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Culture

The Magic of the Artist's Studio

What is it about an artist’s studio, the place where this magic takes place, that makes it so special?


Ceramicist Crabby Taylor whose striking Raku ceramics are made by smouldering clay at high temperatures for several days, sports an apron that reads ‘pot smoker’!

In this world, it seems to me, there are two types of people. Those who can draw or make wonderful things, and those who envy them! And for those, like me, in the ‘envying boat’, it seems there’s something almost magical about a creative talent, something wonderful yet intangible.

And what is it about an artist’s studio, the place where this magic takes place, that makes it so special and worthy of visiting? Why, forty years after her death, does the St Ives studio, home and garden of Barbara Hepworth draw nearly 50,000 visitors a year?

The artist’s studio is the equivalent of that much fabled writer’s garret, a prized and mythical space where great ideas and private reflection, the real and the imagined are captured on canvas or in a design; where thought and talent, and often much meticulous activity, bring forth the marvellous, the unique or the unexpected.

© Simon Murison-Bowie

 

And yet every studio is different: it is intensely personal and idiosyncratic, as the space and the way it is used is particular to the artist who inhabits it. For the artist themself, a studio can be all manner of things: a place of meditation or a hive of industry and energy, a homecoming or a departure for example. And so it is always a privilege to be allowed in, to see and understand the way an individual artist works, to have a chance to see the tools and materials laid out, and to watch art in action.

The concept of an open studio event, when this private space is made accessible to all and the creative practice within can be with the artist or artisan, is alive and kicking today, and Oxfordshire artists are proud to have led the way, bringing the modern form of Art trails into the UK from the US over thirty years ago. Yet, open studios events in one form or another have been ‘cultural happenings’ for far longer perhaps originating in the salons of 19th Century Paris with the gatherings of intellectuals and artists.

Toulouse-Lautrec, for example, was famously drawn to the colourful and flamboyant Monmartre, the haunt of artists, writers, and philosophers, that area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle and, pictured in opulent technicolour in Baz Lehrman’s Moulin Rouge film with Nicole Kidman and Ewan MacGregor.

William Morris too, filled his home with his art and Kelmscott Manor, close to Lechlade and Faringdon in West Oxfordshire, where he lived for the last twenty five years of his life was described by the Daily Telegraph last year as one of the top most important places in the UK to see English art. The wallpaper and textiles adorn every room and give a clear insight into his life and times, and today provide inspiration to Kelmscott artist-inresidence, Sasha Ward, a contemporary glass artist.

More recently, Andy Warhol’s notorious open studios events in the 1960s were the meeting place of artists including Salvador Dali, and musicians such as Bob Dylan, and Mick Jagger, these multimedia parties combining art, rock, films and dance.

Some of Andy Warhol’s work is currently on show at Modern Art Oxford in an exhibition, Love is Enough, which runs until March. Warhol’s art is shown alongside that of William Morris which seems an odd pairing until you consider that these artists are two of the most influential cultural figures of nineteenth and twentieth centuries: each both typifed the time and environments in which they lived, and in turn came to be part of the definition of these eras.

Love is Enough is curated by Jeremy Deller, an English conceptual, video and installation artist who won the Turner Prize in 2004. Early in his career, he also showed his work outside of conventional galleries and in 1993, while his parents were on holiday, secretly used the family home for an exhibition titled Open Bedroom as he didn’t have a studio to open!

Through a series of evocative images, photographer Simon Murison-Bowie has explored the relationship of artists and craftspeople with their ‘natural habitats’ and workspaces, capturing thirty Oxfordshire artists and craftsmen absorbed in their craft in in their studios and workshops. It’s a behind-the-scenes journey of discovery that illustrates the very act of creation, the processes, the tools and the concentrated atmosphere rich in each.

Rachel Ducker, for example, builds larger than life wire sculpture that are shipped to clients around the world. These forms express the emotional dynamics of human nature, and are created and exhibited during May’s Oxfordshire Artweeks in her colourful Jericho flat and garden alongside the photographs of her son Lucien Ohanian! They can also be seen in several Oxfordshire galleries all year round.

The photographs can be seen in a book Artists & Studios: Private Views or will be on display at Henley’s River and Rowing Museum from 7 March until the end of May, alongside an exhibition of the furniture of Philip Koomen who was described by 'BBC Homes and Antiques' magazine as ‘one of the finest craftsmen in wood in Britain today’ and is surely inspired by the lush green fields rolling countryside around his Checkendon workshop.

Studios also tell another story, the story of the artisan outside of their craft, and another Artweeks photographer Jane Stillwell recently captured the character of some local artists in a light-hearted way, providing a glimpse into the secret lives of Oxfordshire creatives, showing how their passions and inspirations are taken back to the studio and inspire the creation that takes place inside.

Anuk Naumann, an enthusiastic cook in Great Rollright, is seen in her kitchen making marmalade, showing the origin of Anuk’s colourful painting ‘Marmalade making, while ceramicist Crabby Taylor whose striking Raku ceramics are made by smouldering clay at high temperatures for several days, sports an apron that reads ‘pot smoker’!

So although the twenty-first century artists’ studios of Oxfordshire might be neither wild 1960s New York nor a flamboyant nineteenth century Monmartre, they’re another place and another era in a long-standing tradition. And perhaps some of the flavours and influences are not, after all, so very different? I wonder how they, and some of the extraordinary art that is produced within their walls, will be regarded in years to come?

- Esther Lafferty, Festival Director of Oxfordshire Artweeks

 

Top Image - Philip Koomen

Bottom Image - Rachel Ducker (© Simon Murison-Bowie)