Space Studios Open Day, Martello Street/The Triangle, Hackney, East London, July 2022 – Open Studios, especially Open Studio days in those old East London spaces, the ones steeped in history, the ones alive with tales of the fights to keep them as studios, to take the dilapidated buildings on in the first place, getting the electricity working in places like Chisenhale, Martello Street, those old semi squatted spaces from the 70’s, those old studios, they really are wonderful places. True, on an Open Day, the artists do tend to tidy things up just a little too much, all brushes places in neat order, work hung on walls in an almost exhibition-like manner, floors brushed, best books on show on the shelves, but these open days in these old spaces are something special. We haven’t been to one of these for ages and ages, Covid and all that. The recent open weekend at E3’s Chisenhale clashed with personal art commitments on my part, the Space Studios open day, last Saturday, was not to be missed. Six different Hackney Space spaces open for just one Saturday, Space Studios being the collective name they’re all run under these days. “Summer Open Day, 2022” and almost impossible to get around all the spaces in just one day (wasn’t it normally over a weekend?) and clearly some of the artists either find it an inconvenience or have commitments elsewhere, there’s maybe only half the artist studios actually open (or maybe the closed spaces aren’t in use? Rents are rather high these days, lot of the artists still hanging on in gentrified East London simply can’t afford the unrealistic studio prices these days)
And I do have to repeat myself and say, as a working artist who’s been based directly over the road from the big Space space on Mare Street here in Hackney for quite a few years now, they are damn annoying, there’s their beautiful space that’s never ever open and the very (very) annoying message in big yellow letters in the windows that reads “London needs artists” when what we actually need more that artists is spaces for us artists to show our art! Space to exhibit, to curate, to debate. I reckon in the last dozen years we’ve seen two or maybe three really decent shows in that now seemingly always locked gallery, and maybe a small handful more in terms of shows worth a mention. The place is never open these days and trying to communicate with them is pretty much like trying to clap with one hand, do they ever reply to an e.mail? I can see, from my own studio here right now that the gallery shutters are once again down and there’s no sign of life. Have they abandoned the big gallery space? Is it all just bluff? Is Space now just another of your typical Arts Council funded talking-it-rather-than-walking-it big on press releases small on reality kind of art places? We Hackney-based artists are desperate for useable affordable exhibition space, that’s all for another day though, this is about the Open Day and the Studio open days are always damn good days, important days, vital days. Pretty sure that, back in the days before the pandemic, a Space open day would kick off on a Friday night, take us to a party at the Dolphin and then go on through the entire weekend but hey, we’ll take what we can get, we’ll take a walk over the road and see what those who can still afford the studio rents at Space are doing with their open day this year.
Martello Street over by London Fields has to be first post of call, yes indeed (as we’ve no doubt pointed out before), the old Throbbing Gristle Death Factory space between the railway arches and the park, these days Martello Street is surrounded by expensive looking new build flats and the kind of plush new hotdesk spaces favoured by the professional coffee drinkers who have now overrun this part of Hackney – art and artists really are on the back foot around here. There’s that beautiful black door, it almost doesn’t look right with the bunting out front, you’re still expecting to see a sinister looking Genesis P in a combat jacket lurking by Thee Temple door after all these years.
Martello Street is a rabbit warren, studios down corridors in every direction, yellow signs and black arrows trying to help, welcoming studio doors open. There’s always rewarding art to be seen in this space on an Open Day, painters and print makers who appear to have been here working away in here for years (and years), interesting artists, most more than happy to get into a conversation or even a healthy debate. There’s clocks rescued from the Baghdad Stock Exchange, there’s more of those accidental marks made while making art, the different flavours behind or inside each of those open doors, there’s Peter Kennard‘s latest work, those Ukraine 2022 prints and such, there’s the question of what Trevor Wood has been painting recently? More of Zoe Benbow‘s trees, Esfandiar Ahmadi‘s beautifully flowing colour (that can never quite be captured on a mere camera phone), always thrilling to step inside Esfandiar’s studio and seeing his walls full of his rich wet flowing glowing paintings. There’s Paul Murphy‘s intriguing faces, Kelly Sweeney‘s always bright statements, Kelly’s work does always light up a group show, a gallery, or in this case her own studio space – it would be nice to see these studios when they’re actually being worked in rather than in this slightly polite state of order from the chaos that most studios privately are. There’s so much to see in these big old warrens and yes, there are names you don’t catch or cards you misplace (sorry), love that Amo Amas piece in progress up on the wall, who’s was it? We’re upstairs, looking around corners, we’re down in basements, have we been down this corridor already? Have we explored it all? Probably not? Do love poking around this grand old falling down space, do love the once a year conversations with the artists, the art, the walls, the marks…
The Triangle studio complex over by Mare Street, the Space flagship(?), the one with the infuriating yellow message about London needing artists in the big windows, is also one of the open spaces today, more of the same in the studio spaces up those red painted stairs. More studios, three or four floors of them (easy to lose count) more open doors (more locked doors), Coco Hewitt, Adam Dix, Minei Thompson‘s two red paintings stand out, do like those Rebecca Byrne plant paintings and the delight of the self proclaimed “professional fantasizer” Kinska who has a beautiful room full of fun, full of her wonderful ceramic water drops. Hey look, there’s always loads to see, loads to explore, loads to discover, to discuss, different flavours, it is a shame it was only one day this time, mid morning until late afternoon, really does need a weekend to get around and celebrate all these spaces, explore all these artists, did get to see lots though, churlish to complain, Brilliant that things like this happen, vital actually, important spaces, excellent that the artists concerned are so willing to throw open their doors and engage, to let people into what are essentially very private very personal working spaces. Studio open days are always worth your time, the open days in these big old East London ex-factory spaces are especially worth exploring, they really can’t fail to be rewarding, not with all those marks on their floors and the dents in those walls, the history, the now, the future, these spaces need a future. What an excellent way to spend a Summer Saturday, now if only there was some exhibition space left in East London … (sw)
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