top of page
spike island open studios 16/5/19

A couple of weeks ago I volunteered at Spike Island for their open studios weekend event they hold once a year as a way to up my volunteering hours but also as a way to see what the art was all about and the artists that were producing the work. My role was mainly stand around and tell people where the toilets were, but i did have a chance to have a wander around behind the scenes of the spaces that aren’t usually open to the public and have a look at the artist studios and how they chose to present their work. It was so interesting as well to see the kinds of people that visited over the weekend. There were lots of kids and dogs which was amazing (the dogs not the kids) and cakes and it was just so relaxed and informal and socially accessible to all which I believe is what art and galleries should embrace more. Spike Island is such an expansive space with a huge gallery and over 100 artist studios and other creative businesses. Having everything opened up really showed how large the space is and the amount of creatives that exist and thrive within it, it was really refreshing to see people’s creative processes, as I haven’t really interacted with artists in this way since uni. It made me miss having a studio space to be honest. One of my favourite things about having a studio was being able to transform it from a speculative space to a space to present my resolved artworks in a mini-exhibition style. And as someone who says they no longer want to practice, it made me itch to get back into a creative space and start experimenting, so that was a good takeaway from the experience.


I have criticisms as well that will probably make me sound uptight and judgy, but i had to compare it to my degree show, and how much it was drilled into us that our spaces had to look pristine and unlike the studios they were before. I  suppose that an open studios event is not like a degree show however, it is called open studios and not open gallery after all, but the aesthetic of hanging your pristine printed glass images on a wall covered with scuff marks really bugged me, or leaving the floor dirty with splotches of paint everywhere or an empty coffee cup on the desk. There was no distinction between the work that was being exhibited in the space, and the space as a studio. It felt raw and disorganized and like a real insight into the artists creative processes, which may have been the point. And I admit it was cool to see the spaces these works were designed in, maybe it wasnt about the exhibition, but more about the process that led them to creating this work and seeing this contrast between the chaos in the studio and the order in their resolved work in the same space. Because of course, resolved work isn’t created in an instant and the artists very much displayed this process of resolving their work, but it still slightly bothered me. (It’s probably because I don’t like mess) For what is the purpose of open studios I guess? To promote your work and get people interested and discussing it, or is it more of a spectacle, come and look at these artists in their natural habitat? Essentially the process of making art isn’t linear, it isn’t particularly organised and that is what these open studios were; a display of how art is made, how it is contemplated and used by the artist and the results of their research and making, and that was quite enjoyable overall. Prefacing the open studios was an exhibition titled ‘Why are we not here’ and included work by artists of colour, examining institutional racism and marginalized representation in art. It was a great exhibition that dominated the space. Visitors had to walk through it to gain access to the studios in the space so it was very well placed in the sense of the theme of the show.


The weekend was a great chance for me to find out more about art spaces in Bristol, the kind of artists that work in the area and the concepts that influence their work. Obviously there was work I really liked (Moira Turner, Hannah Murgatroyd, Valda Jackson, John Wood, Paul Harrison, Will Hughes, Seamus Staunon, John De Mearns to name a few) and there was work I didn’t really connect with, but it was refreshing to simply exist in a creative studio space again. The whole experience has reminded why I enjoy art.  Visiting galleries can often feel monotonous and commercial, so an open studios event was a recharge I didn’t realize I needed. 


John Wood, Paul Harrison studio 28


why aren't we here exhibition, test space

bottom of page