Whistlefish Wanders: Meeting Makers at Ocean Studios
Known as Devon’s Ocean City, haven for all things ship-shaped and with 10 miles of open waterfront, the historic port of Plymouth has in the past struggled with identity, but now shines with bold character and a strong creative voice.
As the city gears up for the 400th anniversary Mayflower celebrations, a buzz of creativity and exciting collaboration has arisen, driving visitor intrigue and local excitement. Plymouth is made up of a vibrant mix of cultural businesses, a rich programme of arts and culture performances across the year, and a growing number of artists and creatives that are driving forward the city’s reputation as a centre for high-quality creative industries.
Our gorgeous gallery in Plymouth proudly stands on Southside Street in the historical and character-rich Barbican. Bustling with bobbing boats and busy with independent bakeries, bookshops and local businesses, the creative charm that oozes from every shop and side street is infectious. With curiosity on our side and the desire to engage with our galleries’ local art communities, we got in touch with beautiful Ocean Studios in Royal William Yard to ask for a tour and a glimpse into some of their resident studios.
As one of the city’s up-and-coming spots for artistic atmosphere, creative collaboration and baked-to-perfection breads, Ocean Studios working in partnership with Column Bakehouse and created by RIO, has acted as a catalyst to revitalise Plymouth as a cultural destination, re-engaging the city with the national arts dialogue.
Choosing to take a blustery but beautiful walk along the coast from the Barbican to Royal William Yard, I pass by the Hoe to say hello to Smeaton’s Tower Lighthouse and Sir Francis Drake’s statue. Arriving at Ocean Studios within half an hour of departing our gallery, I am warmly welcomed by the scent of roasted coffee and freshly baked bread from Column Bakehouse, who specialise in producing award-winning sourdough and artisan breads.
Standing smiling in the doorway to greet me is Ocean Studio’s Enterprise Coordinator Francesca, who begins by walking me through the well-lit, Instagrammable café and Bakehouse gallery. With one end highlighting a celebratory display of their resident artists and the other hosting their Making Table and hot-desk surfaces, the space exudes collaborative promise and arty invitation. As we walk and talk through the building, it is a pleasure to see the original structure and brickwork of the Grade I ex-naval victualling yard.
As Francesca leads us down the long, matt-painted corridors of Ocean Studios, she mentions enthusiastically that in total they have 30 creative units to rent and that they welcome a variety of makers, to ensure a cross-pollination of ideas and skills.
Our first pit stop opens the door to Fotonow, a Plymouth-based social enterprise exploring visual culture as a means to stimulate social change. Walking into their studio, fabulously furnished with welcoming armchairs and bookshelf walls, feels akin to stepping into a well-lived sitting room, with an atmosphere tinted with studious concentration and collective ingenuity. As I chat with Director James Ellwood, I learn the team are passionate about developing creative opportunities and facilitating socially motivated creative projects across the South West of England. Fotonow also manage the Ocean Studios Darkroom, Digital Suite and Photography Studio, providing workshops, hire, inductions and everything in-between.
A world of blue canvas and bright expression sparks my senses as I enter the studio of David Hilton. With walls, floors, racks and shelves layered thickly in abstract-rich canvas, I ask him curiously to expand upon his practice. David first enquires into my own interpretation and goes onto expand and explain that his work tends towards abstraction through process and being in place and time. The peripatetic nature of his collection creates a sense of fluidity and ambiguous possibility, and his idiosyncratic use of blue a distinctive signature.
Although unoccupied, Francesca lets me take a glimpse into the wonderfully conversational and colourful studio of Llyr Davies, a multidisciplinary artist and key member of the local artist collective LOCI, who’s mission is to create a varied landscape of murals for the city of Plymouth and beyond.
Stumbling into Ewa Morawski, standing scribbling, with her work overflowing into the corridor, provides an insight of things to come at Plymouth Illuminate Light Festival. Luminescent patterns painted onto silky netting hang drying and drifting over radiators. An enthusiastic rummage through her open studio reveals her passion for all things textured and embroidered. Ewa combines her drawing skills, manipulating fabric applique, photography and mixed media in her work and creates unique fashion accessories that allude to life journey and cycle.
Our final visit welcomes me inside the clay-splattered studios of T.Van Mierlo and B.Smith. With over 50 years of clay experience, both are ceramic artists in their own right. Tweeny who’s gorgeous glazes and satisfyingly-shaped ceramics fill her shelves, creates affordable and practical tableware that celebrates the ideals of food within different norms, traditions and cultures.
Bev’s figurative sculptures are produced using various clays and explore the tenacity and strength of the human spirit fired a touch of humour. Her work also expands to sketching and ornaments – I couldn’t resist purchasing one of her delicately decorated Christmas baubles to take home.
It was with great pleasure that Whistlefish were granted with the opportunity to wander greedily through the rooms of Ocean Studio and relish in the cleverness of part of Plymouth’s creative community. We can’t wait to continue discovering local artists that work and live in the south west and to help support our artistic communities. Are you a practicing artist based in the south west with a studio space? We’d love to meet you! Please do get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org