A couple of weeks ago writer Carrie Patten made a visit to my studio, we talked for an hour or so and she looked through work in progress and pieces ready to show. Her reflections have allowed me to consider my work in new ways and appreciate the work contained within my studio and what lies beyond its door.
Carrie Patten is a writer based in Norfolk. She is a graduate of Norwich School of Art and has recently completed Creative Writing studies with The Open University. Her work has been appeared in Ink Sweat and Tears and Lighthouse 7, published by Gatehouse Press.
Studio Visit by Carrie Patten
The approach to her studio is poppies in the rubble. Amongst the broken brick, Lucozade bottles and discarded cans, sit abandoned office blocks with the wasteland no-mans-land between. Debris and concrete waiting. I guess they’re waiting for development. There’s a code. An ‘out’ flick ‘in’ flick sign to shift. A metal stair-case. Her strip of a studio towards the front of the building is in face-off to the semi-industrial-urban, its back an open view to the workshop. A velux offers a tilted view to the outside, tipping inside the blue sound of sirens, the glass a semi-transparent which opens to the linear outlook of empty steel and glass offices in the city beyond. The cherry pickers and cranes are assembling components of the new, as old buildings on the skyline are slowly de-constructed. Her circular fan blows the city inwards on early June heat, across the heads of poppies on the narrow strip. Her linear drawings are laid out along the desk. She uses a light-box to draw in a process of graphic selection. Her matt black marks are stark against white paper and their opacity on translucent acetate invites layering of one image upon another. I become preoccupied with the layering of them. Although some cross-hatching appears, there is a diagrammatical purity which renders form largely devoid of shadowing detail. I work my way along the surface of images whilst we talk of a time of transition. We talk of de-constructing and re-constructing the self. We talk about the effect of moving forward and of the opportunities we are creating. We talk of Draftsman’s tools, of recurrent circles and french curves. Templates. Apertures through which to view and from which form emerges. We talk of Spirographs with cogs that move and touch with teeth that engage their gears, holding young ideas in place. We talk of how some things don’t appear right away, how your eyes take time to discern. Sometimes her drawings present no relationship to a depth of field, so your eyes pick out the close detail in order to understand the bigger picture. She says that we tend to focus ostensibly on the face, on the things that we are programmed to recognise. Form builds in relation to that. Cut-away images play with a sense of spatial ordering, allowing restricted views to the layers beneath. Other images make reference to perspective analogue, oculus points and coordinate axes. Top views perplex a sense of deciphering body language, cataloguing human poses in their essence. They are creating metaphors, communicating visual perspectives that invite subjective interaction. They are architectural and engineered. She is a drafter, de-coding form and bridging the gap between information and delivery. I’m wondering to what degree she is influenced by her environment? Perhaps oftentimes it is by a process of osmosis. Above the shop floor, amongst the urban-under-construction and sandwiched between the semi-derelict light industrial space and the developing urban city-scape, talk of exhibiting finished work in the context of an architectural environment feels wholly appropriate. It is a place that provides her with a marriage of industry and art. It is poppies in the rubble.
To ring the changes I hosted a visit from Sam Wingate in my studio last week. His first impressions were favorable, he liked the space and thought it would make a great screen printing studio, although I have no such ambitions myself. Quickly the conversation turned to rent costs and frequency of visits, and the push / pull dialogue of needing a studio, wanting one, using it. Within the ebb and flow of usage, permanent studio’s can often offer credibility to an artist’s activities. “I’m in / have been in the studio” is often a sufficient statement with no further detail required. I wonder how many people wonder what artists do in their studios all day.
The space between home and studio has been beneficial of late, enhanced by the good weather. Sam I discussed the journey and the thinking time, and how useful it is. I often set off for the studio, not really knowing why I am going there, but every time I enter the space I pick up where I left off days before and connect with the work. It’s the space between visits that is important. This is similar to when I work in residency situations, its the thinking times between being on site which are equally as productive as being there.
The time and locations used to run our art businesses revealed similarities – as both Sam and I tend to run this side of creative practice away from the studio or production space. We discussed how we manage the sometimes conflicting activities of writing applications for commissions, responding to requests, seeking and creating opportunities, securing funding, keeping accounts and communications – all in amongst making the work. Its a balancing act, time dedicated to pure practice, time in the studio away from emails and meetings is a rare occurrence but I find it is worth organising at strategic points in the year. Likewise denying oneself studio time can be the only way to ensure the business of running an art practice receives the attention it demands.
We turned to the selection of work I had hanging in the space and laid out on the bench which runs nearly the length of the room. I’m in a midst of a new body of work I am still looking to extend some aspects of it however there is work ready to go. Sam and I explored options and discussed the importance of placing the work in an appropriate context.
The visit debrief happened over tea and cake and I realised there is a time when the work in the studio just starts bouncing off the walls like a never ending game of pong. Its long been mooted that work, in what ever creative form, can’t be considered as finished until it reaches it audience and so I have started to make inquiries about possible venues and Sam has generously offered to do the same.
Combining traditional and digital processes within the realm of photography is the focus of Cath Dack’s work. She explores a variety of subject matter but her growing expertise in dark room and wet photographic processes makes necessary the consideration of a dedicated space in which to work. Dack currently works without a studio and I asked her about her aspirations to have one. It’s an idea she has been considering for a while.
There is a work space in an upstairs bedroom, it’s a defined and dedicated place with laptop, printer, reference books and equipment. The desk can be cleared and the surface used to photograph small objects so it functions as a small studio area on occasions but with Dack’s aspirations to explore portraiture a new space is being considered. In preparation for my visit she had been thinking about what the artist studio represents. In addition to the obvious place to work she describes in some detail the reflective opportunities that can be afforded by such as space. It is this reflective aspect of the studio that can be so important. It offers the opportunity for isolation, which is when the most in depth reflection can occur.
Researching the ways in which photographers have used studio spaces, Dack references a quote from Richard Avedon “I always prefer to work in the studio, it isolates people from their environment … I often find people come to me to be photographed to find out how they are“(1). It is this how they are and not who they are that intrigues Dack. The photographers studio may be viewed as a place of sanctuary, an environment where the influences of the outside world can be controlled. Sitting for a portrait allows time to reflect, space for the sitter to consider how they are in themselves, in the world, the context in which they find themselves, in relation to the photographer.
There is the possibility of an intense relationship – sometimes fleeting, sometimes extending over years or decades – to develop between sitter and photographer, amplified by the confines of the studio. Dack goes on to explain “the process of having a photograph taken transforms you as a sitter. By its nature a photographers studio is a space which is for sharing, its not a private space”. This aspect of inviting people into the studio that intrigues Dack, the unpredictable range of people who all come into the same space but who will all have a different experience. It follows that not only is the sitter transformed but also the studio itself, temporarily, as the dynamics of each interaction occur. She then goes on to describe how in Avedon’s American West series he goes out on the road, setting up a temporary mobile studio so he can work in the landscape in the environments where his subjects work and live. Images of Avedon at work with his mobile studio during this time were captured by his assistant of 6 years Laura Wilson, a photographer in her own right. Its interesting how his view of the studio (where he can remove people from their environment) juxtaposes with the American West series images where he took portraits of people against a white backdrop but still very much in their own environment.
We walk outside into a flourishing garden to the site where a new studio will be situated. Currently a couple of sheds occupy the space, these will eventually be cleared and a new structure erected. Dack is unsure at this time if this will be a studio or a darkroom, or a combination of the two. As this site becomes a place for either the transformative qualities of dark room processes or the direct relationship between sitter and photographer it will be interesting to see how her work evolves and develops into new territory formed and shaped by this potential space of image making and reflection.
1.Richard Avendon in Susan Sontag ‘On Photography’ London Penguin Books 1977 p. 187-188