Gill Hedley has the arts running through her veins. As director of the Contemporary Art Society between 1993 and 2006 she created two ground breaking Lottery funded collection development funds for 25 UK museums. These funds offered opportunities for museum curators to purchase work for permanent collections and develop their own careers. Since 2006 she has been working as an independent curator, consultant on the visual arts, writer and critic. Over the years Gill has visited a vast number of artist studios both in the UK and overseas and when we met on Thursday at the Royal Academy I took the opportunity to ask her about some of her experiences. 
The first visit to an artist studio was when Gill was still at school. She described it very clearly as the most romantic of experiences, something which the artist, a post graduate student, encouraged. She remembers being shown a bag of Cobalt blue pigment, the intensity of which she has never forgotten. Without the aspiration to be an artist herself she studied the History of Art at the Courtauld Institute, where the foundations of her understanding of art practice were explored and knowledge honed.
When Gill visits studios now she understands the importance of her visit to the artist: potentially, she will be doing something for them. “They tidy up and there are biscuits’” says Gill; she is very aware she is being prepared for. Curator visits can be significant events, maybe the beginning of a relationship that will prove productive for many years or a life time. The curator can help the artist to move the work beyond the confines of the studio, access larger audiences, make connections over and above their own network and as such the symbiotic relationship develops.
There are a number of reasons why Gill has visited  studios over the years : buying work for museum or corporate collections, choosing work to sell at the CAS art market and, nowadays, selecting work for exhibition or offering professional development advice. She also takes private clients to buy work for their own collections and arranges tours for foreign curators. Her vast knowledge of international artists means she often introduces the work of overseas artists to UK curators. Her network is extensive and her activities multifaceted yet Gill remains communicative, supportive, attentive with those she chooses to work with. Recalling a studio visit when a desired work was generously sold by the artist for less than the market price for a public collection, Gill spoke of the emotions surrounding the interaction. Studio visits can be charged experiences for all involved.
At times Gill has visited ‘open studios’ where the artist has been absent. One such example was a visit to Sean Scully’s studio in New York where an armchair had been placed in front of a painting indicating the position of the contemplating artist, reflecting on work in progress or a recently completed work. This is where the studio becomes a stage, where work tools are reduced to inanimate objects; props waiting to be used. The empty chair invites us to consider ourselves sitting in that space, playing the role of the painter in a set where usually there is no audience.
It would have been unfair of me to ask Gill to name her favourite studio and she would certainly not have done so, as is her professionalism but she usually visits Delacroix’s when she is Paris, first going there when she was at university. When the curator, critic, collector enters the artist’s studio both parties are keenly aware of the possibilities and perhaps how it may be the beginning of a romance.


Catching up my newspaper backlog one article in particular caught my attention.When Orhan met Anselm. It’s a piece about Orhan Pamuk’s encounter with Anselm Kiefer in his studio in France. Pamuk is a Nobel prize winning author who for many years wanted to be a painter and pursued his ambition before settling to writing in his early 20’s. The possible resurrection of these painting activities long thought about but not acted upon accompanied Pumuk on his visit to the studio of a much admired artist.

Pamuk’s description repeatedly talked of the scale of the studio; enormous, immense. It’s not surprising given Kiefer’s studio extends over several buildings and multiple acres. Occupying the site of a former silk factory the work, his workspaces, the architecture, the meaning and materials all intermingle and offer such a spectacle that I deny anyone to feel nonchalant about it, even if they are as I am, viewing it through an video made to accompany Kiefer’s Royal Academy exhibition last year. Even a modest artist studio may have a sense of a generous scale given the space writers are often confined or confine themselves to. A number of years back the Guardian Review ran a series of picture stories about the workspaces of writers. Of all the cuttings I have all but one had a space contained within their domestic setting; a room in the basement, at the top of the house, overlooking the garden. The photographs of these rooms taken by Eamonn McCabe show us behind the scenes of some of the most successful and well known writers of our time. Interestingly quite a number of the writers decide to describe what cannot be seen in the photograph which is perhaps a professional default; the writer presenting us with a text leaving room for the construction of an image using our imagination, linking to our reference points of experience. The photographer shows us what is there and we welcome the opportunity to see. The fascination with exposing the scene of the crime so to speak, the place the writing takes place, the place of art production is nothing new and has for artists over generations been a subject matter in its own right.

Pamuk’s visit is emotional and connects him to an aspect of his past and his wonderings about a possible future which include painting. He looks at Kiefer’s works and revels in their enormity, later after a dinner party he decides that the small book of drawings he has been carrying in his pocket should stay there, unshared and signifying the ending of the possibility of his becoming a painter once again. The movement towards this defining moment was reinforced by seeing the place where alchemy occurs.


A week last Sunday I took a trip to Cambridge to see some new work exhibited at Aid and Abet artist run space in the new development right next to the station. My attention was drawn by the title Expanded Studio Project and after some brief research was intrigued to see more. The space was full of partnerships – artists from Wysing in Cambridgeshire and artists from Primary in Nottingham. The pairings were based on a random selection, literally names drawn from a hat and from that a variety of outcomes of the process where exhibited intermingled with performances.

At the outset, on the day the pairings were finalised Pechakucha’s were delivered by all the participating artists as a way of introducing practice and to get the process underway.

Lisa Wilkens and Simon Withers work consisted of a beautifully rendered drawing of an axe with an axe embedded in its surface. Was it representational of the process I wondered. Moving away from the noise of the exhibition space I sat with Lisa outside where I was able to find out more. We talked about the process which included lots of dialogue. Options of buying a piano together, the creation of a text piece or poster were explored but ultimately rejected. I asked Lisa about the studio visits that had been undertaken and if they been a useful activity. She had said yes they had – they were a way of moving beyond what had been presented in the Pechakucha. She said “you can see how a practice may be structured (or not), how much archive work is around”. The Pechakucha or indeed any presentation of work is by its nature selected, edited, and so the studio holds the unselected work, the oddments, pieces that perhaps don’t fit within a defined body of work. It is these very pieces that can provoke unimaginable conversations, unexpected connections and possibilities. It seems in this artist pairing there was frustration from both directions and there was a point where it was decided it was time to stop being polite and get on with the business of making a piece of work. Lisa was determined to make something visual, otherwise she would have seen the project as a failure. When working on projects of this nature, consisting of new partnerships, pairings or collaborations, its interesting to explore what one is willing to give up, give way on and where the boundaries are.

On first looking at the work of Helen Stratford and Craig Fisher there was a strong visual dialogue between the different elements presented; construction diagrams, 3D forms, printed diagrammatic cloth, measuring stick. When I spoke to both artists during my visit Helen spoke about being interested in notions of authorship within collaboration although I notice a wall diagram had been authored with her initials alone. This had already been changed ready for the next incarnation of the project at bloc in sheffield later in the year. From the outset both artists communicated how conformable they felt with the possibility there may not be any physical evidence of the process, no ‘art work’ to show. Common interests and intersections, approaches and things they both liked promoted a sense of connection between this pairing. Craig admitted to being initially anxious about the random pairing process, Helen a long standing collaborator, not so. The visits to each others studios were important as the sites for conversations to take place in – meeting in a cafe half way between both locations wouldn’t have been nearly so significant. There was email dialogue along specific themes and objects were exchanged. The performance which I stayed to see communicated a seeming ease of working together as the 3D objects where moved from the printed cloth onto the floor, mapped out according to the construction diagram.

There were plenty of further pairings in the exhibition and it seems expanded studio will likely continue with other groups, extending networks further. Its ambition to create new dialogues, new work, new collaborations is clear and has likely worked well for some of the participants. I am just left wondering what happens if you don’t happen to work in a studio collective, how do you buy into the expanded studio project then?


One of my favorite studios was in a former Bally shoe factory in Norwich. The self contained room was a former white collar space complete with a deep pile cream carpet. It used to cause much amusement with visiting artists and curators. It was entirely comfortable and appropriate for the work i was producing at the time. The downside was its context which was distracting; I would spend hours walking the various halls and offices, documenting and thinking about what the equipment would have looked and sounded like, the content of the work conversations and the divisions of labour. Floor markings and signage were intriguing relics of what once had been a thriving industry.

Notice to quit was issued about 4 years ago and the building cleared of all creative inhabitants. Recently the building was reduced to rubble with a newspaper article showing the people, machines and the divisions of labour i had long pondered about. The site is now getting ready for the construction of a supermarket. Now that’s an idea worthy of consideration, artists taking over former supermarkets, just think of the scale.


Reflecting on my visit to Polly Cruse’s studio, my own work space is about as far from the domestic as i can get it. I don’t  have a kettle – I can’t begin the entertain the idea of making tea when there. Its too domestic and inevitably involves bringing a small amount of milk from home, usually in a once used disposable water bottle which is something, without being too melodramatic, I dread. When I host studio visits, bottles of water are provided and advice notices issued to visitors to bring hot drinks if desired. A short walk to a local cafe also offers an opportunity to have a dialogue about the work, away from it, after the studio visit is concluded.

In addition to the avoidance of the domestic as far as possible I also leave connectivity behind also. I stopped taking my laptop to the studio, it was too heavy to carry and the temptation to read and draft emails too great. I have no internet connection there so browsing for research purposes is also avoided. I have read about authors who have dedicated computers for writing novels on. These machines have no internet facility and so the work process can be a focused and hopefully productive.

An office space at home provides me with a clear space where the digital work takes place and emails are read and sent. Back and forth I carry work, sometimes the portfolio’s lay on the office floor where they are left only to be picked up a few days later and taken back to the studio. Even though it may seem pointless endeavor its an activity I can’t seem to get out of the habit of doing.