|Whilst the arena most appropriate to consider a work of art in is the neutral white space of the gallery, or - if we artists are fortunate enough to sell - it's the interior space of the purchaser. However, where the work was brought to fruition and laboured over is just as important and for the artist probably more so. I've sometimes worked out of a studio and sometimes circumstances and finance issues have meant that I haven't been able to, and have had to manipulate a domestic space accordingly. For others, issues such as time management and childcare/family commitments can also come into play. Having experienced both sides of the fence, I am definitely of the opinion that the access to a designated space works best for me and allows me to build up the required momentum and maintain the focus needed to be a practising artist. Here is a look at my working patterns since I returned to the UK in 1995.|
of the studio spaces in such spaces(large industrial one's) are magnificently
built, but often large areas are subdivided by chip board partitions with
no sound-proofing whatsoever. Privacy is only summarily maintained . and
a continual commentary to your work by Simon Bates from the transistor radio
with its battery running low next door can soon pall"
From Making Ways (AN publications 1987)
Well I've certainly had that experience (substitute the Simon Bates bit maybe), In fact I've probably even contributed to inflicting it upon others at times. Welcome to the world of communal artist studios. Although nowadays I work right in the heart of downtown Brixton, my first proper studio (if you discount the itinerant and sometimes communal work spaces of college) was in fact a few miles Northeast in Bermondsey. A stone's throw away from the legendary 'Building One' of Hirst/Freedman's early exhibitions of 'Brit art lore' is the ACME building of Larnaca Works in Grange Walk SE1.
Although I registered with ACME, and the other major studio group in London SPACE, soon after returning to the UK from New Jersey in April 1995, it was in fact via a sub let from fellow artist/neighbour Fion Gunn that I arrived at Larnaca in the autumn of that year. Unit 5, where I was situated, is a floor of open plan studios partitioned off from one another on 3 sides (some of the artists built extra walls/doors on to totally close themselves off from passers by). I shared the space with landscape painter Barbara Tyrell. As luck would have it we managed to develop working schedule's that meant we were rarely both working in the space at the same time. Our space had the best natural light of any in Unit 5 on our side of the building, although this was a time when more monochrome then colour was appearing in my work. This studio was one of the coldest spaces in winter I had ever worked in, due to the open plan nature of the formerly industrial building and very high ceilings, In fact so cold that in the two winters of 1996 and 1997 I hardly set foot in the place between December and March.
Early projects I undertook at Larnaca were actually away from the main urban/ceramic themes of my practice at that time. These included the designs and proposal for the Balderton Mosaic project, and work for the 'Exhibition of two halves' show about football, in the run up to 'Euro 1996'. The 'Which landscape, double view' series of drawings and subsequent ceramic, mixed media works were produced over 1996/7. At the end of 1997 I had fallen into a creative cul-de-sac regarding my work and I gave the studio back to Fion and moved out. The next 18 months were spent partly questioning what to do next (and in fact even if I wanted to create art at all). It is fitting that when I decided that I did want to return to being a practising artist again, by the Spring of 1999, that I should end up back in the same studio. I'd been doing a few drawings based around the cuisenaire theme and was wondering how I could take things forward from there. When a commission for a large and rather 'cheeesy' banner fell into my lap. I certainly needed the money at the time, I also needed a space to do the work in. It so happened that Fion was renting the studio still, but not really using it (just about as it happens, as she and her family were about to move to a large house that would give her a new working space). Anyway I did the commission, and as the space was still available rent-free for 6 weeks and wasn't being used (until Fion gave it up at the end of August 1999) I went back in to produce the 10 paintings of the 'Cuisenaire Insight' series. This set me back on the road, and is really where the oeuvre of my current practise starts from again.
Another space that is worth mentioning here is the Battersea Business Centre in Lavender Hill SW11. My friend Jane Stothert has a studio there, and probably boasts the best view in south London to boot, with vistas of Battersea and Vauxhall spread out in the foreground and the Millenium wheel and Canary Wharf are clearly visible in the distance. At the various times when I have not had a work space of my own since 1999, I have been able to use this space when Jane has been away. As artists we often think we lose our identity and professionalism if we don't have a space we call a studio. But it of course it depends entirely on personal working patterns and commitments, as well as finance. During these times, (either side of the period I spent at Stakeline House in Brixton), I have been able to keep my work output going through a combination of doing smaller works and drawings at home, and then taking the ideas on further in intense periods of 2-3 weeks at Jane's studio when she is away. For example both of the 'Chance Methodology series's have been created in this way.
Stakeline House at number 75 Acre Lane, Brixton SW2 appeared on the horizon in May 2000. Although I had been still looking at the ACME and SPACE lists again. It was via Zavier Ellis- one of the Directors of the Clapham Art Gallery- that this opportunity came up. One of the Clapham Gallery's clients had purchased premises for development into apartments. Whist this guy was going through the planning application with Lambeth Council, he asked Zavier to arrange to turn this space into temporary studios (with the council in question this process was always likely to take longer then with other councils, although we could've be there anything from 3 months to 3 years). The building was in a bit of a state and was not really an ideal studio building (lots of narrow flights on a stairwell, no lift etc),and was full of junk from the previous occupiers. Added to this we had the spectacle of the entrance being virtually permanently flooded with rain water (and all the health hazards that that potentially held), meaning visitors were less then keen to attempt a 'Ben Beaumont' over the puddle. But it was cheap and had a big yard for some artists (particularly sculptors, to work outside in). Around 10 of us moved in that summer, and in addition to producing our work it was a fun time, including games of darts in the yard, cards etc. some of the artists even lived there during that first summer and autumn. It wasn't the easiest space to work in, my studio was the smallest (and conveniently the cheapest), and because of the uncertain length of our tenancy it didn't seem worth re-decorating the room in the default colours of all white, so I was stuck with these hideous powder blue walls to prop and hang pictures against. However it's all about the work when it comes down to the crux of the matter, and the 14 months spent working there was-among other work- the start of the 'numbers' and the first work to utilise the Aura soma bottles 'Combined but AS yet unknown', during the first 3rd of 2001.
After about 8 months a lot of the artists left and found a place nearby in Camberwell, as we all thought we would soon be getting evicted. As it happened it was a false alarm, so and a new group moved in (although for a while it seemed like I was the only one left in the building). Eventually our time ran out in August 2001, and as the bulldozers arrived to begin the development work, I packed up and departed. I spent most of the next 12 months, going back to the former existence of working either at home or in Jane's studio, whilst putting myself on the list of as many studio groups as possible for future vacancies. Eventually in July 2002, this approach proved sucessful as a space came up at the Brixton building of the Artists Studio Company (ASC). Situated nearer to (in fact in), the centre of Brixton then Stakeline House had been, right across the road from the Academy at the bottom of Stockwell Rd and is on the top floor of the local benefit agency (that's tough luck for any artists trying to manipulate their hours and 'sign on' at the same time). This is easily the best space I have had, and the first one that I have really felt at home working in.
That's it for now, watch this space for future chapters.