Painter Molly Stredwick had recently graduated from Camberwell College of Art, and after a year hugely affected by the pandemic, she moved back to her hometown, Eastbourne, unsure how to establish herself in a different place and community, and without the space to make ambitious work. But once she moved into 29 South Street, she couldn’t stop painting: ‘It was so nice to be able to make work, I went a little bit crazy. The space gave me the actual ability to make work!’I thought, “I’m only here for a month”, I have to go and do some painting!’
Hypha Studios introduced Molly to gallerists in Eastbourne, including the director and curator of Towner Eastbourne, Joe Hill and Noelle Collins. These and other connections made during her residency have helped her secure involvement in new exhibitions in Margate, Eastbourne and Hastings. Hypha Studios also set up mentoring conversations for Molly on curating, how to develop relationships with galleries, and establishing her commercial practice. ‘When you go to art school, they don’t really tell you how to do any of it, they tell you how to do the painting but they don’t tell you how to make any money from it.’
Molly gained confidence in the value of her work. She sold work during her residency and then at and following her leaving exhibition at number 29. ‘This was the first time I’d sold to people I didn’t know, even indirectly. It was nice to have people like it because they liked it – not necessarily because they liked me or we did a swap. It was the first time I’d sold work for the amount of money that paintings are worth, rather than £40.’
Molly was in the space during Covid lockdowns, but, because she was on the high street, her practice was visible to any passers-by. She found it interesting to have people who weren’t specifically coming to see art get curious and poke their heads in to ask what she was up to. ‘That’s one of the good things Hypha is doing: putting art in high street spaces and spaces that aren’t commonly used as art spaces… You can’t engage with art if you can’t see it.’
Some people came specifically to see ‘the girl from the radio’ – Molly and Hypha Studios founder Camilla Cole had recently been interviewed on Radio 4’s Front Row about Hypha Studios:‘People were giving me really nice feedback about that and saying how good it was to be working in a new space. I got a lot of really good feedback about what Hypha Studios were doing as well which was really nice – for people to say that what I was doing was interesting but as well that who I was working with was interesting.’
Ceramic maker and clay activist, Ewelina Bartkowska was awarded a Hypha Studios residency in 322 Parsloes Avenue, Becontree Estate, in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham and in association with the local council. She applied because of the garden, big enough for her most ambitious project to date, and because of her interest in working with the surrounding residential community.
The residency was short – she only lived in the house for two weeks – but Ewelina filled it with urgency and energy, putting on ceramics workshops for Mums on a Mission and Youth Zone, and creating a huge clay sculpture for the garden, firing it at an event not knowing whether it would stay together or fall apart.
Before the pandemic, Ewelina had been working with primary schools, curating mini exhibitions of the clay pieces they made with her. She was struggling to find ways and places to make large communally-fired pieces when she saw the Hypha Studios opportunity advertised. She explained that for artists at the start of their careers who want to work ambitiously with clay, it can be hard to find places that will facilitate their work: ‘People are scared of the material. It’s messy.’
The Becontree residency was perfect for the scale of the project she wanted to explore, building the whole clay sculpture in under a week, using hundreds of kilos of clay:
‘It was insane, I couldn’t move, my body was just making the piece, I ground my nails off with the clay… I didn’t even realise but I was doing it for hours and then I touched my nails and they were so soft, it was like I’d been sanding them off! You know when you’re so excited the adrenaline takes over and you don’t even know that you’re hurting yourself.’
At the end of her stay, she organised a communal firing of the garden sculpture, starting early in the day knowing that the mass of clay wasn’t dry enough to be fired yet, but slowly increasing the temperature over a long time. During the long firing, the crowd gathered in the garden helped her load wood into the base of the kiln and several participants bought sausages from the nearby Lithuanian shop to barbecue in the wood flames. As time went on, Ewelina could hear cracking sounds as the wet clay was being fired:
‘I was pretty certain everything was just going to crumble into pieces, but it didn’t! The big reveal was so exciting. We were throwing water and salt and people started throwing grass and ash to make changes to the colour of the clay.
‘I was absolutely over the moon that the sculpture was in one piece. And for a short period of time there was so much engagement. It was really great. I know now that I am capable, and the clay is also capable. I could do this on a much bigger scale.’
In Ewelina’s workshops prior to the firing day, participants were sometimes reluctant, telling her, ‘I’m not an artist.’ But she noticed that ‘people got sucked in and soon forgot about the initial barriers, immersing themselves in the journey.’ She explained:
‘The beauty about working with clay is that it really becomes a lot about the material and the excitement of handling clay. Straight away when you hand people clay, they become nostalgic about when they played with clay or soft materials. There is an immediate self-reflection that starts, it’s a meditative moment for the practitioners.’
She spoke to her Becontree neighbours during the residency, sometimes in other languages - bits of Spanish or Portuguese - or ‘non-verbal communication in clay making.’ Neighbours who gave her wood collected from their garden for the firing, had it returned to them in a different form:
‘I managed to save some ash from the firing, I then made some pots – and when I came back to see how the sculpture was doing, I just knocked on the door and gave them the cups and they were super happy, and I know that I can just go and have a tea with them if I’m around.’
Ewelina received support from Hypha Studios throughout – from medications for her dust allergy, to help with organising the space and regular checking in:
‘We had meetings every few days – they were very supportive. It was pretty new to all of us. We were all excited, I believe we became quite close. There was a lot of thinking, learning, and feedback as we went along.’
Paul publishes poetry and has started experimenting with expressing his texts visually. Having always previously worked from home, since the start of the pandemic Paul’s partner had to shift her business to being home-based too, and having already found it difficult to combine living and work into his flat, and now seeing his available space shrink even further at a time when he wanted to start making bigger artwork, the Hypha Studios opportunity came at just the right time: “I’d ended up having to work digitally, or smaller pieces of art, on a little table in the living room. But then I got this big space; an actual place to go to work”
Beyond providing the physical space for Paul to create his work and experiment with new methods, being selected by Hypha Studios to use the shop in Broadwalk had a number of other positive effects on Paul: “Having a studio space helped legitimise my work and me as an artist for the first time”
Paul has created a wall of art that passers-by have contributed to and has held book launch events and readings in his Hypha Studios space. He hopes that it will allow him to carry out more collaborative work, including helping other poets to reach a different audience: “Hypha have helped me get all of the resources I need to make this space work like tables and chairs and paint and brushes, which means I now feel committed to running events for the public, engaging them in art and work that they will not have seen before. Its good for me, there’s a level of responsibility – to work hard, to understand the nuts and bolts of running a space and business, and to explain my work and the project to people who wouldn’t normally have anything to do with this sort of thing”
His next step is to start hosting exhibitions in the space, running more workshops for the local community and he’s considering offering artist in residence posts to give exposure to other artists. “I’ve been given this great opportunity, I’d like to use it to help others too.”
"As a graduate of 2020 Hypha Studios have been invaluable to developing my creative practice. I have met so many people and organisations I otherwise wouldn't have found, and right on my doorstep. I'm now connected to photographers, charities, artists, creatives and performers all in my hometown" @claw.slackham
"I was warmly and enthusiastically supported by the team at Hypha Studios during my residency in Becontree. It’s been exciting for me to be able to develop ambitious new work and connect with such interesting people. It is encouraging to see that this organisation generously supports artistic development by creating intriguing and meaningful links with local communities" @emmajanenow
"I've honestly never felt I've had this level of support before, not just the financial side, but, really importantly, your interest in career growth, engagement with community, promotion etc... Really, really marvellous" @rachaelnee.art
Hypha came along at just the right time for our group. Specifically as young creatives, having a space that is our own to rehearse and build props has been an incredible gift; not to mention continued support and access to Arts Council Funding. Being trusted to have a space to focus on the skills we have has made all the difference.