering more experience-focused spaces and by training their staff to be less of elitist salespeople, encouraging more of an educational and open-minded approach to those who come and visit. That, however, doesn’t change the fact that high prices in galleries drive people away from wanting to experience art. So pricing is an important factor, which is why we are working with incredibly talented artists whose artworks, due to their edition nature, we are able to offer at affordable price points.
Of course, another goal of Her Clique is to highlight the work of women artists. Was that a case of seeing an imbalance in the art world and wanting to change that?
Certainly, this was a result of seeing the imbalance in the art world, but, perhaps, and even more so, facing it as a woman in everyday life. It’s not a secret that women, to varying degrees depending on where they live, have to continue to fight for the rights which are granted to their male counterparts. As an avid feminist myself, I wholeheartedly believe in equality, and that’s not only limited to gender but also religion, sexual orientation, race, etc. I do think that companies, however big or small, have to have social responsibility integrated into their business model. This is why Her Clique both champions women’s equality, but also supports other relevant causes with part of our proceeds benefitting various charities.
The website also publishes Her Clique Stories, which provides a video profile of the artists being featured. It’s great because it really allows viewers to connect with the artist being featured. Was that important to you to ensure you are not only elevating women’s art but their voices as well?
It was important for us to give the viewer a glimpse into who the artist is – what inspires her, how she works, where she lives, what experiences in her life informed her creative process. This goes back to the idea of access to information, the primary criterium which needs to be met in order to increase inclusivity and broaden participation.
So far, Her Clique has released two collections: the first one with Zoë Buckman, and the second one with Alonsa Guevara. How do you go about selecting artists to feature? Is it important to you that the artists you feature share the same ethos as Her Clique?
Our main goal is to work with talented artists. We choose artists who care about social issues and who agree to dedicate part of the sale proceeds to vital non-profit originations. But for the most part, I am quite intuitive with the artists, and our lineup so far has been through existing relationships with artists I have been closely following and personally admiring.
As a curiosity, can you tell us who’s going to be the next one? Or give us some hints?
I’m excited to share that our next collaboration planned for November 17th will feature an edition of thirty of Natalie Frank’s hand-painted lithograph and woodblock prints. I can’t share what it will feature yet – this will be announced on the launch day. Natalie is an incredible artist who deals with topics of feminism, sexuality and violence. She’s perhaps best known for her gouache and chalk pastel drawings of the unsanitized Grimm Brothers’ tales, which touch on the aspects of incest, rape and physical violence left out of the familiar fairytale stories we tell our kids today.
I saw that the artwork on Her Clique is all specially commissioned for that purpose. Is that exciting for you to see these limited editions created specifically for the platform?
It is important for us that the editions created by the artists are only available on our platform. It’s what makes the editions so special, particularly that these works are often very reflective of our times, which is what art is meant to be – a challenge to and a documentation of the status quo. Zoë Buckman’s work was a poem she had revisited during the lockdown, speaking to the idea of being held down, trapped, restrained.
Alonsa Guevara’s work explores the human connection to nature, both physical and spiritual, and feels so appropriate and important in the context of the looming ecological disaster. 
A portion of the proceeds from the sales on the platform go to non-profit organisations of the featured artist’s choice. In the case of Alonsa Guevara’s work, it will benefit low-income international students at the New York Academy of Art. That really fosters this same idea of making the art world more inclusive and elevating artists who otherwise may not be heard. That initial aim is even more far-reaching than the platform itself then; that must be very encouraging to see?
Yes, that was always the idea to create a self-sustaining model of supporting women artists, who, in turn, support vital organizations, which work tirelessly to make the world a little bit better.
What are the next steps you’d like to take with Her Clique?
Our main focus for 2021 is to start recruiting more international artists. We really want the platform to become a global hub for great art, which powers good causes.
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