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Specific spaces/environments influence, to some degree, the way in which we work. It is therefore helpful to do something simple like a mental a SWOT analysis from time to time (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) on our working spaces.

As our needs change from project to project, the demands placed on our working spaces change too. A little time developing our working spaces can save a lot of time-wasting and frustration during the execution of our work. This might sound overly organised or controlling but it is important to me that when I begin working, I am free to do whatever I need and want to do in the moment. So, trying to find or adapt things at such a time is an unwelcome and often unnecessary distraction.

I have been researching artists’ studio spaces not least because clues can be found there about how they work and solve problems.

It is fascinating when you find you have fundamental things in common instinctively, emotionally, philosophically and morally with people whose lives are apparently vastly different from our own. I am always interested in connections.

I took part in the 10/10 PRJCT, 2015, UCS. Over a 10 week period, 10 artists took over the same space for one week each (an empty rectangular room with white-painted, breeze block walls) and then put on an exhibition of a body of work generated in response to the room.


Gillian, L-B, Untitled, 2015, Fine Art Print mounted on board

Weirdly for me, for personal reasons, I could not be physically present in the room. So, mine was a virtual experience of the room while working somewhere else. The great thing I learnt from this turn of events is that no matter where we are or in what circumstances (or frame of mind) we can channel and project our minds, transform the spaces we inhabit and generate fabulous art.

If we consider the work and working environment of contemporary artist Julie Mehretu we can see there is a direct correlation between her art and her working/living environments.

Mehretu, Julie, Black Ground (deep light), 2006, [Ink and acrylic on canvas] 182.9 x 243.8 cm

Julie Mehretu set up a studio in Harlem, NY, in 2006. She works with assistants who share her working space; her partner has a studio next door and above their studios in the apartment in which they live. So, this sounds like and tightly knit world where work and home are intrinsically linked.

The interior spaces are highly organised according to needs and purpose; and paradoxically, the world outside is as complex and frenetic as Mehretu’s work. Perhaps this is a good example of what Gaston Bachelard in his book entitled The Poetics of Space, calls “Intimacy in immensity”.

The video below features interviews with Mehretu’s assistants which provides an insight into the highly technical aspects of her work and their role in its development and execution.

In the following video Julie Mehretu can be seen working and talks about her creative process. See the wonderfully inviting recliner chair positioned in front of one of her works in progress from which she sits and relates to her work – in my view an essential aspect of the process of being creative.

Watching a video of Martin Wohlwend at work in his studio in Liechtenstien shows an artist literally getting his hands dirty. There is no dialogue or sound track to the film so our attention is entirely taking up by Martin Wohlwend’s actions.

A note on filming: I am about to make films of myself painting so I was interested to see that out of 161,278 views the video received 152 dislikes. It could be that the video needed editing e.g. the rather slow preparations for painting could have been omitted. The film begins with Wohlwend laboriously removing the wax outer wrapping of oil bars (those of you who have attempted this will know how frustrating and messy this can be). He then precedes to wash the black oil paint off his hands.

I admit to a sense of frustration at first while watching these mundane events as I wanted to see Wohlwend painting but I then found watching the reality of the tedious aspects of gaining access to paint rather amusing and realized that frustration too can to be managed if anticipated e.g. wax wrappings could be taken off oil bars well in advance of beginning to paint, or making a film about painting – especially if you want keep your audience enthralled.

Also, in my opinion, a sound track, or dialogue also holds an audience’s attention more than only the sounds of someone moving around the studio though this does give a sense of the physicality of painting; and the intensity and isolation in which many artists work.

Action: I’d be interested to receive your comments on what holds your attention when watching films showing artists working. Thank you.

Hommage to Egon Schiele
Wohlwend, Martin, Nude 1, 2015, Mixed Media on Canvas, 260 x 150 cm

Publication: If you are interested in artists studios see: Fig, J, (2009) Inside the Painter’s Studio, New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

In this publication Joe Fig shares his research into the studio spaces of 24 contemporary artists. The artists include partners April Gornik and Eric Fischl who work in adjoining studios in North Haven, USA.

The image above shows the architectural model of the Gornick/Fischl studios. To view their work see www.aprilgornik.com and www.ericfischl.com.

To see what the studios look like now they are occupied by artists see the article featured in The Morning News: Inside the Painter’s Studio by Joe Fig www.themorningnews.org.

Gornik and Fischl’s studios look amazing. However, a fantastic studio will not make us great artists.

The following photograph of Frida Khalo reminds us that tremendous determination and integrity are vital qualities in anyone wanting to improve the relationship between their interior and exterior worlds.

In 2014 (the sixtieth anniversary of Frida Khalo’s death) I attended an exhibition of her stunning and very moving work exploring self-representation, at the Quirnal Palace, Rome.

I was with the Italian cousin of a friend who at the last minute could not accompany us. Elisa cannot not speak English and I cannot speak Italian but thinking back it seemed as though we discussed the 150 works for hours.

“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality”. Frida Kahlo (1907-1954).


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