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Creativity abounds at Swindon's post modern art ‘colony’
Buy this photo » Lynette Thomas at work on one of her creations – using mosaics and junk art
SWINDON’S art scene is thriving.
Ask anyone at Artsite’s Post-modern Gallery, in Theatre Square, and they will tell you.
The charity, a collective of artists who all volunteer to run the gallery and studio space, hold regular exhibitions of work by local artists from college students to established exhibitors and it has a waiting list of budding creators vying for a studio to call their own.
Tucked away behind the Wyvern, the gallery is a bit of a hidden gem but there is hope the Regent’s Circus development will bring a greater footfall.
Volunteer exhibitions co-ordinator Vicky Silver, a co-founder of Artsite in 2000, explains the ethos behind its formation was to give local artists an outlet and studio space to allow their creativity to flourish.
“I used to have to work perched on the end of my kitchen table, which was chaos,” she said.
“It’s my sanctuary and I try to work on my own stuff a couple of times a week. What’s great is that you get to see the other artists too and you can take a lot of inspiration from them.
“We are a broad church here.”
Indeed, the 15 artists that fill the 15 studios tucked in and around the post-modern gallery come from all walks of life, something reflected in their own work.
Vicky herself used to be an estate agent and teaching assistant, and now uses a bird motif in much of her drawings. There is community artist Paula Sullivan, 56, who creates mosaics from broken china and pottery she unearths in charity shops. And fellow Artsite co-founder Sally Taylor, who paints the common humanity she finds in family photographs of strangers.
Meanwhile, opposite the gallery, Martin King, an arts worker with the Swindon and Wiltshire Alcohol and Drugs Service, finds time to focus on his own engineering-inspired paintings.
The 65-year-old from Pinehurst, who also volunteers to keep the buildings in good repair, said he knows the value of art both for himself and those he works with at SWADS.
“I’m probably the oldest member of Artsite but the youngest artist,” he said.
“I’m still finding out what I’m about but a theme of my paintings is the strength of the working classes and their dreams.
“And I see it when we do art with the service users at SWADS, those in recovery. It is quite uplifting and builds their self-esteem when they start creating aesthetic pieces.”
Much like those in recovery, the ability to express oneself through art can offer an outlet from often harrowing experiences.
Paul Exton, 63, of Old Town, used to paint hard, almost architectural structures, which are open to public view in the windows facing the MECA venue in Regent Circus.
But the former painter-decorator, who attended art colleges in Swindon, Bristol and Cheltenham, is now experimenting with free-form strokes and flexible lines.
“You ask if there was something in my life that changed and well, in fact, there was,” Paul admits.
“I discovered I had Hepatitis C about a year ago as a result of previous drug use. I have just come off a year’s treatment and that was pretty hard going, very tough.”
In the corner of his studio sits a sculpture, comprised of sharp, rusting edges – it is ugly and hard on the eyes but reflects Paul’s suffering and transition during that period.
“It was a life-changing and not a very nice thing to go through,” he said.
“Now I’m off the treatment and I am more balanced but with my art I am going deeper into things. My old work was about the surface, now I am getting deeper to the emotional level.
“I really appreciate the space here at Artsite – the Artsite family is really supportive. Their whole ethos is to give artists space to do this at an affordable rate.”
For those artists who want to make a return on their labours, affordability is key.
Samantha Silverton, 31, of Gorse Hill, is a part-time catering worker who dreams of making her pottery pay.
After finishing her degree in 3D design and ceramics at Bath Spa University in 2004, she has just begun teaching workshops at Artsite on Tuesdays each week.
She said: “I got a job in catering but I felt working full-time that something was missing.
“I don’t have any space at home and so I needed a studio space. Artsite did not have a potter and that was something they wanted.
“Eventually I want to set up my own business working from the Artsite studios.”
Her fellow artist Lynette Thomas has done just that, opening a pop-up shop to sell handmade crafts in the tented market called Chrysalis.
The 42-year-old, of Old Town, who creates mosaics and junk art, said she enjoys the contact with other artists at the studios.
“It’s really encouraging to be around other artists,” the nursery play-worker said.
“You can collaborate, bounce ideas off other people and it is a nice environment to be creative.”
Capturing this rampant creativity and putting it on show is Artsite’s raison d’etre and the group seeks to expand and run its own handmade arts and crafts shop adjacent to the studios on a regular basis, to enable the charity to raise funds to recycle into more projects promoting art in Swindon.
For now, though, volunteers like Vicky have to work tirelessly to raise the profile through regular exhibitions – something that can prove a challenge at times.
“We all pay rent for our studios, that’s how we make art happen in Swindon, but it is not for profit and it all goes back into the projects,” Vicky said.
“We want to try and encourage young artistic talent in Swindon and get them to stay in Swindon. There is so much talent out there.”
To find out what is going on at Artsite visit artsite.ltd.uk.
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