The Whitechapel Gallery exhibits “A century of an artist’s studio”


Studio – a workplace for the creative professional has a profound impact on the psychology of the artist, and therefore on the work produced. I am a ceramic artist with a modest but well-equipped studio. It is close to my house, overlooking a green plot with lush trees. The interior of the studio, however, is cramped and looks like a hoarder’s den. Although the ideas I explore with my art run deeper, my immediate studio environment inadvertently plays a role in how I approach my work. I also had the chance to visit the studios of other contemporary artists. Drawing inspiration from the view through the window, to make small works due to lack of space, the space they occupied was an important factor influencing the practice.

(L) Akbar Padamsee in his studio 2012; (D) SH Raza in his studio, 2011 Image: Manisha Gera Baswani

The Whitechapel Gallery in London, UK researched the theme of artists’ studios for four years to develop an art exhibition with over 100 works by 80 artists. The conservation team for A century of artist’s studio: 1920-2020 includes Candy Stobbs, Iwona Blazwick, Dawn Ades, Inês Costa, Richard Dyer and Hammad Nasar. The introductory text specifies the intention: whether it is a disused factory, an attic or a kitchen table, it is in the artist’s studio that is conceived and creates the great art of our time. In this multimedia art exhibition, the vast possibilities and meaning of these crucibles of creativity take center stage and new stories of art around the modern studio emerge through striking juxtapositions of under-recognized artists with famous figures in the history of Western art.

Video of the Painter, 1996, Paul McCarthy |  A century of artist's studio |  STIRworld
Painter Video, 1996, Paul McCarthy Image: Courtesy of Paul McCarthy

I speak with Candy Stobbs, Senior Assistant Curator at the Whitechapel Gallery on the eve of A century of artist’s studio: 1920-2020.

Candy Stobbs, Senior Assistant Curator, Whitechapel Gallery |  STIRworld
Candy Stobbs, Senior Assistant Curator, Whitechapel Gallery Image: Courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery

Rahul Kumar: Why is it important to visit the working environment of artists through images, paintings or “studio corners” that were recreated during the exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery?

Stobbs Candy: Over the past decade, artists’ studios have become increasingly under threat due to rising costs and a lack of affordable housing stock in both urban and rural areas, pushing artists away from the centres. Given this ongoing acute situation, we wanted to offer our audience insight into the working practices of artists around the world and celebrate the sites of creativity where it all begins. In her introductory essay to the catalog that accompanies the monumental exhibition, Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel Gallery, recounts the excitement and adventure of visiting the studio and never really knowing where you might end up or what you might find.

From March to April... , 2020 ,Single channel color video with sound, Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, Hesam Rahmanian |  A century of artist's studio |  STIRworld
From March to April… 2020, single-channel color video with sound, Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, Hesam Rahmanian Image: Courtesy of the artists and Isabelle van den Eynde Gallery, Dubai

Rahul: What was the curatorial framework for choosing the works for the exhibition? The importance of the photographer or the contribution of the artists whose studio/space has been documented?

Candy: We have developed the themes of the exhibition with our curatorial committee made up of art historians and writers Dawn Ades, Richard Dyer and Hammad Nasar, led by Iwona Blazwick, over the past four years. We were guided by the two general themes of the private and public studio, and we also wanted to extend our research beyond Europe and the United States to the practices of artists’ studios around the world. First, we looked at how the studio is represented through a range of media including film, painting, photography, sculpture and installation. And then we looked at the studio’s long and storied history of documenting through digital photography; from Brancusi’s own photographs of himself with his sculptures in his Paris studio, to major figures like Henri Cartier-Bresson photographing Matisse in his hotel studio in the south of France, to Gordon Parks’ iconic images of artists Americans like Alexander Calder and Helen Frankenthaler in their studios. Through ten studio corners, we hope to evoke a sense of the peculiar studios of Francis Bacon’s London studio of “highly controlled chaos”, an environment in which he worked alone inviting few people to visit, and the action-packed Silver Factory in New York where Andy Warhol made his most famous works surrounded by assistants, friends, parasites and sometimes policemen.

Drawing Lesson 47 (Interview for New York Studio School), 2010, Single channel video, William Kentridge |  A century of artist's studio / |  STIRworld
Drawing Lesson 47 (Interview for the New York Studio School), 2010, Single Channel Video, William Kentridge Image: Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, Lia Rumma Gallery and Goodman Gallery

Rahul: Do the images/paintings just represent the spaces as they were, or do they aim to connect the dots for the uninitiated eye as information prompting to interpret the practice of the artists whose studios are in images ?

Candy: The works in the exhibition both illustrate various studio spaces as they were and offer artistic illustrations of the studio, demonstrating the ever-growing importance and historical significance of the artist’s studio. .

Notation, 2017, Oil on canvas, Mequitta Ahuja |  A century of artist's studio / |  STIRworld
Rating, 2017, Oil on canvas, Mequitta Ahuja Image: Courtesy of the artist and Tiwani Contemporary

Rahul: What are some of the interesting things that emerge when two sections of the exhibition are juxtaposed – the private studios and the public/shared workspaces?

Candy: As our research developed, we began to notice associations between artists and other themes emerged across geographies, from collective studio practices that include groups like Laboratoire Agit ‘Art in Senegal, the Arpilleras studios in Chile, and the collaborative art community of Charleston established in rural Sussex in the 1920s. We have noticed how artists cannibalize elements of their studios in their work, from the studio floor of Helen Frankenthaler in 1960s New York to Walead Beshty’s 2014 mural-scale art installation of cyanotypes of materials, tools, and craftsmanship from his studio, which echoes an earlier installation. 1942 photographic work by Raoul Ubac of ghostly objects arranged in the studio. The studio as a place of refuge from political oppression or the struggles of everyday life brought together artists like Geta Brătescu in communist Romania and Maud Lewis in rural Nova Scotia in Canada.

L'Atelier (The Studio), 1955, Oil on canvas, Pablo Picasso |  A century of artist's studio / |  STIRworld
The Workshop (The studio), 1955, Oil on canvas, Pablo Picasso Image: Courtesy of Picasso Estate/DACS, London, 2021

Rahul: Several of the works in the exhibition are layered with the additional context of the creator – for example, the portraits used in the works of Marshall, Ghadirian and Ahuja. How do these interventions add to the idea of ​​understanding artists’ workspaces?

Candy: All of these artists use portraiture to explore identity and portray figures that have been ignored or overlooked in Western art history and which they stage in the studio. Mequitta Ahuja and her mentor Kerry James Marshall place the black figure at the center of their narratives to counter European traditions of genre painting. Ahuja uses self-portraiture and links art historical references to personal autobiography, showcasing the daily activities of an artist in her studio, from the physical labor of painting and handling canvases to reading and studying. writing of the subject. Kerry James Marshall’s painting in our exhibition, Untitled (Painter), is part of a series of paintings with female artists and models in the studio controlling both the production and their own representation, and shaking up the historical continuum of the “old master”. In a similar vein, Shadi Ghadirian’s series of sepia photographs of herself and her friends explore the tension between social traditions and modernity for young women in Iran. She borrows tropes from traditional studio photography but subverts them by inserting objects like a can of Pepsi or a pair of sunglasses from contemporary life into her constructed paintings.

L'Atelier (The Studio), 1955, Oil on canvas, Pablo Picasso |  A century of artist's studio / |  STIRworld
Studio interior (red stool, studio)[1945OiloncanvasWilhelminaBarns-GrahamImage: Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

watch the minutes

The Way Things Go by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, 1987 |  A century of artist's studio / |  STIRworld

The way things are going by Peter Fischli and David Weiss Video: Courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery


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