My London day last week was rounded off with a walk to Dominic Allan’s studio in Whitechapel. Perhaps more commonly known as Dominic from Luton this is not my first visit to his studio but it has been a few years, perhaps as many as five.
Allan has a combined domestic and studio space in a thriving, manic, crowded part of East London. The area is a container for such a variety of life to be greeted with an offer of a cup of tea in a relatively quiet space was very welcome. His basement space has mainly clear walls and minimal objects, a large bookcase communicates a variety of interests and contexts. I ask Allan about the combination of domestic and work space, he replies “it should be problematic but it isn’t – that which I make work about isn’t disconnected from the living space. Interactions with things and people reverberate with what happens in the studio”. This is where combining work and living had advantages – if the work reflects life then situating the studio where life happens sounds logical. Its a popular anecdote that we are never more than 6 feet away from a rat, its provenance is questionable but given the edible debris in the street not far from his front door, its not surprising the rodents feature, taxidermed, in a couple of Allan’s works.
I wonder about the days when studio working wasn’t possible, Allan admits glancing in there everyday. There can be an ambition amongst artists of being able to work in the studio or on ones own work all day. I ask Allan if he would like to be in the studio full time, hedging his bets he replies “definitely maybe”.
Most, if not all artists will have hosted a studio visit from a fellow artist, from a casual drop in conversation to a more specific arrangement. When this extends to curators, collectors, writers it becomes a different kind of event. Allan likens a studio visit to being naked or semi clothed, exposed, he can feel his heckles going up but he’s open to what their responses are. That’s how I always find him, open, for discussion, talking ideas through, exploring possibilities. He also has a very strong sense of his work; what it does, why he does it. Someone once told him that as the artist its your responsibility to control the studio visit situation “they are quite formal – show them what you want them to see and hide the stuff you don’t. Wear your Sunday best”.
I wonder about if his studio ever feels like a luxury item, “only when I’m skint’ he replies. He prefers to consider the studio as a room, the term studio is loaded, room is more neutral. He elaborates “ everyone’s an artist, its the new lifestyle choice for the middle classes. I don’t know what it means to be an artist anymore. It’s a term so many people attach to themselves it doesn’t mean anything anymore”. This leads me to ask him what the term means to him “communicator of my own ideas’.
Looking around while he makes a second cup of tea, the studio is sparse, some large prints are on the floor, laid out on the table, framed works propped up against the wall. Images of him, his dog, family, seaside ephemera. The desk is situated under the window and hold a laptop and an open notebook – I don’t read the contents. There is no visible archive, no past works on display, it all feels very current.
A couple of years ago he worked in his home town Luton, on a residency in the Departure Lounge a stones throw from the Arndale shopping centre. The occupation of an upstairs room, a temporary studio, Allan describes how it represented “what was inside of my head made physical which is what a studio is anyway”. Over three months Allan explored the brand of Dominic from Luton, he was not seeking any resolution or wanting to make “shiny shit”. The Luton space was rammed with writings, rantings, works and objects as if he was really thrashing things out. The Whitechapel studio at the time of my visit, has a contemplative feel about it, a space of visceral exploration of trying to find out what is important at this time.