Meet the Makers
ARTS OPEN 2018
The Open Studio is a long tradition in artistic practice, originating in the salons of 17th Century Paris and the gatherings of intellectuals and artists such as those hosted by Madame de Scudéry. During the 1950s the Beat poets took the concept of the Open Studio and gave it the form of public poetry exchanges, which were the forerunners of poetry slams. Then in the 60s and 70s, while Andy Warhol held ‘happenings’ in The Factory, which culminated in the open-floor parties known as the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, the French literary group OuLiPo (short for French: Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, which can be roughly translated as “workshop of potential literature”) held experimental “jamborees” during which they invented seemingly impossible literary constraints such as writing an entire novel without using the letter ‘e’.
The modern day Open Studio is a somewhat less experimental, and more commercial, affair. It is less about artists sharing ideas, techniques and habits with other artists, and more about public engagement, education, and sales. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, it’s a damn fine idea.
For city-folk and suburbanites alike the rural Open Studio weekend is a great opportunity to take a couple of relaxing, yet purposeful and cultural, days out of town and go exploring – into the villages, or the bush – to find real-life artists in situ, at work in their natural environment. Here you not only see these dedicated and talented people demonstrate techniques and share their creative processes, but talk to them and hear stories of their journey so far. The opportunity of then purchasing their original works is made all the more enticing because it comes to you informed by those stories, as well as your own rich and personal experience. The painting, print, sculpture, ceramic or jewellery you decide to make your own is no longer an abstract or remote object to prettify your living room, but a memory of that weekend and of the artist who made it. You know why it was made. You know how it was made. You know where it was made. That equates to genuine cultural capital.
In the Castlemaine region artists have been holding Open Studio events for just about as long as they have been working here, prepared to give up the peace and tranquility of rural life for a couple of weekends a year and allow general admission into what can be highly prized and private spaces. This is not an exercise in showing-off, but a calculated bid to sell more of their work (and themselves) directly to collectors, galleries, and the general public – to anyone wanting to acquire art from the makers themselves.
The studio you visit may be a kitchen table, a small rustic shed, a warehouse, or a custom built, fully kitted environment, but in any case it will be the place where art happens, and creations are created. Here in these studios is an insight to the working life of an artist, who, for many years or a lifetime, has lived a different kind of existence to the everyday. Here you may see that it is not necessarily an easy life, but one of dedication and hard work, where many, many hours are spent on ideas, the practice of techniques, and wrenching something out of nothing.
Chloe Neath is new to the area, and is joining the Newstead Open Studios Art Trail for the first time this year. “I create intricate realistic charcoal portraits on brown paper and I’m always searching for interesting faces to draw,” she explains. “I often work with gold leaf, and combined with the brown paper it gives the portraits a warmth and a vintage feel. Growing up I watched heroines in old black and white movies, and also enjoyed the Art Nouveau aesthetic. I think this influence is apparent in the style of many of my portraits.”
“Charcoal is one of those materials that can be really challenging to handle,” Chloe continues. “I used it in life-drawing classes many years ago and loved the way that a charcoal smudge seemed to add warmth and flesh to the figure, but I hadn’t been drawing since I left university in 1994. It wasn’t until about six years ago that I drew a face with some willow charcoal, and realised how much I’d missed the feel of drawing on paper; and since then creativity has become a huge part of my life. These days I’m working on weekends in my studio, and have managed to have two very successful solo exhibitions in Bendigo in 2014 and 2015, plus participating in a wide range of group exhibitions. I was even able to have the portrait I drew of Blanche D’Alpuget presented to her onstage as a thank you from The Bendigo Writer’s Festival. Bendigo is such a thriving, stimulating and supportive hub of creative activity, and I’m really enjoying the positive dynamic of the art communities in Ballarat, Castlemaine and Daylesford as they’re so close to where I live now.”
This year over 100 artists are taking part in Arts Open: Meet the Makers across Mount Alexander Shire and a wide range of disciplines. Painters, jewellers, printmakers, sculptors, ceramicists, photographers, multimedia artists and craftspeople will exhibit and share their work, from studios spanning the townships of Castlemaine, Maldon, Newstead, Taradale, Harcourt, Chewton and beyond.
In addition, Arts Open will feature a number of group exhibitions, and host two Pecha Kucha nights. Pecha Kucha is a simple presentation structure: running twenty images for twenty seconds each, on automatic advance so the presenter can’t stop. It’s a way of focusing the discussion around visual stimulus. It was first conceived of back in 2003, when two European architects, Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, kept falling asleep during Powerpoint presentations from other architects. Working in Japan, Klein and Dytham created a new format to help everyone to edit themselves, and called it Pecha Kucha, Japanese for “chit chat.” In Castlemaine the Pecha Kucha evening will feature ten local artists and their work.
This is a fascinating opportunity to peep into the studios and workshops of the many artists working around Castlemaine, and the perfect time to increase your own cultural capital by investing in their work. Open your heart and your mind, but also open your wallet before you leave. It’s not about you alone supporting an artist who may be struggling – many of the artists in Arts Open are already successful in their own right, with gallery representation, solo shows and National Collections on their CVs – it’s about creating a culture where art is supported. In order for that to happen art must first be appreciated and understood, and the most wonderful thing about Open Studios is that potential for revelation – hey, this is not some arcane, mysterious process I’ll never understand! It’s just ordinary, everyday people doing extraordinary things, everyday.
Arts Open: Meet the Makers is a biennial event held over two weekends in 2018, 10-12 and 17-18 March. More about the featured artists can be found on the Arts Open website – artsopen.com.au