So far in this century, I’ve had four studios, all in urban industrial buildings. I loved each one, but circumstances always cut the affair short: a cross-country move, a landlord who wanted the space for himself, a takeover by CubeSmart, and, finally, COVID.
My last studio was large, bright and convenient—just one stop on the express train. But when the pandemic hit, and then worsened, I couldn’t get there safely. By the summer, after metaphorically shoveling rent money into a garbage can, I decided to forfeit my security deposit and cancel my lease.
For the past year, I’ve hibernated in three different cities and towns, downsizing my studio practice to an iPad. Now that COVID is receding and I’m fully vaccinated, it’s time to venture out and look for a studio. But faced with the all-too-familiar prospect of an exhausting search, an exorbitant rent and an unpredictable commute, I’m considering something new: Could I have a studio at home?
Obviously, it would be great to be free from the headaches of renting a studio. But I don’t want to move forward by avoiding negatives. I want to want a different space. How can I make a home studio as good as, if not better than, my former studios?
The best room in the house
First, I need to honor my studio practice as an essential activity in my home. If you browse online for “art studios at home,” it’s mostly about the poor cousin: the unused closet, the forgotten attic, the wedge under the stairs. What if, instead of the worst space, I pick the best? In my apartment, that’s the primary bedroom, so that will be the studio. (Fortunately, I live alone, so there’s no conflict.)
Division between work and home
My first studio was a coming of age: I was giving myself permission to live the life I desired. I signed a lease, I paid rent, I took two buses to get there. Since then, I’ve adhered to the belief that I needed to “go somewhere else” to make my art.
Could the opposite be true? Instead of separating work and home, could I integrate them? One of my favorite displays at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio, Italy. A Renaissance studiolo reflected its owner’s ideals, and was a place for contemplation, reading and lively discussions with visitors. In my apartment, I want to reimagine the living room as a studiolo. It will hold all my books, and its walls will be a changing display of art and artifacts—mine, friends’ and other works I’ve collected. The objective is to bring my practice—its process and inspirations—into every room.
Using outside resources
I’ve always felt that a studio should be raw and ready to accept hammering, gouging and splattering. Yes, I can design my home studio to be nonprecious, with a floor that permits spilling, and walls that invite tacking up. But it won’t be the same kind of freedom I had in my industrial spaces. How do I ensure that I won’t be curtailed? Ironically, during the last two decades, some of my messiest work was made outside of my studio. For an etching project, I joined Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, where I used a plate maker and an etching press. I started a letterpress and photo series at a monthlong residency at Women’s Studio Workshop, and then collaborated with a letterpress printer to complete the portfolio. I’m hopeful that exploring resources outside of the studio will expand rather than shrink my work.
Solitude versus isolation
Each of my studios has been a sanctuary, a place of solitude. But as we have learned during the pandemic, what starts as solitude can turn into isolation. I will miss the beehive of a bustling artists’ building, the spontaneity of meeting my neighbors in the hallway and, most of all, knowing that I’m surrounded by others who are doing what I am doing, believing in what I believe in. Finding and maintaining a community will require attention. In the past, workshops, residencies and life drawing groups have provided camaraderie; many led to collaborations. These activities have always been part of my practice, and that won’t change. When I discuss my potential plan with friends, they describe their own studios. The range is extreme, but the common denominator is having a space that supports total immersion in their creative process. My goal is the same. Will I achieve this?
Stay tuned. ca
© 2021 W. Richmond