Space studios (Mare Street, Hackney, East London) opened their back doors again last night, it happens once a year. The doors were thrown open and the chance to once again explore the floors of studios that on most days you really wouldn’t know were there hiding behind the front building that is main street gallery space called Space…
Space is a space that should be treasured, Space is a strange space, a frustrating space, we’ve covered Space here on these pages before, my own studio is but a stone-throw away from mystery that is main street Space gallery space. The gallery space at the front is a frustrating place – such a beautiful big space, so underused, almost criminally so. That frankly baffling Idea Of Progress that said very little and for so many space-occupying month at the start of the year, and then followed by a period of seemingly nothing in the gallery space that occupies a prominent position smack bang on the main road that leads you to the heart of Hackney . There’s been some good things at the gallery, of course there has, the Alfreda Benge retrospective last year was a treat, the Dean Blunt show back in Autumn 2014 comes to mind, of course there’s been some good things, but oh why do I find myself so so often wondering why nothing appears to be going on? Why does nothing seems to be open or happening? Why are the doors always locked and the shutters so often down? Space is the nearest gallery space to where I both live and work, I pass it every day, I’m exploring art galleries and creative spaces at least once or twice a week, and sadly I hardly ever have good reason to make the one minute journey over the road to Space. I am hardly ever enticed to the other side of the busy main street – there’s a confusing unclear website, there’s very little in terms of signage or information at the front of the building . Surely it should be a lot more dynamic? Surely a lot more alive, surely that front line gallery space should be an inviting ever open hum of constant art and activity? That’s the mystery and frustration (and occasional delight) of the front though, the back is a whole set of different mysteries and last night the back space was open, the annual Open Studio event that’s always worth exploring.
Stop press: Went over there again yesterday, Sunday, thought I’d give Space another go before committing this piece to electronic paper,, go investigate a little more, what is this London Needs Artists sign In great big yellow lettering taking up the windows all about? Middle of the day on a Sunday, loads of people walking around, the gallery door is locked and no one is answering when the door bell is rung – gave it a minute or so, hung around at the orange door, looked in through the glass, and then give up. No one answered, no sign of life. What London, and London’s artists, what we all really need is spaces that are actually open and user friendly. we artists need spaces that actually open their doors and actually show our art, we need inviting spaces that openly want to engage on a regular basis. That’s the mystery and frustration (and occasional delight) of the front, the back is a whole set of different mysteries, the back space is the reason why we’ve rather enthusiastically bothered to cross the busy street tonight. .
Back behind the Space gallery space there’s a whole warren of artists, painters, print studios and more, several floors of it, and for one night only the doors are open and the curious get to see what goes on. The annual open studio evening is always worth taking the time to explore, the private back spaces where artists beaver away and no one gets to see. Hidden away and generally not accessible, these old studio places are fast disappearing as developers grab everything.. Last year’s open evening reveal all kinds of treats, last year revealed Robert Mason’s atmospheric suggestions of bones and paint that hints of statues and Robert is there again with his tales and his powerful art, and so are so many other painters, printmakers and more. . What’s Wildcat Will doing? and what of LeGun? Who’s behind this door or in this room? Hugh Mendes has some very stimulating work, There’s art on corridors, in basements, wonder who’s responsible for that one, some people are not big on signs. Simon Phipps (complimenting passing trains again), disappointing to find French & Mottershead‘s door is locked.and no Ben Cove sadly, Ben was missed just a little tonight.
There’s a semi party atmosphere in the courtyard and the lower floor, the warrens upstairs are where the main delights are. Some of the mysteries of screen prints are revealed, empty beer bottles everywhere, jousting for space with the with pots of paint and the marks of creativity. Friendly conversation makes it Impossible to get to explore it all before the security starts pushing everyone out again (never did make the very top floor, I hear the horseshoe crabs up there were rather good). Some of the artists (understandably) don’t like their private creative space being invade, others embrace it with offers of wine and carefully hung pieces on their freshly painted studio walls. Some carefully place the right book here and the right pot of impressively used brushes there, and some just let you see it how it is on most days of the year, you get to explore, see, smell (the smell of oil paint and print paste), you get to talk, sort, see (and maybe buy a print off Helen Ashton). Some are happy to chat, others hide in the corners avoiding eye contact or dodging attempts at conversation (who can blame them, studios are very personal private creative spaces). There’s something very satisfying about exploring artists studios, about looking under the hood and getting a flavour or two of where the art comes from and how the process is approached. There’s a creative energy to the back spaces, why doesn’t some of this translate to the front building? The back spaces are alive with creativity, with colour, shape, with the marks made while making art…
Rumour has it that the developers are moving in on Space as well, most of East London’s creative spaces are going now, and yes London does need artists, now more than ever London needs artist. Exploring around the back in the warrens of the studios is always rewarding (even if it does annoy the Wildcat – zero flips given again, I do like his style).
So Space studios opened their back doors last Thursday, a fine time was had exploring it all, it will be a shame to see it all go, as inevitably it all will. Open studio events are great things, the chance to explore, to discover, to engage, to poke and probe, East London should treasure these valuable spaces and the creativity that happens within them, they should be celebrated not closed, London needs art spaces. Thanks Space, we had a fine time once more, now please sort out the front and make us feel as welcome there as you did behind the scenes last Thursday evening. Long live East London creativity, London needs artists. (sw).
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