I had the absolute pleasure about 8 months ago of being invited to Brighton Road Studios in Bensham, Gateshead. I was excited because it’s an artist studios inside a converted Church and somewhere I’ve been wanting to visit for ages– behind the front door I found an independent creative studio space, lush facilities and full of local artists, creatives and SME creative businesses all doing great things – certainly somewhere I could see The Culture Vulture thriving and setting up camp. My meeting was with several of the artists to hear about what they are doing, their plans as a creative collective and fabulously, their plan to do Gateshead Open Studios.
Gateshead Open Studios is a proudly Gateshead centric project and has been something that many artists, creatives and venues based in Gateshead have discussed and flirted with (including myself) so it was great to hear Brighton Road Studios wanting to lead on it. Fast forward to the present day and Gateshead Open Studios is an exciting impending reality – it’s happening in Gateshead!
On Saturday 27th October, the lush people of Gateshead will be able to discover what’s hidden away in 5 different but all very brilliant creative and historic hubs….
I caught up with James Oliver (artist name: William Fawkes) who is arguably the lead on this year’s Gateshead Open Studios organisation (however – there is a whole host of brilliant artists and creatives also making this happen). I wanted to catch up with James so my fellow Culture Vultures could hear what is in store for them on 27th October across Gateshead.
Hi James Oliver/William Fawkes – I am over the moon to see how far you’ve taken Gateshead Open Studios – enabling it to be a reality in spite of many challenges. So let’s start with you and your work – tell me a bit about you and your practice?
I’ve always been an artist from a young age inspired & encouraged by my mum, and have painted my whole life. But it’s only been in the last couple of years, that I took the plunge to rent a studio, and start practicing more seriously. I previously worked professionally as a graphic designer, designing record sleeve artwork for clients including Blur, Sigur Rós, Trojan Records, EMI, and Universal music. I’ve also been a web designer and user experience researcher in recent times. All these skills have helped prep me for the world of marketing, events and experience design.
As a professional artist I chose to adopt the alter-ego William Fawkes, an ancestor from my family tree. My recent artwork is based on surreal storytelling, with a collection of dying British institutions with skeleton characters being an emerging body of work. I tend to create a master painting or drawing, and then have high quality framed prints available for sale.
What is the inspiration behind Gateshead Open Studios? Why now?
Since I moved up north 3-4 years ago, I was immediately drawn to what was happening over in Ouseburn with their Open Studios’ events. As soon as I’d found a studio in my local neighbourhood Gateshead, I looked around and thought “why isn’t Gateshead doing Open Studios?”. My mother passed away in January this year, and because of this, I decided ‘Gateshead Open Studios needs to happen this year!’ I’ve been driven ever since to make it happen, and had some great encouragement & support from fellow peers, friends and family.
So when is it?
Which Gateshead venues are involved?
There are 5 venues across Gateshead opening their doors:
- NewBridge Project: Gateshead High Street.
- Saint Cuthbert’s Church, Bensham
- Bensham Grove Community Centre
- Brighton Road Studios, Bensham
- Saint Chad’s Church, Bensham.
We also have partner cafes nearby who have been really supportive and can provide refreshments including The Staiths Café (who have an exhibition available to view) and The Nest Café in Low Fell. There will also be friendly volunteers on the day to help direct people, give you tours and generally make you feel welcome.
So what is in store for visitors – what can they expect to be able to see/do?
You will be able to explore unique creative environments and historic venues, some of which have never had a public open day like this. You will be able to meet practicing creative people, see their studio spaces and be inspired, and even take part in creative workshops and try making new things to take home. There will be art, music, conversation, refreshments and a friendly excitable community buzz on the day.
Will people be able to buy things on the day?
Yes, the artists and makers will have unique items you can purchase, or you can even discuss a private commission. There will also be creative workshops & demos happening for free, and other courses in the near future people could book on to learn a new process.
There is something so brilliant about being invited into an artist studio – a behind the creative scenes if you will! Are you excited to have people come into your studio?
Yes I think it’s great, and I can’t wait for people to come have a rummage, ask me questions and hopefully be inspired! I’ll try to make sure it’s tidy before they arrive!
Here is the mini sales pitch – tell my fellow Culture Vultures why is this an unmissable weekend for Gateshead?
It’s a chance to explore hidden historic venues right on your doorstep, meet the quirky creative inhabitants and see their personalities spilling out through their work!
Why are events like this so important for artists and creatives?
Creative people are not always the best at promoting themselves, but this is a unique chance to get a glimpse into their world and see something you never imagined you’d see! I can promise you’ll come away inspired and with a greater respect for Gateshead local talent.
Tell me about your studios in Gateshead and who is in there with you?
I’m based at Brighton Road Studios. We are housed inside a beautiful 3-storey converted church, which was designed by Christoph of Kiosk Architecture & Design, who is also still a tenant. Other tenants include Skunkwork Props who specialise in replicating Star Wars helmets such as Darth Vader. Kourosh Edalat is another painter & illustrator who is always busy with commissions. We have Serious Stamp Company run by Clare who makes personalised rubber ink stamps and seals for your personalised stationary needs. Little Silver Ring Co. is run by another Claire who practices as a silversmith but also dabbles in other things. Chris is another talented silversmith, who is also a teacher at Bensham Grove. Raw Leather Company is run by Phillippa and she makes beautiful leather bags, purses and other bespoke items. IG Media won’t be present on the day but operate as an animation & web design company. Bobzilla is a busy guy – he dabbles in painting, outdoor street art mural designs, concrete pot-making, and also a resident DJ. Finally Gaelle of Tamiah Designs imports Ivorian African textiles to make cloth-bound books, bags and many other unique items.
There’s 14 studios spaces all together, and currently a couple vacancies as I understand.
What will be going on in your studios specifically?
In my studio I’ll be showing people my work, talking though different pieces and explaining how I get inspiration. I’ll also have a large blank canvas set up on an easel and I’ll be encouraging anyone who wanders in to have a go painting a little of whatever they wish, and over the day hope to have a unique piece of work created which will be a great memento of the event! I’ll share the final outcome on social media.
I’ve also produced a limited set of framed art prints of my most popular work which will be on sale for those wishing to take home a unique piece of signed art / it could be the perfect time to grab an early Christmas gift for someone special.
Other creatives in Brighton Road will be talking though their work, giving demos or running fun activites and also some will have a unique items to sell.
We also have special guests The Nest Cafe offering a pop-up Refreshments stall, and gentle background music provided by DJ friends of ours.
I will be culture vulturing and doing some live social media on the day – do you have a suggested route for me?
There’s no particular order you have to do things, but if you’re travelling into Gateshead Metro station on the day, a logical route is to start with venue no.1 – NewBridge Project which is right outside. From there it’s 15mins walk or short bus ride into Bensham to reach venue no.2 – Saint Cuthbert’s Church. After that you’ve got venue no.3 minutes away – Bensham Grove Community Centre. From there venue no.4 – Brighton Road Studios is again only several minutes walk away, and finally venue no.5 – Saint Chad’s Church is just across on a parallel street.
What is next for Gateshead Open Studios in 2019?
This year is a 1-day experiment to see what the appetite is like in Gateshead for discovering what’s inside a few quirky creative venues! If all goes well, we plan to seek funding next year to expand the event to potentially include further venues and cover a whole weekend. It may even split into a twice-yearly event if the appetite is there.
I can’t wait for 27th October – it’s going to be a great day for Gateshead. Really looking forward to some true Culture Vulturing at some Gateshead venues. You can follow my journey across Gateshead via The Culture Vulture and of course, keep an eye on the main event page for updates before the main event!
Until next time Culture Vultures and see you on the 27th October!