Last week I headed to a disused dairy farm near Wells to meet with Paul Newman, the co-ordinator for SAW’s Open Studios. The location may sound quite off beat to some, but those of you familiar with Somerset Art Weeks will know that many of the county’s resident artists can be found working in such environments. Redundant farm buildings make for perfect studios and intriguing exhibition spaces; often with cheap rent and plenty of space to utilise. The down side is that they can often be cold and draughty, but undeterred artist Fiona Hingston was wrapped up in her winter boiler suit and busy at work when we arrived.

Fiona has just registered to participate in this year’s Open Studios, which focuses back on the organisation’s original ethos of inviting visitors to view and buy work direct from the artist in their creative space, to witness the making process from raw material to finished product, and perhaps gain a more personal insight into what inspires an individual, to view the stimulus that an artist surrounds themselves with, even catch a glimpse of discarded sketches or makets that didn’t fulfill the desired outcome. Studios are living, breathing environments, packed full of creative potential and to be privy to these artistic working interiors is quite an honour – rather like viewing a river at its source.

The reason for my visit was to capture some suitable images for this year’s guide, as Paul knew that Fiona’s studio would be full of  still lifes that represent the studio landscape that visitors to Open Studios will encounter when touring venues. Of course the raw materials and medium will be similar in many, but the outcomes will be as diverse and individual as the artists involved, from experimental canvases and contemporary sculptures to colour filled collages and traditional landscapes.

Fiona had a number of works in progress set up in different areas of her studio, but the main line of investigation she was exploring was the loss of the cows at the farm. She was missing their presence, the noise and smell, and was experimenting by replacing these echoes of memory with traditional lead figures playfully superimposed within her detailed drawings of the slowly decaying milk sheds. In stark contrast to the considered natural tones that pervaded her studio, another project that was a providing a creative sidestep was rich in bright commercial colours as she fabricated butterflies from discarded drink cans, working title ‘All the Butterflies I haven’t Seen this Year/All the Discarded Drink Cans I have Found this Year.’

Throughout the coming months her work will naturally evolve, whether it continues in this particular vein or another theme develops you will be able to discover if you visit her studio in September. Fiona is not one to shy away and reuse or revisit past work which she feels have fulfilled her initial intent and I must admit I was quite shocked to learn that she had literally destroyed one drawing that I had admired when it was exhibited at Contains Art a few years ago. She went on to explain that it had been consumed within another piece, she felt no need to hold onto the drawing, preserving its existence when the months spent creating it had taught her what she needed to know, then I understood, but I would have happily given it wall space within my home. Note to self: be quicker next time!

Fiona is quite fortunate that her studio also has a great space in which to exhibit so you will get a true experience of viewing her work at its creative source. Open Studios is not about viewing curated gallery interiors, it is about pop-up or permanent studios that appear a little awry from the flux of work, about discovering the unexpected in curious locations that as a rule are generally closed to the public. Another bonus if you visit Fiona’s studio is the cafe right next door – always good to know where you can get a great slice of cake to sustain venue viewing!

The 2018 Guide will be out late July, early August featuring 275 artists in 190 venues highlighting the arts in Somerset. I hope you enjoy planning your venue visits.


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WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY by Davina Jelley

Published on April 23, 2018 // Davina Jelley