I had the opportunity to see my old studio after Christmas. When I say studio, I mean the partially open garage under our old house. I worked part time there for 9 years, winter and summer. I stumbled through 6 solo shows, made some gems, made some rubbish, hosted friends there with their easels, blasted the neighbours and their pets with everything from Bjork to the Bee Gees, and made some more rubbish.
I would trundle down the back stairs with car keys, reverse the bubble car out onto the street, and shazam I had a studio! Anyone who works in a tight space totally understands the need for room to move. Sure, sure, I would occasionally shuffle backwards into another car, or over a saw horse (who left that there?), and even the agitation of the washing machine did not (sigh) agitate me. I had space.
I had space. And concrete. And ventilation.
There are many things I’m laughing about in this Version 2007 photo. Let’s start with the choice of safety boots whilst using a compressor powered staple gun. In other photos in this collection Nearest is assisting – in steel caps and safety glasses!
And there’s my beautiful easel and the home made, heavy as all get out, stretcher frames: working any way we could to make things a little cheaper. Behind the stretched canvas is a little cupboard which actually held auto parts to accompany the line of oil and grease containers under the bench. For days I worked alongside a friends car as it lay disembowelled, engine suspended by block and tackle, awaiting closing surgery. It was a productive place.
So you’re currently on—hopefully still on—my little nostalgia trip. Places we live and work have such a huge impact on our happiness, our processing, our peace, our chaos. I left this studio in mourning. For my mother. I had spent the final 10 months hanging in there, committed to an exhibition, using an energy to paint that was flagged. And it bore some soggy fruit, that’s for sure. The 2009 GFC had just kicked in and nothing sold. I shipped the pieces out to friends walls, packed up and headed to the next life.
The next three years or so was spent working in a space half the size. It was pretty dysfunctional and unproductive. Or, rather, I was IN it. And the downsizing did seem to have a tightening effect on the work, and I often used the lack of space as a tired excuse to not work. When not castigating self on that period, I also reflect that the Spotted Gum series came from that tiny space and planted me firmly into my new surrounds.
After visiting the old studio I stayed at a friends house the night to help break up the road trip home. And walked smack bang into a little study painting from 2003 on her wall from my first solo exhibition. With room to grow, this 60cm study led to a 2m wide piece. The opportunity to paint so large back then was an exciting experience.
In late 2012 we built a studio. It’s a rare thing to custom order your own space. I suspect it may only happen once in a lifetime. If I got the chance to do it again, I really wouldn’t change anything about it. It has the 3 main ingredients: space, concrete and ventilation. And the luxury of a giant storage cupboard and painting racks and an extraordinary view.
This new studio totally transformed my life. I step into it and don’t want to step out – so much so I forgot to go sketching out bush for a couple of years! Now when I’m away from it I pine for it, and I thank it every single time I step into it. It’s solidified my art practice in terms of routine and process. And if I ever have to leave it there will be tears, but it’s just a big room in the end, and I would take with me some valuable experiences.
I learned a lot about myself in that garage in Brisbane. And I gave myself permission to let the studio space have priority over the living space (with gentle consideration to partner and his living space). I think we can box our practice into a make-do area when we should actually let it leak out into our life… because it is our life. The more room there is, the more you can do, the more you can make, the more people you can invite to share the space, and so your art life, thoughts and practice are more activated. And buzzing.
Buzzing is good.
Footnote: cool concrete is essential for your studio assistants.