For years I have had a recurring dream.
I am alone in an old house (or is it a flat?). With a dark central hallway and a number of closed doors it feels haunted, intimidating but also exciting and full of potential. I think I have been here before. Should I be here? I start to open doors into dark empty rooms. Bedroom? Living Room? I feel an odd sense of propriety – I would like to live here – but also that somehow I am trespassing. I walk into the kitchen which is large and old fashioned and hasnt been used for years. Dusty. Windows up high so that you cant see out. large porcelain sink, worn floor half lino half wood. I continue to the back of the kitchen around a corner and find another passage. a dark corridor.
Is it leading to another flat? Are there neighbours? Am I allowed to be here? With a sense of trepidation I open another door.
And there it is. Filled with light. Dust motes floating. Empty. Haunted.
When I wake up in our 2 bedroom flat in Edinburgh that I love, home for 17 years and where our boys are growing up I know there is absolutely no room to spare…
For years I have done a running calculation in my head – could we afford to get a bigger flat so somehow I could have a studio? I spent Sunday mornings fantasizing on the ESPC website – real estate porn for a disenfranchised artist. If I was rich and could afford a 4 bedroom house in Morningside (a room for each of us plus an extra one for me) what would that BE LIKE? If I was willing (or even able) to burden myself with a huge mortgage to get this bit of my dream, what else would we have to give up?
Or I would get out the measuring tape and mark out imaginary squares to see if it would be possible to subdivide the flat and somehow magik a creative space just for me in the middle of the domestic hubbub. Build a wall here, take a wall down there. In the end we managed to create an office in the coal cupboard – measuring about 1.5 x 1.5 metres -which for years was my sanctuary – not big enough to actually make stuff in but a place for the computer, research, online tutorials.
But the dream of having a space to make a MESS – to leave work up, out, around – slowly germinating – lived on. Because this is how real work happens. Slowly or surprisingly you make a visual connection and the ideas start to come in. You make a mark, push something together. take something away. stand back and look. Look. Work. Then look again.
Setting up in the living room, on the kitchen table, around kids stuff. Or outside on cold hillsides, cold garages, cold front porches (it’s Scotland after all) meant always having to organise, work to time and then clear up so that domestic life could go on. Working like this it is only possible to catch a moment, develop resourcefulness and the love of accidents – for after all up a hill in the cold and wet it isnt possible to get it just right – so you make do, you settle.
Don’t get me wrong I have made work in some beautiful places. On the hoof in California, Scotland, England, France, Spain, Italy even Tanzania. But at the end of the day not having a space – a room of one’s own as Ms Woolfe so eloquently put it – has been frustrating to the point of despair. Like a part of me was un-nutured. Lost.
It’s terrible to say but things started to look up when the economic downturn in 2008 meant studio spaces became more available in my neighbourhood. I had been on the WASPS (Workshop and Artists’ Studio Provision Scotland Ltd) waiting list for years but in the end I got a studio in a small enclave of artists in Murieston Lane, Dalry. Though I have been a practicing artist for 3o years, this was the first studio I had ever rented in my life.
Just a short stroll away from home (often through Dalry cemetery) I could go to my studio before work and be home in time to get my kids off to school. The space was freezing, not cheap (£140 a month – dont give up the day job, NEVER give up the day job) with no natural light but I LOVED it. Freedom, creative exploration, solitude, tunes as loud as I wanted. The big advance though was that I had the space to make the work. To plan exhibitions and deliver them. To get more ambitious as an artist.
Last year I moved on to WASPS Dalry, subletting a small space in the hope that a permanent lease would open up. Subsidised Space at WASPS is highly sought after and the average waiting list for a lease is at least 5 years.
However as a subletter I hoped I would be in a better position and miraculously last April I was able to get a lease on a small studio. And finally, this month I decided to take on an even bigger space at Dalry Wasps. No 17. – a magnificent north facing 2nd floor studio. Two walls of windows with views over Edinburgh. Heat. Even wifi.
Not to mention a much bigger financial commitment. It’s serious now.
But after years of working wherever I could or even worse not working AT ALL because I simply couldn’t make it work, I have found myself in the studio of my dreams. I am in awe, even a bit daunted by my new found creative space.
Now the real work begins.
My next show is a solo exhibition opening 6th June at Summerhall in Edinburgh