In inglese (memento audere semper) un tour tra studi d’artista londinesi. La penna è di Kate Hiley, che ha girato con la nostra Sofia Silva lungo il Tamigi
di Kate Hiley
Myself and Sofia Silva, an Italian painter, met back in 2012 when she first moved to the UK. It’s been almost three years since that day. We start our day early, bracing ourselves against the gale force winds as we made our way across the centre of the city. Our first destination was Mare street in Hackney, where a bearded Chilean painter was waiting for us over a hot cup of coffee. Within 30 seconds of meeting we had fallen into rapid conversation about being a painter in London. How different cultural backgrounds affect the reception of painting. How in France the painter is still revered where as in London one needs to be a jack of all trades to justify his painting practice. How in latin culture the openness to physical touch affects the way we use our brushes and our paint on the surface, and so on. These are just a handful of endless topics that as painters, we are hungry to discuss at any possible moment, with another who speaks our language.
Deep into our conversation we realise the time and, as our schedule for the day is tight, we head quickly over to his studio. Holding our scarves and hats against our chests, we fight yet again with the wind attempting with force to keep us from seeing our first paintings of the day. The protective walls of the old factory building are more than welcome and we wind our way up a narrow staircase to a beautiful studio with creaking wooden floor boards and huge windows. Before us are several paintings on unstretched canvas adorning the walls, the floor, and every space in between. These are the new works of Humberto Poblete-Bustamante, his “Garden Paintings”, and they are magnificent. On each canvas you can see the trace and detritus of the artist, from foot prints to coffee stains, merging seamlessly with the thoughtful marks of oil paint in intuitively considered colours. Our conversation continues in haste as we move on to Art and Christianity, the faith of an artist, about life without work and about our responsibility as artists to reshape what we see instead of simply representing it. We move swiftly from topic to topic, always bringing it back to painting and art. These are the moments we thrive on. It is from these conversations that collaborations, exhibitions and projects are born, sometimes even paintings themselves. This is the way we connect, this is the way we get involved.
We could stay forever, but our next visit is fast approaching and we must say our goodbyes and make our way further east. Our next stop is another former factory perched on the edge of Regent’s Canal in Mile End, and home to the studio of Alessandro Roma, an Italian born artist now living and working in London. We are joined by another friend of ours, Edmundo Arigita, a spanish born artist who, having travelled the world, has found his base here in the UK. Alessandro invites all three of us into the warmth of his heated studio, a rare luxury for London artists, and something he greatly appreciates in the long winter months. His space looks out over bright green trees and the red tarmac ground of Mile End stadium. As we begin talking, I catch a glimpse of school children through the trees, embracing the first rays of sunlight that are beginning to emerge as they chase each other around the track. The conversation turns to his process, how does he build his paintings? Why and how does he use sculpture and collage in his practice? Three medium sized paintings are carefully arranged on the far wall and we face them in earnest, stepping up to within an inch of their surface to explore the different marks and colours. Their structure is complicated yet the surface is even. It’s the first time he has worked with oil on canvas in a while and he’s excited to discuss the possibilities of where these works might go. Conversation turns to the Italian art world. There we all are in one room, a Spaniard and a Brit, getting a crash course in the Italian art scene. Information that will no doubt provide to be useful as our network of artists continues to expand.
Again, amidst an intense and complex conversation, we notice the time. At this point we are running quite late for our next visit and lunch will have to be a found en route as we make our way even further East to Bromley by Bow. Our third port of call is the studio of Abi Box, a British born painter who, having completed a residency in Switzerland, is now back living and working in London. The third visit is also our third former factory building, converted very neatly into studio spaces and run by the artist’s charity ASC. The sun has now fully appeared and light is pouring in through the huge window that takes up one whole wall of her studio. Abi has selected a handful of finished and unfinished works for us to discuss. It’s the first time we’ve seen the paintings up close and the layers and textures are far more varied than can be seen in the digital images of them. As we get further into our conversation, I am aware of her camera clicking away systematically in the background, as it records a time-lapse of the day. This is something she regularly does to show the process of her work. Much of it, she says, shows her sitting around and looking at the work, but as we both agree patience is key when you’re dealing with painting. As we near the end of our meeting, discussion turns to her time in Switzerland with Trelex Residencies. A non for profit project, Trelex Residencies was started by an artist who, having studied and worked in London, decided to start a program intent on putting artistic freedom first. With no fees and no application process, the project is first come first serve, and now has a second location in the rainforests of Peru. It’s another great example of what artists can create outside of the system, and something that Abi believes in so strongly, she now works for the program alongside her artistic practice.
As the light in the studio gradually fades, we make our way back to the tube station and head across town to the North of London. A well dressed Korean woman meets us at Highbury and Islington and walks us through the park and tree lined streets to a huge neo-gothic church. Hidden amongst the beautiful homes of wealthy North Londoners, this impressive Church is home to the Florence Trust, an educational charity offering 12 month residencies to a group of carefully selected artists. We make our way through the overgrown yard to a small door whose frame we have to duck under to access the space. Beyond the dark and chilly entrance we emerge into an overwhelming space. We marvel at the stained glass windows and vaulted ceiling, looking down from the cloister onto a maze of studio spaces, carefully fitted into the atrium below. We take care to keep quiet, peeking through plastic dust sheets into studios housing everything from sculptures to installations, photographs, paintings and even a mechanical head that stares at us eerily from the dark, as if asking us why we are disturbing him. Our final destination is the studio of Anna Jung-Seo, a Korean born artist who, after some time spent in Paris, is now living and working in London too. Her space is filled with a thousand faces, each delicately painted onto tiny blocks of wood. It’s a project she has been working on for months with the intention of showing in their final exhibition. We discuss the possible ways of both showing and selling the works, leading to a heated discussion about ownership and the buying of art. She talks about the emerging art scene in Korea and the possibility of starting something out there, and even if it’s all trajectory, it’s the beginning of a new and exciting idea.
The three of us can feel the day drawing to a close, and we have one last stop before we can rest our legs. After collecting our car, we all pile in and make our way down south to a new exhibition opening in Redhill. The location is Dynamite Projects, a new artist run gallery founded and directed by British artist Shaun McDowell. The building, previously a car garage, is used by McDowell as his working studio when he’s not putting on exhibitions. This inaugural show is a selection of 24 young artists, each connected to McDowell in some way, ranging from sculptors to painters and installation artists. It’s an eclectic and exciting mix, carefully curated in a way that can only be done through the eye of an artist. Just a short train journey from Central London and in close proximity to Reigate School of Art, the space is perfectly located, using collaborations to explore new ways of showing and selling work. It’s flair for commerce and ambitious creativity make it a haven for new an emerging artists. Yet another example of how artists and their network have the power to make a significant difference within the art world.
The show and the space perfectly sum up exactly what it is we have been building throughout our day of studio visits. We are not a collective nor are we a movement, we are just artists talking. We are conversing and connecting and through this we have the possibility to build something really exciting. That in itself is a movement.
Foto: Humberto Poblete-Bustamante talking with Kate Hiley in his East London studio. Photos by Kate Hiley