Hidden Secrets, Open Doors: Open Studios at Spike Island

Spike Island

Credit: www.ignitebristol.net

When Ruby Walker attended Spike Island’s Open Weekend at the beginning of this month, she found that the artworks are only the beginning of all there is to explore…

Less big but no less bright than St. Paul’s Carnival, the Spike Island Open Weekend is an annual event on the Bristol cultural calendar often overlooked by many people. During this time, artists literally open up their work spaces to the public and allow them to see what they have created in the past year. I have attended the Spike Island Open Studios every year since I was very young, and have never failed to be awed, excited and inspired by the diverse conglomeration of artists that make the space their home. Every year brings enthusiastic visitors flooding the space referred to as “an international centre for the development of contemporary art and design”, and a different interactive piece showcased in its natural environment holds a captive audience for a long weekend.

Canvases at Spike Island

© Ruby Walker

Open Studios is a really great chance to see not only the work produced, but the space in which it was dreamt up and the subsequent means by which it was conjured into existence. Of course, the crowning jewels of each studio are the final products, but a less obvious way of viewing the space is to search for things around the artworks themselves. Each artist’s studio offers a revealing story about how they work. While an artist’s thoughts are found shouting from within their finished pieces, the workings of the brain can be found in the most random of places. If they haven’t been cleared away in preparation for the open weekend, doodles and random pieces of inspiration are broadcasted from all corners of the building, and are a delight to find. You just have to look between the lines.

Another reason to visit the open studios is the chance you are given to get really nosey by talking to the artists themselves. I found as I wandered through the building that more often than not they welcome questions and can offer brilliant insight into their work. I spoke to Kyp Kyprianou, who told me about his recent project in a local branch of Wilkinson’s. He had several installations instore, the strangest perhaps being a ladder with a moving mechanical pair of legs going up through a tile in the ceiling. He told me that the employees of the store would have people come in and say “we were told there was some art here this week. We can’t see it.” He would then proceed to point out the installation itself sitting in the corner of his studio. Usually priding myself on being a perceptive person, I was thoroughly surprised that I hadn’t realised they were there. Many more of the artworks have this interesting backstories, so if you want to know, ask and you shall receive.

Wilkinson's art piece

© Ruby Walker

The printing studios are an interesting destination within Spike Island. Up on the top floor, a large space with a fully windowed side boasts a scenic view of the river. From the outside you wouldn’t guess it, but the room’s long-time residents are a host of printing machines that look like they’ve been dragged right out of the industrial era.

Presses at Spike Island

© Ruby Walker

Embellished with intimidating ‘Do Not Touch’ signs, these monstrosities have the ability to create some of the most delicate art in the building, as demonstrated by the vibrant stripes of wallpaper hanging from the walls. One of Spike Island’s original occupants, Carol Jackman, helped set up the printing studios and creates beautiful prints using these contraptions, contrasting colours and card. A wall of striking Indian-inspired flower prints commands your attention as you enter her studio space this year.

If none of that is enough to persuade you to pay a visit next year, the social aspect of the weekend will. I am always surprised at how many familiar faces I see wandering around, especially on the private view night which is arguably the busiest. Still open to the general public, despite the name, Friday night offers DJs, live music, and the delightful café supplies a range of food to suit all tastes. It really wraps this event up into a neat little package that’s perfect for a weekend outing. Taking place on the first bank holiday weekend of every May – I can’t recommend the experience enough.

Have you ever been to the Spike Island Open Studios? What did you think? If you haven’t, would you like to? Let us know @rifemag or on our Facebook