A highlight of my E17 Art Trail was a visit to The Makers Yard. The recently reclaimed site is hidden from view from nearby Shernhall Street and access is via a narrow passageway from which I, along with an art trail expedition, emerged into the earthly delight of the yard with its open studio sheds, raised vegetable beds, greenhouse, garden benches and other communal spaces. Despite the bustle of the occasion there was still a sense of tranquillity and peaceful purpose about the place - a self contained retreat. I wondered if The Makers Yard is an artist run space and how it fits into the patchwork of other artist’s spaces in the area. Sometimes the living/working spaces artists create can be as creative as the art produced in them. As quaint as it may be I am in favour of a more whole approach to art - e.g. making things and growing food in close proximity.
One of the creative relationships the art trail explores is that of the production and consumption of art; who makes art, where, how and why, with who consumes it and so on. Seeing art works in progress in studio spaces and communicating directly with the artist(s) may demystify creative processes and also be counter to the modern industrial phenomenon of deskilling and alienation from making. While the distinction between the producer and consumer remains, the latter can be better informed about, and aware of, the values of the work in the product. The open studio conflation of art and artist with ‘art-lover’ is, however, performative and participatory; all most a performance art form or practice in its own right. The performances can detract from and diminish the allure and mystique of an art work. Explanation akin to a well rehearsed script can imbue an art work with a disappointing personal sense of artlessness. This was not my experience of the artful surrounds of The Makers Yard partly because I limited how I participated in the visit.
I am not quite as sure about a recent virtual visit to the studio of Grayson Perry somewhere in Walthamstow. Grayson Perry spoke, via podcast, about his experience of making art as ‘an exercise in controlled disappointment’. Perhaps on the day of filming this very busy and eminent artist was very anxious that his potentially most beautiful pot might explode in the kiln. He paused poetically from a weary and slightly dismissive exposition and interpretation of his art as a kiln clicked ominously in the background.
He said, ‘I think there is a desperation for people with art, they look at art and they find it very hard to just enjoy it. They have to kind of interpret it and understand it. They don’t just sort of ask themselves, you know, do I think it’s beautiful? I think there should be more of that’. He didn’t have to utter or mutter this critique; he could have just got on with his pottery for the duration of the podcast.
Fair enough; a balance of just enjoyment (sans spiel), and interpretation and understanding is likely to be more sustaining. Is there, however, no measure or scale of beauty? I wonder about the sublime enjoyment at the beauty of e.g. a pot decorated with photographic transfers of images of rancid butter yellow crime/accident scene signs, some of the paraphernalia of the seamy side of urban life? I thought I might find such a sign on or near Cedars Avenue, E17 where someone was stabbed while walking to work one morning last week. If there is a sign I missed it. The comments following online local newspaper reports declare there is a lot of violent crime in Walthamstow - something which may or not be backed up by statistical evidence. What sort of correlation might there be between crime and the progress of economic development in an area? Perry’s colourfully glazed pots, artfully inscribed with brutish images of the malaise he perceives while walking about town, culminate in an attempt at a beautiful contemporary polemic but a polemic against who or what precisely? Of what consequence to Walthamstow is Grayson Perry’s pantomimic progress to the hallowed galleries of the British Museum? Is there or might there be a ‘Grayson Perry School of ‘Tranny’ Pottery’ to cultivate locally misused cutting edge arts and crafts skills. Might we have local artistry in the service of the worship of Alan Measles?
There is a connection between artists and less developed and less gentrified areas in that the latter are more affordable to a contingent that tends to be lower paid. Rents (including studio rents) can be much lower and housing/mortgages more affordable. Grayson Perry, with all due credit to his hard work, creativity and success, probably does not need to worry as much about the cost of studios in Walthamstow. What is the story of his studio? Perry’s slightly wry comment about retaining artistic authenticity due to having his studio here may be disingenuous. I think it is suspect when an artist uses the deprivation of the area in which their studio is as some sort of credibility for their art. On the trail there were many instances of people being creative with space and other limited resources in order to create studios, workshops and exhibition spaces, perhaps as a way pursuing a more amateur passion. Some of the people I met on the trail, particularly on the guided walk, were using the trail as a way of looking into the area with a view to moving in. The very desirability garnered by the E17 Art Trail, and other community events, may contribute to pressure on the cost of living here. Of course there are other circumstances which can affect the cost (and quality) of living and/or working in Walthamstow but how do you judge the authenticity of the needs and motivations for being somewhere? I’m happy for Grayson Perry to continue reacting to the area surrounding his outpost of artistic authenticity; it may help keep my rent down. The Makers Yard shared some of what can be made of a place rather than superficially what can be made about it.