Woman in Progress: Liezel Strauss & Kitty Dinshaw from Subject Matter
The fourth in our ongoing series of guest posts from amazing Women in Progress. This week we meet not one Woman in Progress, but two: Liezel Strauss and Kitty Dinshaw. Liezel and Kitty are partners at Subject Matter, a fine photography online gallery which makes buying beautiful art easy.
Liezel is Subject Matter's Co-Founder, Creative Director and Co-Curator, whose creative work spans four continents over a decade. She has spoken widely on the positive value of art in our homes and lives, most recently at Somerset House and Shoreditch House. She combines this with travelling widely (her Instagram feed is envy-inducing) and being a mum.
Kitty is Subject Matter’s Artist Director and Co-Curator. As Artist Director, she represents more than 20 artists in Subject Matter's stable, and her careful guidance has led to success for many of them. Along with Liezel, Kitty is one of the co-creators of of a programme with the Royal College of Art and Blain Southern’s digital gallery Sedition - the object of which is to raise funds for the College’s Bursary Fund and thereby support the artists of the future. On top of all this she has two ridiculously beautiful children, a covetable shoe collection and impeccable taste (in friends also - go Laura!).
If you know (or are) a Woman in Progress we should be interviewing - do please get in touch
What’s the one thing in your life that makes things easier?
Liezel: Two things: my business partner Kitty and our nanny Linda. Two incredible people in my life that I thank my lucky stars for every day.
Kitty: Having a business partner that also has a child. I honestly don't know if we could have done this together otherwise. When we've had a rough night, when there's a childcare meltdown, when one of them is sick - we're both there for each other and we understand. The work will get done - even if one of us ends up hiding in the bathroom with her laptop or emailing from her phone at 1am when her baby daughter refuses to allow her to leave the room.
What’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?
Liezel: A warm bath at the end of the day.
Kitty: London Transport. I do some of my best thinking on the Tube: bus journeys are email and Instagram time ;) I've yet to find a purpose for the Docklands Light Railway but its time will come.
What’s one thing that you would stop if you could?
Liezel: The thinking that we are not all equal.
Kitty: I'd stop the negativity that still pervades in the art-world about wanting to make art accessible and encourage new art-buyers. More people buying and collecting art means more artists can make a living, which is a great thing.
What one piece of advice would you give yourself 5 years ago?
Liezel: To love and appreciate my body shape more.
Kitty: Five years ago my son had just been born and my world was turned upside down. I'm sure every new mum is familiar with that sensation! I would tell myself that I didn't need to be the perfect mother, that "good enough" really was totally fine, and as long as my baby is fed, clothed, happy and loved, then my job is done. Pureeing hummus, Rhyme Time and baby gym classes really are optional extras.
What one piece of advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?
Liezel: The same as above and to start saving.
Kitty: My husband and I got married ten years ago so my immediate advice would probably be something totally boring like don't stress about the cake. But the advice from my heart would be that love is something that constantly surprises you, and that it is OK to grow and change as a couple - it doesn't mean that you are growing apart, it just means that you are growing up!
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned at work?
Liezel: Busy does not mean productive.
Kitty: Never be afraid to ask for things. Too often I have felt shy about asking something from someone, whether it is a collaboration, a meeting, a magazine write-up. But if that person is meeting you, or on a call with you, then they are interested in you and what you do. So just take the plunge and do it.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned at home?
Liezel: I will never be a happy early riser.
Kitty: A quote - paraphrased from Nigella - "if you don't make life easier for yourself, no-one else is going to". My husband would probably say that just results in me being spectacularly untidy as I find tidying up too onerous.
What top tip would you pass on to other women in progress reading this?
Liezel: Be kind to other women and stand up for what you believe in.
Kitty: Never give up on your dreams and your passions but be prepared to wait - like me you may not find your passion straight out of university. For me, having kids created a personal ambition I never knew I had, and a drive that honestly had not really existed before. There's always a way to follow your passion, even if it is not the conventional way. I had always loved art but felt that world was closed to me as I didn't have a history of art degree, or work-experience in an auction house. Turns out you can teach yourself what you need to know - that's what books, podcasts and seminars are for - and just be open to learning constantly.
Are you done yet? What’s next?
Liezel: No. I dont think so. I’m a project person and it feels like I’m only getting started now. It took me while to figure out what I’m good at and what I have to offer, so I trust the best is yet to come.
We always say that we'd never sell our business as we love doing what we do - so no, we are definitely not done!
What's next for Subject Matter is a project called Unfold, in the first week of October. We're collaborating with two other art businesses on a mini art-festival in Central London which will encompass an exhibition, talks, children's workshops, a working artist's studio - we love working with new art-buyers and we hope to do that with Unfold.