Artists’ Open House

Maybe not as cool as the Hackney Wicked Festival, the Artists’ Open House event that is part of the Dulwich Festival was full of surprises. First of all, you have an excuse to knock at strangers’ doors and be actually invited to come in, it feels a bit akward at first but once you have visited a few houses it starts feeling natural to poke inside people’s bedrooms. Every house offered a completely different experience, some people really integrated their work into their daily lives so that sometimes you could not tell what was on sale and what was perhaps a Christmas gift from their aunt. Other houses were entirely transformed to resemble a gallery, with white panels and minimal furniture….unless they just live like that and own no shoes or books, and really like price tags on their walls.
The map of the event spanned from the fringes of Peckham all the way down to Sydenham, via East Dulwich and Dulwich Village….pity we decided to leave our bikes behind as we ended up walking for miles, crossing the path with many other people who looked just as tired! But it was fun, a lot of fun. Every other house, we stopped at the local for refreshments and then moved on to discover the next hidden jewel.

I started my tour at Nicholas Merton‘s house, an established artist who has exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Academy and the Royal Portrait society. From the hall up to the attic, I was closely followed by his two beautiful black cats. The house was adorned by wonderful pieces mainly painted on wood boards, I particularly liked the Apple Tree as it felt as if you could almost touch the blossoms. After a nice chat, Nicholas encouraged me to visit his neighbour Rob Morgan, so I did.
At Rob Morgan‘s house I had a most pleasurable discussion on the topic of ‘do you really need a degree in art to be an artist?‘ The general consent was a decisive ‘no‘ and then we continued chatting on how art education has moved to a much more conceptual level even at college. During our conversation I could not stop looking at Rob’s life drawing nudes made with ink on paper, they were absolutely gorgeous. Rob explained that he doesn’t dilute the inks and only uses sticks and sponges to draw the figure, the result being a very intense, messy and powerful image.
The next stop was at Edward Murray‘s place to have a look at his pen and watercolour illustrations as advertised in the guide, but when we got there we found out that his main interest is in sculpure. His works are made with a mixture of bronze powder and some sort of resin (forgive me but I don’t know anything about scuplture!), the effect is something in between metal and wood (and a bit of mud). I really liked the dog statue and the one of a man with a massive stone on his head, a metaphor of our busy life according to Edward.
We then moved on to see Judith Robertson‘s lino cut prints, and I instantly became a fan of this woman. First, the images. Powerful, young, bold and tasteful.

We immediately decided to buy an artist proof that was on display, quick before it goes. Judith then showed us how lino cut printing is done and I asked how she learnt. To my surprise, she only started 5 years ago when she retired and enrolled for an evening course once a week. By her work and the way she elaborated on each piece, it sounded more like she had studied art all her life! Well, never too late then, thanks Judith for a great lesson in life.
More hungry to discover other artists, we went for an uphill journey towards the top of Lordship Lane to visit Micheen Bradley and her ceramics. Imagine teapots with frogs all over, cookie jars with a polar bear on the lid or cups with crabs inside, something like this:

Her pieces are already collector’s items, some people just buy a piece or two every year as an investment. Now, I am not an art collector but I would definitely start saving for one.
Our last stop was at SIXNINETHREE, a partnership of designer-makers producing interesting pieces of furniture. They make great custom pieces that could beat any Habitat in town. A former photographer, Simon Wescott showed us what he made for other clients; he has the eye for design of an artist combined with the craftmanship of a carpenter….so after a longish chat I decided to start a saving fund to finance a decent bed!

I can’t wait for next year’s Dulwich Festival, this time with my bicycle!

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