“A space in which you have the freedom to create what you want without limitation.” ~ James Bullimore
James Bullimore is a Royal College of Art graduate, tutor and contemporary artist working with performance, drawing, photography and printmaking in London.
“My practice involves how a cyclical narrative can impact materiality. How object, performance, and print can inform each other. The processes of documentation are key to how the work translates across mediums. The physical tool of production is not just in my hands, but also in the kinetics of my entire body.” ~ James Bullimore, Artist Statement
With more and more artists relocating out of London, it is crucial for us to understand what makes spaces work for artists in order to maintain creativity and diversity within the city. We ask James for his take on these pressing issues.
How would you define a ‘studio’?
“A space in which you have the freedom to create what you want without limitation, possibly. I think that would be an ideal studio space; that you’re not constrained by the size of it which will then inform your own work. So you want something thats big enough to do whatever you want.”
What kind of dimensions and heights do you like working with?
“From my experience, from any studio space you need at least double height ceilings, I mean the size of work people are working with at the moment is obscene. You know these paintings, and even my stuff. I’ve got about 1000 sq. which then allows me the freedom to do what I want. And I think I’ve had the experience of working in these smaller spaces, whereby you’re constrained hugely by these little shoeboxes, as they’re known as. I think you’d have to go at least maybe 700 sq. But it depends on the artist, some people have a tendency to make small pieces of work so maybe they wouldn’t require such a large space.
Its tailoring it to the artist more than anything because some artists work small and some artists work big. You want to have space to work really, thats what it comes down to.”
Many artists, similarly to you, commit a lot of time to working in their studios. Do you feel there is any benefit in terms of sharing some facilities, for example kitchen areas or social spaces?
“I think sharing is definitely the way forward, because you then get a community built up, if you’re sat with someone having lunch I think thats hugely paramount to kind of the ‘art way’ [laughs]. I think its inherent to you, when you’re at uni, everyone’s with everyone. Camberwell for example has just redone all their building, but it becomes a very sterile environment. You want quite a homely feel to it, comfortable sofas and stuff like that. It wouldn’t want to be brand new because then I think you’re kind of imposing this clean sterile feel to the space. I think it would very much want to be an open, nice, homely kind of feel to it, if that makes any sense. The reason I like my space is because its a bit grungey. I’m not saying you want to make a grungey horrible space, but I’m just saying it doesn’t have to be this clean sterile hospital feel.”
Following on from this, collaborative environments are particularly on trend at the moment; we see many studio units emerging with vast communal spaces. Do you believe this formula could work?
“I think it really comes down to the person or the artist themselves. Me personally I like being in my studio, I’ve got a couple of people that are renting some space in it. Because its got a bit of life to it. If its just you working by yourself I think it can be a bit not depressing but a bit lonely really. You know you go to the studio and you’ve got no one to talk to… but that sense of community can then be made in a different way. You might have your own space but then if you’re talking about having a social space whereby you know you can sit and have lunch or come in and out then that’s a different, another way of approaching it, I think some people like to have their own space and if you were to enforce it. Its a bit like when you go to a restaurant- I don’t know, Wagamama and you’ve got to sit next to some people. Some people like that and some people don’t want to sit next to someone. So I think its completely dependent on the person.”
How important is isolation within your working environment?
“I think that if you’re working in this isolation is good to a degree but at the same time its important to have a community around it. I like my space is because its got the space to work, but its not in this kind of renovated or reused an old building. What I’ve heard from a lot of people at the moment is you build in a sense for studio spaces become very sterile, its a bit like when you build a new St. Martins or something its very sterile you don’t want to make a mess. If you’re reusing what once was an old school or maybe an old warehouse, then its already got the character the feel the energy around it of something going into it.”
Much of London is driven by the creative industries, and yet due to gentrification we are seeing more and more artists leave the capital. How would you tackle this issue?
“When I was starting to look at spaces, you’re talking nearly £1000 a month, something crazy like that, for a shoebox. Its cost of spaces that is pushing people out. I have luckily found a space right the other side of London that I’m paying absolute pittance for. But if I hadn’t got this space I wouldn’t have a studio, simply. I couldn’t afford it. It comes down to this cost because you get artists in area, you build it up it gets a buzz around and then you end up pushing the artists out because then the house prices shoot up… the cost of rent goes up, business rates go up. It becomes this extortionate… it really is the money situation. When people graduate, you’re not an established artist, you’re not selling your work for £5000 a pop every week.
I mean if you’re a council, there needs to be some way in which you’re supporting the local artists, by saying okay ‘well you don’t have to pay business tax rates, or you don’t have to pay council tax or you don’t have to do this’… then its making it more feasible.”
So how would you approach a developer with regards to the design and creation of new spaces?
“I think developers could almost be forced by the council to have a conversation with local artists, or to be approached by big institutions like the Royal College, so to have a name behind them, where they could actually inform the developers about what they’re doing and create spaces that are feasible and workable for artists, as opposed to developments that have been told to throw a couple of studios in with no idea what artists might need.
Maybe approach it with proposal basis; because thats what a lot of studios do now. You have to write a proposal about why you should be allocated that space. But maybe that proposal should be handed in prior to the creation of the spaces, so that way the developers are actually tailoring the space to an artist thats going to be in there for 3 years. So you’re forcing an artist to sign a lease for 3 years, but they’ve had a conversation with the developer to get this tailored space to what they’re going to need.”
London’s creative landscape is rapidly changing, and it seems to maintain an affordable rent, artists are having to evolve and make compromises; sharing spaces, sacrificing location or settling for an environment not built for purpose. It is critical to open up channels of conversation between users and developers.
Is there a way to sustain artist communities within gentrified locations?
How can we tailor these ideas into new schemes?