A Professional Portrait by Katie Barkes

Publishing Assistant

Modern Art Press

Published: 14th November 2017

What inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?

Having always been interested in art, I decided to combine History of Art with my English degree at university. I loved my course and was determined to find a career that would make use of what I had been studying, so started applying for a variety of internships and jobs in the arts after graduating.


Can you tell us a little about your role?

I’m a publishing assistant in a small publishing house that specialises in catalogues raisonnés and other scholarly books on art. In such a small company, I do a bit of everything – research for forthcoming projects, both for the factual content and images to reproduce in our books; proofreading and editing; project management of books that are in the design or printing stages, as well as general office management.


What does your average day entail?

In our small office we work quite independently so I structure my own day, depending on which projects are close to publication or have specific deadlines. If I’m concentrating on research for a catalogue raisonné that is still in the process of being written, I will spend a lot of time reading the literature surrounding an artist and adding information about past exhibitions and the provenance of works to the databases that we build for each book. Often this includes going to libraries and archives such as the National Art Library or the Tate Archive, to look at source material. At other times I might have meetings with book designers, editors and authors to help make decisions before a book goes to print, or be emailing galleries and institutions to ask for high-resolution images to reproduce, or to ask them about their records for more research. My day will always be interspersed with more general tasks such as posting out book orders, doing the office accounts and making quite a lot of cups of tea!


How did you get your job?

After doing internships at a print gallery and then a contemporary gallery (and unsuccessfully applying for a lot of full-time roles) , I was working as a receptionist at an Old Masters gallery covering someone on maternity leave. My current director was a regular visitor to the gallery and knew I was looking for a full-time role, so interviewed me to fill the assistant role at Modern Art Press.


What is the best part of your job?

Spending lots of time in libraries and archives! I feel like I’m constantly expanding my art historical knowledge and it is fascinating to spend hours reading exhibition catalogues or old reviews in newspapers and magazines. I enjoy being able to structure my own research, and it is amazing where certain avenues of enquiry will lead you, and what you can discover. It’s particularly satisfying to solve a mystery, or prove or disprove a disputed theory with hard evidence.


What is the hardest part of your job?

Ironically, probably sometimes also the research. It can be frustrating to spend days trying to find evidence in the form of, for example, an old exhibition catalogue, only to discover that no-one ever kept a copy, or that it is riddled with factual errors.


What has been the highlight of your career?

Working on the forthcoming Lucian Freud catalogue raisonné is great – it’s a rare opportunity to help document the complete works of such an important artist, and I am work with and meet some eminent figures in art through this project. I think my career highlight will be when it is finally published in several years’ time.


What is your favourite Artwork?

That’s an almost impossible question, as it often depends on my mood, but Egon Schiele’s work – particularly his self-portraits – I find incredibly viscerally affective. It’s as though he actually wrought a bit of himself into them.


Which artist would you have liked or would like to meet?

From a practical point, any of the artists whose catalogue raisonnés we work on – there are a few unanswered questions I’ve got that would make my research easier! From a personal point of view, Anselm Kiefer. He’s one of my favourite artists and I’m fascinated with his approach to history.


What advice would you give to people trying to enter the art industry?

Don’t give up! It can seem really disheartening sometimes filling in lots of job applications, but if you love it then it really is worth it in the long run; my job is so much more interesting and fulfilling than that of many of my friends. And keep seeing as much art as possible to keep you inspired – free private views and exhibitions at commercial galleries are a really great way of exposing yourself to art for free.


If you weren’t in the art industry, what would you be doing?

Probably being a chef or caterer – it’s another of my passions, and something that still includes an element of creativity and independent work.