Q - Can you tell us about your studio environment - where do you like to work and what helps you to focus?
I took on my first studio half way through my Postgraduate course at the Royal Academy School in 1991. It was a very basic, pretty humble, but purpose built, wooden studio space with high ceilings at the end of a long and very wild garden in Knollys Road Tulse Hill, London, with a family of foxes living underneath, and a hilarious access route which included stepping across a stream, not easy given the scale of my work. It was cold, and very damp but it was entirely mine, private, and it gave me the opportunity to learn how it was to work alone before I left art school, something that I instinctively knew was going to be important. It also meant that when I left the RA I was already familiar and settled in the space which certainly made the transition, having gone straight from school into art school for another 7 years, less of a shock.
From there I moved into a studio in Camberwell until the late 1990’s when I moved into a 550sqft first floor, beautifully light, space at Acme’s Childers Street studio complex in Deptford.
In 2006 I had the opportunity to move into Sean Scully’s former studio on the ground floor of the same building. Having worked on a large scale and in series since the late 80’s, taking on this studio with 1700 sq ft of space and 4m high ceiling gave me the opportunity I had longed for to create larger work and significantly increase the number of canvases I could work on at once.
There was one compromise; a serious lack of natural light but, at the time, my tendency was to work late into the night and so it wasn’t such an issue. However, recently I have felt an ever increasing longing to be in a studio with more light, large windows, and thus to feel more aware of the time of day, and connected to the weather, and changing seasons.
This was something that I was fortunate to experience when I was invited to spend three months as artist in residence at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Connecticut in 2006.
Indeed my time there, the joy of being in such a beautiful live work space surrounded by nature, having the opportunity to be fully immersed in my work, to walk the same paths each day, so acutely aware of the weather, of time passing, and the shift in the season, both whilst working and living in the studio beneath the huge windows, and in the time being outside, was an incredible gift and the experience was absolutely life changing. I do not have the words to express my gratitude to the Albers Foundation for giving me such an opportunity. What I can say is that the experience of my time there has been present in each and every day of my life, and in every piece of work, since.
But there are aspects of being in London, such as being able to easily access and feed on music, dance, art, architecture, that are also important. Yet the time I spend in nature, beside the sea, or in landscape, is also essential to my work and life practice. Trying to find a balance isn’t easy. As such it has always been my intention to have a studio in a rural location, in addition to London and that remains my ideal. What helps me to focus at the studio…..
Music. Listening to music and/or creating sound myself.
I can very quickly use specific pieces of music to stimulate certain emotional states, which takes me into a particular creative zone.
My violin is a regular visitor to the studio, so I will often play there, or use my voice whilst painting. In this way music/sound very much flows in and out of the work.
I also have a very special and much loved collection of Japanese Rin Temple Bowls (like extremely large singing bowls). Sitting on the floor in the studio with the work around me, and playing these creates a state of stillness, calm, and space.
And there is a certain and very particular focus that comes about by working late into the night. Those hours before dawn, when nature is at its most still, have a certain quiet and feeling of peace that is quite simply magical.