Brighton Open Houses

One of the things that brings me the most joy in life is connecting with other artists. So with a free day ahead of me, I chose today to hop on the train down to Brighton to top up the art tanks and visit some of the Artists Open Houses and studios. Instagram and Facebook can be amazing places for viewing a huge at a variety of work and connecting with new artist friends, but there is nothing like real life connection in person and it was a desire to meet some of these friends face to face and view their work up close that led me to take the day trip.

My first stop was the Phoenix - a vast building housing artists’ studios across four floors. I was keen to see artist Becky Blair in her studio environment as I have been a fan of her work for a year or so now since a friend turned me on to her art having taken and gained fabulous insights from one of her workshops. Whilst Becky was chatting with another visitor and her son, I immersed myself in her colourful world and found myself trying to hide my eyes as they inexplicably started welling up… sometimes art just hits me emotionally! I cannot explain what it was exactly that moved me so much. Was it the colours or those figures or something about the combination of the mark-making and my own desire to be able to create something that had this kind of feel to it that rendered me speechless?

There is no art that pleases everyone and another person may well stand in the same spot and feel nothing. I may have stood there in the same place, faced with the same work on a different day and felt differently, but today I was moved. There is something about being in the presence of an artist you admire, in their space, surrounded by their work, their materials and the everyday bits and bobs that they choose to surround themselves with that feels truly precious. It is that window on their world that you don’t often get to experience that can be rather special and is something I hope to create here in my own home when I open the doors for the first time for my own Open Studios in September. I have always surrounded myself with ‘things’ and I am always intrigued by what other people choose to gather.

I was not expecting to bump into my friend Louise Bristow in Brighton this morning, as I did not know that her studio was also at the Phoenix. It was fascinating to look in the drawers of papers she has gathered and the bookshelves filled with publications that she uses in her process, as well as the shelves of items that become players in her still life set ups, inspired by urban landscapes, which she then paints in an extraordinarily realistic manner.

The next stop was The Coal Hole, up a hill steep enough for me to stop and take my coat off half way and take a breather! The confectionary coloured houses beckon you in their direction and when I made it to the corner house, I was thrilled to meet my gorgeous friend Suzi Lowe face to face for the first time and see her beautiful paintings at close quarters. Her work resonates deeply with me as we both share a love of nature and vibrant colours, which Suzi manages to pair perfectly in her acrylic paintings. Faye Bridgewater, another online friend and also, like Suzi, a member of Alice Sheridan’s Connected Artists group, was also exhibiting there, her darker, abstract landscapes making a strong statement on the walls.

With my guidebook in hand, I selected a few other houses to pop into on my way to At the Coach House, an unusual AirBnB live work space where my friend, the weaver, Jackie Bennett was exhibiting with an eclectic mix of artists. Jackie was working on a small weaving when I arrived - it is wonderful to see artists in action - and I was particularly keen on her woven landscapes - a reflection of the project she is assisting me with at Pallant House Gallery to work with a group of Outside In artists to research and respond to the work of Ivon Hitchens and artists depicting the South Downs.

My other mission of the day was to visit another member of our Connected group - Abigail Bowen whose lovely home in Clifton Street showcased her dramatic, glowing abstracts which made a real impact! With her stunning, statement pieces etched on my mind, I headed home, feeling grateful for the opportunity to enter into so many people’s homes and enjoy a few moments immersed in their creative worlds.

Having toured these Open Houses today, I can feel the excitement for my own event rising. I know I have a lot to do, but I now have a clearer idea of what I am aiming for, what I want to share and display - from the dried up items collected on beach walks to some of the older works that led me towards my current work.

If you have time next weekend, head to the coast and go experience these homes and this art for yourself… and if you can’t make it to Brighton Open Houses this year, pop it in your diary for 2020. You won’t regret it! t

Julia Elmore