Artspace in Brighton supports vulnerable adults to improve their mental well-being, build social networks, develop their arts practice, and access the wider art world. They received their latest grant of £2,340 from Sussex Community Foundation in March 2016. Steve joined the Artspace studio in February 2015. You can see some of his artwork on this page and hear his story, as told by Steve and Artspace themselves.
“Steve is a 49-year-old man with learning difficulties, who experienced a period of depression after a series of difficult life events. Steve decided to focus again on his art: the process of painting is something he says has helped him to feel better and distract his mind at many points throughout life. Steve’s key worker told us he wanted regular structured guidance with his art, he hoped to ‘get his work out there’, and that he appeared to be lacking a support network of friends.
At Steve’s initial meeting at the Artspace studio, he brought with him his postcard-sized paintings, which he displays in photo albums, as well as photographs of some larger paintings he’d made on canvas. We were incredibly impressed by the detail, colour and imaginative content of his work. Many of his pieces are inspired by his favourite pop songs and depict homely living spaces and characters painted in bright colours.
Over the past year, Steve has become an important member of the studio. A very dedicated artist, he is always complimentary of other studio members’ art and offers a sympathetic ear to those who need it. In May 2015, we asked him for some feedback about his experience at Artspace. He told us:
“I enjoy the space, the materials and the people. It feels like a home away from home. It gives you great satisfaction because you know what you’re coming to. You’ve got the two nice people that run it, the studio itself, and you get inspiration from the books and materials and from the other people. You get a good feeling from coming here and from the people, even if someone is having a bad day, you get a sense that you want to help each other. I think it’s got to that point where I think we’re all looking out for each other and we ask about each other’s upcoming things. Basically, it feels like you’ve got a big happy family here. It makes you feel proud. Outside, I’ve forgotten what a family feeling is like, as I’ve only got my older half-brother”.
In the summer of 2015, we invited to our studio the artist coordinator from a well-renowned initiative that curates exhibitions, promotes events and provides opportunities for marginalised artists. They met our studio members and took photos of their work to upload to the initiative’s online gallery. As a part of this, we supported our studio members to write their individual artist statements. Here is the statement that appears alongside Steve’s pictures on his online gallery:
“I have always been fascinated by colour, in particular by the way that dark, bright and light contrast against each other. I use a lot of bright paints to create my work, like fluorescent and, more recently, metallic. I am inspired by the world around me, as I think it’s a beautiful thing. I think most of my paintings represent Mother Nature. Sometimes, I use songs by artists I like to inspire my paintings and then I can explore themes around love, war, the environment and what’s going wrong in the world. For example, the painting I have made of the two tigers, walking side by side, was inspired by my thoughts on extinction and how sad that is. The painting I have created of the ice-skating lady was inspired by my parents and their work with the armed forces. My mum was a nurse and my dad was a soldier. I named it ‘Sweet British’ out of respect for so many service personnel who lost their lives fighting for our country. It was originally my dad who got me inspired to make art because I used to go to the army barracks and watch him paint the big boards with the badges and the names of the barracks. Making art makes me feel good about myself, it helps me forget about having dyslexia and disability. Art was always something I was better at than reading and writing, so when I make art I feel much more capable. After my mum died of a failed tummy tuck operation, I found making art really beneficial as it was an outlet and also a good distraction. Now I come to Artspace so I no longer just make art alone at home in isolation. I use the studio to share my ideas with others and talk about how I feel”.
In January 2016, we were contacted by the same initiative, inviting Steve to be involved with curating and showing in a group exhibition at this year’s May Open Houses. The theme of the exhibition is ‘You’ and the four marginalised artists involved have been asked to display images which reveal something of their inner world, and unique experiences.
Steve tells us that having his efforts recognised and being given the opportunity to share his work publicly has made him ‘over the moon’ and really boosted his confidence. At the moment, we are supporting him every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at the studio. During these sessions, Steve will diligently paint his intricate designs and chat with the friends he has now made. Steve’s current key worker recently gave this testimonial of our group:
“Having visited Artspace with a prospective client, and having a current client attending, I have seen first-hand the warm and welcoming environment that Kit and Abi have made for the people that use Artspace. The gentleman I support has in the past been isolated socially and lacking friendship support and something meaningful to focus on in his life. This service has given him a focus and a weekly routine. He has developed new skills and become an accomplished artist with paintings going on display. He has also forged new friendships which had been most lacking in his life”.