Artist Tanya Chaly explores biodiversity loss through her art in this week’s AWNY Startup Stories

Australian Artist Tanya Chaly discusses the inspiration and challenges of being an artist in New York City.

Why did you come to NYC? 

I moved to NYC in 2006 after living in Dijon, France for 6 1/2 years where I had been teaching at an art school in Chalon-Sur-Saone. My husband’s work brought us to the US but we had been living away from home since 1999, the first move abroad was to the UK.  I feel like I’ve been a gypsy for many years but somehow New York was the first time I moved somewhere and it felt instantly like a home.

What have you been doing since you arrived? As an art business does this pay the way? What else do you do?

No, most artists I know are always cobbling together jobs as a way to earn a living. My first job when I arrived was working as a picture framer doing high end museum work. It was a great group of people to work with in a gorgeous studio overlooking Union Square. I was fortunate to have such a friendly and fun place to work as an introduction to NYC as well seeing all the beautiful work that came through the shop. I also trained and qualified as a fitness instructor and taught bootcamps and classes around the city in between my studio time to supplement my income.

Describe what the start of establishing yourself as an artist was like in NYC.

Hard, exciting and challenging. An artist who had lived here a long time once told me that NYC is like a crucible you either survive the challenges as an artist or you don’t. It definitely was a test of sorts, as you get exposed to so much brilliant, extraordinary work and exhibitions. It’s a great place to tone your work. There is a fierce amount of talent here that I find continuously inspiring. That being said it can be completely overwhelming and you have to learn how to balance it all.  The best advice I got from an artist when I first arrived was don’t expect anything to really happen for at least 5 years. New York is such a competitive and tough place, turned out she was right! I started to get work shown in 2011/2012 and then things just grew from that.

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What has been the highlight of work for you?

Without a doubt my highlight was in 2014, when I received the news that I had been awarded The Explorers Club Artist-in-Exploration-Award (Sponsored by Rolex USA). It’s a $25,000 award for an artist to do a project out in the field. It was an enormous honor and thrill to be selected and it gave me the opportunity to embark on a huge adventure and the most ambitious art project I had ever done. In the summer of 2015 I visited scientists working on restoration project in Gorongosa National Park in Central Mozambique and then I went on to exhibit the work at the Explorers Club in December 2015. I also gave a lecture there about my travels and research. From this experience I began to embark on more art/ science style collaborations and research projects that have involved travel and speaking engagements. I would also add that being featured in Australian Art Collector this year has been another real thrill, it’s been lovely to have some recognition back at home.

Do you have any mentors, and how have people been with sharing information and their networks?

I don’t have a mentor as such, lots of artists have inspired me and given great advice especially on how to navigate the art scene. One of the best parts of being based here in NYC is that I have had the chance to travel and attend art conferences/symposiums which has been fantastic for networking and meeting like minded people. It’s allowed me access to the University art scene and academic world which is a good fit for my work as I work from a conceptual base. I have also been on a number or residency Fellowship programs which have been crucial to the development of my work.

What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business/moving to NY?

Be prepared to work hard and in that process find out what you are made of!  Don’t expect things to happen straight away, learn to adapt and go around obstacles, that’s often where the magic is when you diverge off the main path. And never take for granted what a privilege it is to live in such an amazing city!

Other than yourself, what piece of Australia have you put into your business/work?

I think my love of the natural world came from growing up in Australia.  Somehow the natural world infuses daily life at home unlike NYC which is such an artificial environment. I am always surprised every time I go home how much nature is ever present even in the cities. The way the bush seems to try to engulf the suburbs, the insects and lizards running around the backyards and the cacophony of early morning Currawongs and Butcher Birds I hear at my Mum’s place.

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What are your favorite places in NYC?

The museums and galleries are all incredible but if I had to pick, my favorites are the Frick Collection, The Rubin Museum and The American Museum of Natural History.

I love to go to the Metropolitan Museum on summer Saturday evenings when the Museum stays open till 9pm. The rooftop has the best view of Central Park and the crowds have all disappeared so it’s the perfect time to visit and explore.

What is next for you and your work?

2016 was a really busy year putting together four solo shows and having work in five group shows. Over the last 6 months I have been on a residency at Brooklyn Art Cluster and I have just completed a big solo show there which is up this month that looks at the drivers of biodiversity loss, (habitat loss, invasive species and climate change).

So I looking forward to starting on some new projects that look more at some of these themes and the scientific community that works on theses issues. I hope to be doing some more travel to biodiversity hotspots and seeing what comes out of these experiences and watch how the work evolves.  Other than that I have a one month Fellowship coming up and after that I will probably be looking for a new studio space!

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Tania’s current show ‘Unravel’ is on display until April 1st at The Cluster Gallery.

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View more about Tania’s work at:

Website – http://tanyachaly.com 

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