We said it last week, we shall no doubt say it again (if and) when we get to go to the next one (you can never take these days or places for granted is these property-developer-fuelled times of greed and destruction), we’ll say it once more here, open days at artist’s studios are always worth exploring, always worth making the effort, especially when the open days are at one these almost legendary old spaces that date back to a time way before anyone else cared two hoots about these beautiful old East London buildings.
Martello Street has been part of the Space stable of studio complexes since 1971, in the past the space has housed Matt’s Gallery as well as been creative home to Genesis P Orridge back in those Throbbing Gristle days. “With approximately 50 studios and many more artists, this well established site overlooks London Fields park and is alongside London Fields overground station”, One of those Hackney art spaces still hanging in there amongst all the vulture-like cranes and the heartless estate-agent greed, the artists are almost defiantly hanging in there now. These spaces and their history are surely a vital part of the East End’s rich cultural fabric, these place are special…
As we said last week when we were exploring the beautiful rabbit warren that is Chisenhale Art place, artist studio open days are wonderful, so much to see and explore, so many conversations to be had. We could almost repeat last week’s words, indeed we will do just that, here’s what we said last week when we explored the artistic warmth of Chisenhale, here’s what we said about Artist studio open days – “True, the artists do tend to clean things up just a little too much to give you the really truthful honest full-on paint-encrusted deal – those carefully placed books designed to impress, that pile of music there to casually catch your eye, and yes they do tend to neatly arrange those brushes and paints when you know damn well that last week those tubes and pallete knives were scattered to the four corners of the studio alongside the half-empty beer bottles, the dirty coffee cups and the bits of moldy cake the mice have been enjoying, always worth exploring a studio complex on open day though, always something to learn, someone to discover, and artist you didn’t know about before”.
There’s a bit more of an anarchic feel at Martello Street,, probably a combination of the lingering precence of the Church of Psychic TV and the days of Throbbing Gristle along with the sense of long-standing people like Peter Kennard working in there? There a sense of something in those walls and floors, a sense of all that’s gone on ove the last fourty years and more. The immediate area of Martello Street as well as the space itself is steeped in not only art history but East London history, the building is a classic old industrial place, a building taken over by Space back at the start of the 1970’s – “Space, founded by Bridget Riley and Peter Sedgley in 1968, is the oldest continuously operating artist studio organisation in London. In addition to providing studios to artists across the city, Space operates a recognised exhibition programme, international residencies and a community-facing learning and participation platform. Space’s founding in 1968, with temporary studios in St Katharine Docks, initiated an efflorescence of artist studio complexes in East End boroughs over four decades, which included Acme Studios, Chisenhale Studios, Delfina Studios and many others. Space has also had studio buildings in Camden, Deptford, Barking, Soho, and Islington. The concentration of artists that these studio complexes brought to the East End laid the groundwork for the area’s cultural profile which led, from the 1990s onwards, to its claim of having the largest concentration of artists in Europe”.
Like Chisenhale last week, you can smell the history in the walls of Martello Street along with the oil paint that by now is probably holding half the building up – a look at old lists reveals many of the same names in the space for open days now that were here for Athe studio open days at the end of the last century, a lot of artists have spent large parts of their lives painting, sculting and printing in these old spaces, you can smell it all…
There’s an excellent little piece on the Brainwashed website searching out old Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV spaces, “these are pictures of the Beck Road and Martello Street in the London borough of Hackney (taken in 2006), where Throbbing Gristle lived and recorded music from the mid-1970s until the early 1980s. I took them as part of my research for my Geography MA, looking at the relationship between music and place – focussing on Throbbing Gristle and Hackney. I was amazed how bleak Hackney is, considering it’s so central in London I assumed it would have been heavily gentrified by now, but there was an abundance of decaying, derelict buildings. Redevelopment has started, but it looks like the area’s bad reputation is a hindrance. I was surprised the Death Factory at 10 Martello Street was still standing, although it is seemingly used as an artist’s studio it looks abandoned, and right next to it is a new building of luxury flats – which you need a swipe card to gain entry to, as it is a gated community – something I didn’t think we had in the UK. This can be seen to the right of the Death Factory in the sixth picture. Beck Road was also rather grim, being old terraced houses with the street running underneath the Northern rail line. A train passed overhead approximately ever minute while I was there. The bottom six pictures were taken along Hackney Road on the way to Beck Road and Martello Street, they give an idea of the condition of the area” – Oh for those days when we were left alone to take over buildings and put on D.I.Y ggis and art shows, it wasn’t as bleak in 2006 whe nyour Brianwashed person explored it as it was is the 80’s and 90’s and the days of burnt out cars of course (and Beck Street has always been beautiful, what was he on about there?), but the writer of that piece from ten years ago would hardly recognise the place now, all the gentrification and the social cleansing, the destruction of art spaces, of galleries, of Vyner Street and more, the pushing out of the local cafe spaces and pubs, indeed the battles to save them, to be replaced by middle class coffee shop after middle class coffee shop, with the tattoo parlours, hipster beard-trimming shops and fake designer drinking and eating establishments, most of them well beyond the pockets of any long-term Hackney dwellers. Art and those who make it are kind of meaningful way are on the back-foot now, spaces are closing, buildings are being pulled down, rents in those that survive are drastically rising, thankfully, Martello Street is hanging on in there (the Death Factory was always part of the art studio), thankfully, amongst all the arrogance of the Hackney invaders in 2017, Martello Street hangs on…
And yes, like we said last week, these spaces and these studio open days are vitally important, these rare chances to explore are essential, they’re brilliant, art needs to accessible, it needs to engage, it needs to open those doors and especially now when just existing (let alone exhibiting) is getting to be tougher and tougher for those real artists hanging on in East London.
Martello Street Studios is another of those fascinating warrens, all art-strewn corridors and hidden rooms, studios around corners, rooms behind doors that might not be doors, art hanging on walls, that smell of paint and turps – the painters, sculptors, the print makers and animators, each room alive with the unexpected (or maybe the expectedly good), treasure everywhere, some of it almost lost under the layers of more recent creativity. And some of these older artists hardly ever show their work in London now, some of them really are in places like these creating and doing because they really do have to, creating because that is what they do. Always worth going to these open days in these old studio spaces, you never know who or what you’re going to find but you know there’s always going to be someone or something very rewarding waiting there for you, exploring these spaces is exciting….
Kimberley Bennett‘s studio is crammed with ceramics, with sculpture, with so many things demanding your attention, exceptional pieces almost lying around underneath things, exciting pieces of art here, there and everywhere in amongst the studio junk and the raw material that looks like it might have been hanging about for years waiting to be included in one of her impressive pieces. She says she doesn’t exhibit much now, someone needs to come in here and pull out a dozen or so pieces and get them on plinths in a white-walled space
There’s some gorgeous treescapes painted by Zoe Benbow, she’s been working up in the Lake District so she says, she talks (via her website) of her “aim to communicate a sense of awe and enjoyment in landscape, as a means of questioning our cultural construct of wilderness and our relationship to the natural world”, she talks to us about her passion for paint, for landscape, for open space, her new work is alive with the colour of bark, the green of trees, of sap, of leaves, and she has some beautifully powerful paintings of mountains – Scottish mountains, mountains from Kazakhstan, she talks passionately of her trips there, beautiful paintings of mountains, earlier work almost hidden away until she’s encouraged to pull the paintings out (she’s got some beautiful accidental marks on her studio floor as well, we can’t resist asking her if she minds if photograph those marks).
Behind Walid Siti‘s small studio door there’s something really special to be found, you ca nhear people’s reactions as they walk in and look up to the big painting high on his wall – more powerful paintings, big paintings alongside pieces of installations old and new, and more wonderful marks studio marks and scars on the floor – you get to see so much in terms of the artist’s working process, their personalities, their thought processes they maybe you aren’t sure they want you to see, you almost want to appolgise for invading their private spaces even if it is the point of the wekeend/ A quick on-line search tells us Walid Siti was born in 1954, in the city of Duhok, in Iraqi-Kurdistan, he’s one of the artists on lists advertising studio open days happening here back in the 1990’s, he’s a pleasure to talk to – actually everyone in here is, no Ms “I went to the Royal College, don’t bother me” types this week! How unpleasant was she, what an awful woman – a pleasure to talk to people in here today, and these lines and towers and constructions are really something to excite, “The work of Walid Siti traverses a complex terrain of memory and loss, while at the same time offering an acute insight into a world, which for him has been a place of constant change”, especially powerful with all those construction site cranes outside his studio window just beyond the lines and wires of the railway line – “The narrative of Siti’s experience, of a life lived far from but still deeply emotionally connected to the place of one’s birth, is one he shares with many exiles. Siti takes inspiration from the cultural heritage of his native land that is crisscrossed with militarized borders and waves of migration”. it is really hard to pin down the excitement of encountering an artist in his or her almost secretive studio world, the spaces where they agonise over their creativity rather than in the galleries where they present the prestine bits they choose to show – “home-made ladders, objects from a simpler time, become metaphors for those who, shifting from a familiar past to an unknown future”, being in Walid Siti’s personal private space is something to treasure, I must confess I’d never heard of him before.
There’s an exceptional standard in here, I guess these are artists who stuck to it all through thick and thin, the ones who didn’t give up, who couldn’t give up, the artists for whom giving up really isn’t a serious option, the painters who have to keep doing it well after the easy bit and the art school fun is over – still doing it even though the reality of the grind and the battle to exist as an artist long ago kicked in. These people may not be out there exhibiting every week, these are the ones who stuck to it though, the ones who really pushed themselves – for a serious artist it really isn’t a case of having an option, if you can get out then the sensible thing would be to do so, some of us can’t, for some of us to not make art is really not an option….
You can smell Jamie Boyd‘s intoxicating studio well before you find the doorway, a cave full of colour, full of abandoned almost empty tubes of paint, the perfume of oil and turps, and there beyond all the colour of the carpet and the (semi) chaos of the attention-grabbing pallette-come-table, several large works in progress, I love it in here! Jamie Boyd is an old school painter, a proper one, a real one, and once again, in all honesty a painter I had never heard of until today – well this isn’t the art of novelty and a quick shark-in-a-tank-spinning-wheel gimmick, this is the proper art of artistic doing, this is things observed, paint moved around canvas with passion, the real way of seeing, this is old school proper painting, it takes guts to do it this way rather than the Saatchi way. Jamie Boyd is busy preparing for a solo show at the moment but how does he get these large pieces out of here? There’s a glorious Australian landscape that he’ll surely never get out through his door? I want to start leafing through the stack of big canvases up against the wall, I want to look behind that one, “There’s more around that corner”he says as he points a pathway through paintings and around paint-encrusted tables, “I did have a bigger space in here but rents are going up” – his solo show opens on Saturday November 10th at Chappel Galleries, out in Chappel, somewhere in Essex. I love coming to these open days, so much to discover, art does excite, this is brilliant, so exciting, a privilage to be exploring in here…
Not everything is here is brilliant of course, how could it possible be, these are cherry-picked the highlights in terms of what we saw early on a Saturday afternoon (when some might have been recovering from the opening the night before and not every studio is actually open). Not absolutely everything is explored then, yet most of what we did see was really rather good, really truly didn’t see anything we’d shrug our shoulders at.
Persian painter Esfandiar Ahmad seems almost apologetic about his ten minute paintings of people, paintings that celebrate so much in terms of both the energy and colour of paint and water, the combination of the two, as well as the poetry of the body – he’s a celebrated poet as well apparently and he says that these pieces aren’t typical and he’d rather us see his more abstract work that he doesn’t have in his rather calm studio right now. Carpets and eastern music, uncluttered floors, chairs and cushions, an oasis of calm in here, but those water colours are rather delicious, the controlled “accidents” as he lets the very wet paint flow – they kind of need to be up on a big white wall – not in frames though, we need the raw energy of that buckled paper, the beautiful edges – we do need to see all these on a gallery wall (do wish more would happen in that big Space Gallery space just around the corner from here on Mare Street, my own studio is directly over the street from Space Gallery, been to one or two rather good shows in there in recent yeats but nowhere near enough, the place seems annoying closed and unused most of the time and when it is used it can so often be in such an annoying way, why aren’t some of these artists ever in there? Space gallery can be a frustrating place). Esfandiar is another artist who tells us he doesn’t get to exhibit much these days, how he doesn’t know when he will again – love those water colours, so much life, so much energy, really need to see them up on a well-lit wall rather than in a pile on the floor, wonderful pieces, impossible to do them any kind of justice with a fractured photo snatched on a phone – wonderful colours, wonderful flow….
Scottish painter Trevor Wood is another of the artists who’s apparently been hiding in here for years, his painterly experiments with layers of collage and paint added to and then partially removed, his destroying to reveal more – his new pieces in here demand you get right in there for a closer look at things, they really do deserve to be seen by a wider audience than the one that trickles through the opens doors here once a year for these open days (as brilliant as these days are we desperately needs spaces to show this work in East London, most of the galleries that still exist now seem a little too obsessed with brining in overseas artists, spoke to one gallery owner, one of those plush new places apparently one of the breed of hip and trendy curators who are supposed to have their finger on the pulse, he told me he didn’t know of any East London artists, I could probably hit his fancy new gallery with a well aimed stone from Martello Street, he was part of that rather disapointing Sluice thing a couple of months back, bet he didn’t come over and explore this space this weekend).
Upstairs at the very top of the building (are we at the top of the building now? Such a warren in here, have we been along this corridor and up these stairs already?), up at what we think is the top of the building, the duo that are Doyle and Mallinson are drawing and casting smaller scale hominid skeletons that are probably parts of bigger installations – “during their collaboration over the last ten years, artists Shaun Doyle and Mally Mallinson have developed a reputation for their iconoclastic humour and vivid large-scale installations”.
And meanwhile back down one of the many concrete staircases you find Peter Kennard, if you don’t know Peter Kennard then you almost certainly do know, in these social media fueled days, his powerful imagery, you’ve almost certainly seen his Blair Selfie, a 2003 photomontage “Photo Op”, of Tony Blair taking a selfie against a backdrop of burning oil, a piece that was described by The Guardian as “the definitive work of art about the war”. The delightfully friendly man is, according to Wikipedia, a “London born and based photomontage artist and Senior Research Reader in Photography, Art and the Public Domain at the Royal College of Art, Seeking to reflect his involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement, he turned from painting to photomontage to better address his political views. He is best known for the images he created for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the 1970s–80s including a détournement of John Constable’s Hay Wain called “Haywain with Cruise Missiles“. Because many of the left-wing organisations and publications he used to work with have disappeared, Kennard has turned to using exhibitions, books and the internet for his work. Kennard has work in the public collections of several major London museums and the Arts Council of England. He has his work displayed as part of Tate Britain’s permanent collection and is on public view as part of 2013’s rehang A Walk Through British Art” – Yes I know cribbing from Wiki is damn lazy, but hey, needs must and I wonder if the studio always looks this cleaned up and organised. There more of those brilliant accidental marks made while making art that we can’t resist, look at that floor, brilliant, and that well worn CND logo there on ther wooden floor, and those red marks there – another group of people enjoying conversations and exchanging tales about art and print and the politics of creativity, you see that’s really one of the great things about these open days, you really can just walk in and join in the chat in most cases and in most cases people are so so friendly and welcoming )Ms I want to the Rotal College really was the rare exception), again and again we’re thanked for coming, for taking an interest – most artists are more than happy to talk, to answer questions, to ask questions. And we must mention Robyn’s excellent paintings, powerfully brilliant work, the hopeful innocence of youth, “don’t’ fite, be friends instead”
So many others we should have mentioned, so much going on in here, and you see, these old places are alive with so so much, alive the marks of art, with the marks of life, with the smell of creativity, alive with the history of it all, it really is a privilege to get to go poking around studios like this one (or Chisenhale last week), it really is very easy to take all this for granted, and like we said last week, it really is important that these spaces and places continue to exist and thrive and run with the lifeblood of new art, we all need art, everyone needs art, you might think you can live without it but you really can’t.
Another very rewarding East London open studio weekend then, another fine set of adventures, more good people, more creativity and mysterious spaces explored, and another slightly uneasy feeling in terms of how long is all this going to last? The walls in here are like the walls of an old music venue or the steps of an old football terrace or a favourite pub, you can’t manufacture these places, you can’t build them to order, you can’t implant the history into these spaces, you can’t fake it – treasure these places, these studios, these galleries, celebrate them, celebrate the people working in them… Excellent weekend once more, I love these open studio weekends in these old spaces, far more exciting and far more rewards than just going to galleries, this is where it al lreally happens, brilliant.. (SW)
Click on an image to enlarge or to run the fractured slide show…