Artistic habitations

Building works. © Constantine Gras

Building works. © Constantine Gras

Beyond the garden fence of the studio, the building work of More West progresses. Insulation material is being installed.
Inside, I’m holding court on my first open day. It was great to see old and especially new faces.
Allan Tyrrell was born in the area. Eman Yosry is a more recent resident. They met for the first time over a drawing. Allan produced a scene from his past; a local ice Cream shop on Bramley Road called Mancini’s. Eman, more hesitant about evoking her local surroundings, drew on the iconic image of her motherland; the pyramids of Giza. Ice cream and sun-soaked pyramid. So apt.

Allan And Eman sharing cool and hot memories. © Constantine Gras

Allan And Eman sharing cool and hot memories. © Constantine Gras

Adam Pirani has penned a jocular portrait of the community artist. © Constantine Gras

Adam Pirani has penned a jocular portrait of the community artist. © Constantine Gras

From Peter Rachman to the Smith family at Shalfleet Drive. © Constantine Gras

From Peter Rachman to the Smith family at Shalfleet Drive. © Constantine Gras

I found the live drawing a good forum for sharing life experiences, humour and drawing techniques (even if several participants claim to have never drawn before). Foundations to build on.

Final touches to the group drawing. © Constantine Gras

In the studio there are twelve drawings on display from 2012-13. These tell a cinematic story of the urban development of this area of Notting Hill called Notting Barns. It has had a complex and often troubled social history from the early 1800’s to the present day: from early cottage industries based around pig farming and brick making to laundries and totters; from the development of a “slum” to pioneering social housing established by Octavia Hill; from post war race-riots to the birth of the carnival; from “slum clearance” to estate redevelopment; from the building of the Westway (A40) to the establishment of an alternative squatting community called Frestonia. Social activism around housing and community facilities has a long and noble history in the area.
We all broadly agree there is a housing crisis: demand cannot satisfy the need for an expanding population, single occupancy and overcrowded families. Local authorities are under pressure to develop more housing in our densely packed urban environment. Affordable housing is a major problem. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has the highest prices for property in England, averaging over £1 million. Regeneration projects with mixed tenure units and limited social housing are currently regarded as the most viable and economic solution in addressing this social problem.
In Unum Habitare (Dwelling In Unity) is the aspirational motto of RBKC.
Speaking of the classics, Greek. I’ve conjoured some architectural columns in the studio. Quite by chance. First by shape-shifting paper and then as inspiration for a drawing. I’m in happy, stone hugging mood.

Making a classical column from paper. © Constantine Gras

Making a classical column from paper. © Constantine Gras

Column at work. © Constantine Gras

Column at work. © Constantine Gras

Stone hugging in oil pastels. © Constantine Gras

Stone hugging in oil pastels. © Constantine Gras

More good news to report. After correspondence with John Boorman and the British Film Institute, I’m hopefully going to screen Leo The Last as part of my residency. This film resonates with me. One unique aspect is the set design and the colour palette. The film was shot in North Kensington on Testerton Street just prior to its slum clearance. All the houses were painted black, (bar one, more of this in future blogs) and a false white classical house built across the street for the main protagonist, Leo, played by Marcello Mastroianni. The memory of this street and its use as a film set, now lies buried under the Lancaster West estate. The estate is sited near my studio, just across the Bramley Road.

Film fan of Leo the Last. © Constantine Gras

Film fan of Leo the Last. © Constantine Gras

Set design for ceramic installation based on Leo The Last. © Constantine Gras

Set design for ceramic installation based on Leo The Last. © Constantine Gras

To get the creative juices flowing, I’ve started to make some 3D drawings based on the film. More playful interactions between paper and drawing. And yes, that’s me in fan mode, with an authentic 1970 poster hanging up in the kitchen.
One day a week, I’m down at the V&A. Today it’s the lovely ceramics galleries on the 6th level. Well worth a visit. It’s one of the quietest places in the museum and has a great sense of light. Perfect for contemplation. I’m intrigued by a 1973 ceramic form that was made by Bryan Newman and is so redolent of the urban landscape of North Kensington; houses and estates dominated by an elevated motorway. The Westway (A40) was built at the same time as the slum clearance programme that gave rise to the estate complex in Notting Barns. I’ve already explored the Westway at the V&A in a film project called Flood Light. I suspect I will revisit this concrete superstructure as part of my residency.

Houses with motorway, 1973 by Bryan Newman. Museum number: CIRC.301-1974.  © Victoria and Albert Museum London

Houses with motorway, 1973 by Bryan Newman. Museum number: CIRC.301-1974. © Victoria and Albert Museum London

While here, I met Ahmet, one of the gallery attendants. He was very knowledgable about the collections. Other attendants were also very welcoming as I sketched and took photos. There are talented artists amongst them and I look forward to seeing their work.

Jan, Ahmet, Michael and Emma: V&A Gallery Assistants. © Constantine Gras

Jan, Ahmet, Michael and Emma: V&A Gallery Assistants. © Constantine Gras

And after a month, I’ve finally met up with my fellow artists in residence. Nao Matsunaga is the ceramic artist who is creating mythical and ritualistic creatures. I caught him in wood shaving mode.
It was also good to see Hande Akcayli from the T/Shirt Issue. She has been busy scanning objects from the V&A and will transform these into garments and narrative sculptures. She and her team of workers were frantically completing work for London Design Festival. So busy they hadn’t noticed the signage. Technology is poetry had become “Techno is potty”. We laughed. It sounds like a Krafkwerk song in the making.

Nao Matsunaga, Ceramic Artist in Residence. © Constantine Gras

Nao Matsunaga, Ceramic Artist in Residence. © Constantine Gras

T/Shirt Issue, Digital Design Residency: Hande with workers Lily, Helena and Jemma. © Constantine Gras

T/Shirt Issue, Digital Design Residency: Hande with workers Lily, Helena and Jemma. © Constantine Gras

Liam O'Connor, Drawing Resident artist. © Constantine Gras

Liam O’Connor, Drawing Resident artist. © Constantine Gras

Last but not least, I chatted to Liam O’Connor. He is the drawing resident artist, documenting the building of the new gallery at the V&A, and his practice has a good overlap with my own. It was really interesting to see his mode of working on site, having a wooden frame to support a roll of paper that he can wind and unwind, capturing the energy and repetitive movement of builders and machinery. Liam is also experimenting with optics as a way of seeing and interpreting the world.
I’m delighted to say that Liam will be a guest star at my next studio open day. This will take place on Thursday 21st August from 2-9pm. My studio is at 7 Shalflett Drive W10 6UF, directly opposite Latimer Road tube station. We will have the V&A out in force as Laura Southall, Assistant Programme Manager for Creative Industries, Higher Education & Residencies, will also be present.
I look forward to seeing old and new faces at I want to live, draw me a house.

Next open studio day, 21st August from 2-9pm. 7 Shalfleet Drive, W10 6UF. © Constantine Gras

Next open studio day, 21st August from 2-9pm. 7 Shalfleet Drive, W10 6UF. © Constantine Gras

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