Tis the season of the art prizes. I saw the announcement of the Catlin art prize today. I’m not really bothered about these kinds of prizes because as a filmmaker it’s completely irrelevant to me, but as a cultural critic it’s completely relevant and important.

There are about 80 institutions, probably more actually, across the United Kingdom that run validated degree courses in fine art practice. They all charge a standard tuition fee, and employ qualified instructors, who themselves have some kind of art qualification usually the master’s degree, plus some kind of meaningful experience in art practice. Of course, this isn’t always true; a number of institutions employ people who are not actually artists would’ve managed to bow and scrape their way through a PhD in art without actually making anything that anybody in their right mind would have any interest in seeing. But in my experience, for the most part, our colleges employ artists and people genuinely interested in an enthusiastic about art.

Now you might think, that with the national network of art colleges that includes the northern tip of Scotland to the southern tip of Cornwall, Wales to East Anglia and Northern Ireland, the British artists who make up the British art world might hail from all kinds of different art colleges up and down the country. But in fact the case at all.

If you want to be part of the British art world, except in a few rare situations, you have got to be a graduate of the following institutions:
Goldsmiths College
The Slade
Central St. Martin’s.
Chelsea school of art
The Royal College of Art
all of which are in London.
Occasionally, an artist from Glasgow school of Art or, even more occasionally, a graduate of Edinburgh school of art is admitted into the art world.

I sure have no problem with these institutions. I haven’t been to any of them, but from what I’ve seen they are perfectly adequate places which do the job of turning out our graduates very nicely. But what I cannot understand at all is how graduates from other art schools never seem to get picked for any of the major art prizes. Is it really true that graduates from our colleges in the rest of the country, Nottingham, Leeds, Cornwall, Bristol, East Anglia, Newcastle, you name it – none of them can step up to the plate and do art as well as somebody who spent their degree in London? Does study in London magically give you a massive advantage over anybody else, it makes you just a much better artist. Just because you can breathe the fantastically polluted air of my great city?

I live in and studied in London, and I love London and I loved studying at the University of Westminster, has a fantastic film school and I can’t say enough about how brilliant it was. But I don’t think that I’m the better filmmaker then somebody who got their film degree outside London.

So I don’t really know what’s going on. I do suspect, however, that those art students who are paying 9000 pounds a year, plus to study anywhere than the above seven art colleges, might wonder if it’s worth it. If they have such a small chance of making it into the art world; if all the prizes are snapped up by the big seven. Actually, let’s be honest, the big five. London takes the big biscuit. Isn’t it depressing, to be an artist in the fantastic city like Newcastle and be working your ass off, inspired by the incredible landscape and the wonderful small, high-quality art scene that the city can offer, to never see any of your colleagues winning any of these big chunky prizes? They don’t even seem to make the short list.

I had a look at the list of judges who judge many of these prizes, and I discovered that actually most of the judges have some kind of connection with the big five art schools. Very many of them are graduates of the schools, or teach or have taught in them. So what were seeing really is people selecting from a self-appointed pool of artists from places that they can relate to. This is actually incredibly creepy.



Last month I blogged about the difficulty of running physical space in London, because of the property values and the sheer expense of it. In the last few months there been some very unfortunate closings of small independent galleries and artist run spaces and there is no question that the difficulties associated with DIY ventures are starting to reach a breaking point in the city. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

Since I started working as an artist I’ve been interested in that relationship between art and audience, artist and viewer, public and individual expression. I was particularly influenced by the work of Fluxus artist and theorist Allan Kaprow, who described his work as a “blurring between art and life,” and by the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre, whose book The Critique Of Everyday Life urges that everybody engage in some kind of productive and creative self-sustaining leisure practice. Both Kaprow and Lefebvre communicated to me that art needs to try to engage on every level with all people, all the time. And this approach doesn’t have to be “avant-garde” art, like Fluxus. You can see this communication happening in the art of the great churches, and you can see it happening in any well curated museum.

For me, approach to the blurring of art and life was to work in site-specific art. To bring art into environments that were not created for art, or had little or no contact with art and reinvigorate them through art. To this end, I co-founded the organization Luna Nera, which was concerned entirely with creating artistic site responses in locations that had once had some kind of major public significance, but which no longer had any function. The point of this was not to create alternative gallery spaces, but to create a new kind of art, one that would bring people together and engage.

The same kind of impulse was at work when we founded Studio 75. Using a flat on the ground floor of a social housing estate meant that there was a potential for a steady stream of visitors who otherwise would ‘ve never entered an art gallery; this is a neighbourhood with a lot of art galleries, but the majority of the neighbours never visit places like the White Cube or Flowers Gallery or Iniva. Studio 75 managed to get this steady stream of visitors; some came to every show, some popped in once. Some hung around a few feet from the front door where our large mural was: looking nervous, clearly wanting to come in. We considered it our job to pop our heads out and invite people in.

We closed Studio 75 10 months ago, and opened a pop-up gallery in a nearby café that had a large window space, so the artwork can be seen from outside or from inside the café. The idea here was again to bring art into ordinary, everyday public life. It was interesting to discover that while people had taken studio 75 seriously, they did not take the idea of the pop-up seriously as an art project. While we had people clamouring to exhibit studio 75, even offering us large amounts of money to let them exhibit (which we refused), this wasn’t the case at the pop-up. It seems that in most cases people see art on the walls of the café or restaurant as décor, I don’t really think about it is art. At first I was surprised, but then I thought about it and I realize that usually when I go to a café or restaurant. I don’t really think of what’s on the walls as art, either. We are completely conditioned to the gallery environment (whether that gallery is purpose built or some kind of transformed space).

We’ve now just closed the pop-up, and are taking stock. Looking back over what I now realize is 17 years (!) of art practice that has largely been around the blurring of art and life, what do I now think about this idea? The next few blog posts will explore this question.


We’re still working out what we learned from running Studio 75, but it’s become clear that it’s very difficult to run any kind of independent gallery or exhibition space. That spaces that do exist are largely able to do so because they have some form of funding, or more commonly, investment, and they don’t actually run on the proceeds of their activities. Because of this, it’s very rare for these places to exist for long periods of time, and sometimes it means that projects don’t get completed, or a space just starts to begin to build a following when it’s forced to shut its doors. It’s probably always been like this, but in the past two years the insane pressure on properties in London have made it more and more difficult to support creativity. Of course, people with wealthy connections can easily afford to buy or rent properties to create vanity galleries, and the city is full of such places. But these places exist purely as entertainment spaces for rich cliques, and have nothing to do with the rest of us. Even if we wanted to visit them, we would find the art that is presented there to be, to a large extent, turgid and dreadful.

I suppose the thing we’re digesting and being fascinated about the most is the way in which the money economy, or what philosopher Thomas Carlyle called “the cash nexus”, permeates even the most basic human aspects of what purports to be the art world. Carlyle decried what he considered the substitution of human relationships for cash relationships; he was disgusted by the idea that people saw one another and treated one another in terms of their financial relationships, the “cash nexus” when social relationships are merely reduced to economic gain. Carlyle was anything but a socialist; he distrusted socialism and championed tradition. But Carlyle’s version of tradition was quite an idealistic one, and he believed that the wealthy and responsibility for ensuring that the lives of the rest of the population were good. He believed that those who had money and position should use it for the general betterment of society. He was opposed to poverty, to exploitation and above all, to greed.

Carlyle is important because he actually points to the fact that it’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion that the presence of wealth in the society should lead to impoverishment of exploitation and acceptance or admiration for greed.

Which brings us back to the idea of London the center of international finance and wealth, a city that contains within it terrible exploitation, much hidden poverty mainly in the form of underemployment and appallingly poor housing. In these circumstances is quite difficult to complain about there not being enough space or opportunities for artists, although of course that is a genuine complaint. But just as we worry about London becoming a no-go area for ordinary working people to to live in, we also worry about London becoming a no go area for ordinary working artists – that is, ones without the luxury of a private family income supporting us for all our days. Artists who need to sell work, but also pay rent; artist and who need to have day jobs in schools and colleges, community centers, retail shops, museums, and so on – traditional employers for artists. But these jobs increasingly cannot provide Londoners with housing and transport.

And it is not just artists; just recently Cory Doctorow wrote an impassioned article in the Guardian, where he pointed out how the so-called “tech city” area around Old Street is quickly disappearing as a breeding ground for important digital startups. The inexpensive office spaces are rapidly being demolished or gentrified, principally being turned into barracks of housing for wealthy overseas students. In a flash, jobs in the information industries disappear, quite possibly abroad and opportunities to train and nurture local underprivileged youth in new technologies, disappears. At best, we end up being a city of baristas and billionaires, with nothing in between.


Almofakera المُفَكره – Nazir Tanbouli’s new Drawing Blog

Almofakera means notepad, or, more recently blog, and this is just what this new blog is. Here is the link


What’s it for, when we already have the Studio75 blog here? Well, because the new blog is all about DRAWING and just that. Naz has been developing drawing since he was old enough to hold a pencil and he decided that it would be great to share to some his process with the world

The mark is the building block of any drawing. Every mark has speed, direction and power. Together, they create the energy of the mark. The energy of a drawing subsequently, is the collective energy of the marks that have gone into making it. Harmony is the holy grail, and it depends only upon the relationship and interaction between the marks on any given surface. Sometimes I sound like a scientist or a mathematician when I talk about drawing. I find drawing to be the emotional and sensual manifestation of mathematics. Art is an interaction with the elements that could lead to producing a statement. In drawing, these elements are the medium, the instrument and the surface. For example, using a wide range of brushes allows me to apply the same ink to the same paper in so many different ways. Mark making is the foundation of both drawing and writing. That is why a mark can express and communicate shared human emotions.

Please come and see and follow the discussion.


El Sakiya- THE WATER MILL drawing performance


Do art and coffee go together? Working in the studio or writing, it certainly seems to be the case. What about the exhibition space? What about the cafe-gallery as a model?

In 2.5 years running an artist run space (Studio75) one of our aims was to bring art to people who don’t normally go to galleries, and this worked pretty well. Our next move was to create a “gallery” The Yellow Wall, inside an existing café [http://www.studio75.org.uk/yellowwall]. Again the idea was to bring art out of the specialised space and into people’s daily lives.

We are still assessing the import and value of this. In some respects, the art just becomes a backdrop of the food and drink, a décor. Is this a bad thing, necessarily? If we want art to be everywhere, a part of the fabric of our daily lives, then perhaps we should not be worried about this. The shows are popular.

On the other hand it is pretty clear that people are not willing to buy art from a café wall. We have had enquiries but no sales. Yet the same works sold once out of the café, for higher prices. Although sales is not our main reason for doing this, it is an interesting phenomenon.

Lastly, when we did informal calls for artists, we did not get any good submissions and so we have relied on inviting people. Perhaps a café wall does not have enough cachet as an exhibiting space.

All food for thought.