Pictured: Kiran Chahal work in a Hospital.
Just six months ago this hidden gem in West Norwood was a shell. Today it’s a thriving studio for contemporary art, home to full-time members and with open access for others [about ten artists are using this facility at present]. For £150 you get a ten-day pass to use on printing over six months, and there is a similar etching pass, also for £150. One of the main aims of the studio gallery is to highlight the connections between drawings and the later works inspired by them. I would now like to focus on the work of some of the artists.

Lucy Bainbridge
, the founder of the studio gallery, is fascinated by reflections in windows. She creates organic works in which you glimpse at ever-changing city images, images glimpsed as buildings ‘talk’ to each other, when the reflection of one is seen in another.

Like the other artists at the studio, Leonie Cronin was encouraged to use the printing facilities. She has done some gold and black screen-prints of musicians, and some of her drawings of musicians were actually done on the score for the Overture to the Magic Flute. A sensitivity to colour is central to her work, and the blues, burnt sienna reds and yellows of String Quartet 2 are as harmonious as the music being played by the musicians. There is a great diversity to Leonie’s work. One particularly striking large vibrant work is a portrait in acrylic on canvas, Paul, in which colourful elements such as the jug of euphorbia or the bookshelves in the background complement the strong depiction of the central figure.

The work of Japanese artist Takayuki Hara is extremely unusual. His first degree was in creative writing, and he then studied at City and Guilds London Art School and did a part-time MA in Kensington. He now creates intriguing, intricately detailed works on paper which reward close scrutiny. His techniques vary. Sometimes he draws on paper, then transfers it to metal, using a form of photograph etching, and he has also done blind embossing of his work. In addition to the large-scale works there are also small, playful, postcard-sized works, such as I’ll pick up your bones with my chopsticks. This enigmatic title actually relates to a Japanese custom – Japanese people are not buried but cremated. Two people then take two pairs of chopsticks and pick out the bones and put them in the urn.

Like Takayuki, Lee Borthwick produces large-scale works, and a number of maquettes, experiments for bigger commissioned pieces, are on display here. Even in miniature form they are highly original. The shimmering light bounces off his Mirror Block and Mirror Sample, part of a series of sculptural works using mirrored surfaces. In another series there are mesh cages containing bundles of sustainably sourced wood with yellow or white tops. There are also charming small woven houses. In each work the aim is to bring nature closer to home.

A third artist working on a large scale is Kiran Chahal. As she pointed out to me, the most important events in your life happen in hospital, but the environment is usually devoid of things you know, and may feel cold and uncaring. That’s why she works at changing spaces through colour. She was commissioned by the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital and spent six weeks on workshops, where the children aged 5-15 had a lot of input. They chose from photos and colours and materials and described how they would like the space to feel. It then took a month to change the interior space, including the waiting room, using vinyl, furnishings, printing on Perspex, spray painting and drawings. The work is ‘saturated in colour, which adds warmth and feeds the imagination’. Kiran has done a lot of public art projects and enjoys her commissions in the public health sphere.

In addition to the juxtaposition of prints and other art forms it’s also fascinating to find out about the work of artists involved in large-scale work. As always, it is impossible to capture the atmosphere of a studio in words, and there has only been room to mention a few of the artists whose work is on display at the Bainbridge Gallery Studio. There’s lots more to explore and enjoy, so why not head over there some time this summer!

Suzanne Rees Glanister works as a volunteer Buddhist chaplain in south London. She was born in Wales, but immediately after the end of the war her family went to Germany, to Hanover. She recalls those early years:

“I remember the poverty and destruction. This was perhaps where my path to Buddhism started. My parents were very enlightened and said I could play with the kids in the street. I talked to a friend who was a twin and noticed she always had just one bit of bread with jam – that was all they had. I was about six or seven. When I told my mum she would invite them round as often as possible.

From Germany we went to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) where my father was a hydro-electric engineer building dams. I saw poverty in a different way here – disease, kids begging round cars.

It was there I started to love colour – my friend with a sari would dip it in the stream and it would come out with shimmering fishes. And the birds were the colours of jewels.  Humming birds for example. A kingfisher would look quite dull beside them. The colours of the costumes, the grasses, the flowers, the trees had huge wax-like flowers. Then I became interested in Indian paintings – went to Candy and saw Buddhist paintings.

It was there I got polio; it was almost endemic, and I perhaps caught it from someone when swimming. That meant I couldn’t attend school.  My brother was at Gordonstoun in Scotland, and my sister was looked after by the nanny, so my Welsh grandmother read me stories all the time. Every time I surfaced I would hear her reading stories. At first I couldn’t walk, but gradually I got better. Then we went to Nigeria, to a plateau quite near Lagos. My father started work on the Volta dam. We went to different parts of Africa and in the end I went to England, to Guildford. And then my mother drowned and I went to boarding school near Farnham.”

[Cut to the present]

“Recently I did an amazing two-year course at Heythrop University called ‘Faiths together’ – I was taken round all the temples and mosques you could imagine and I started to do a project on images with a Sikh lady – this brought me back again to Indian art, which has always fascinated me.

I’m a highly un-evangelical person. I really, really enjoy all the linkages between Buddhism and how the Vedic and the Hindus are influenced by the Vedic and Brahmism is influenced by the Vedic. It’s completely amazing to see all these threads. I particularly like Sikh art – I think it’s gorgeous, particularly the spatial element.

Dad was in London and I came to live here and started to go to the theatre a lot. I had about ten shillings a week pocket money. Once or twice a week I would put down a stool outside the gallery door, round the side; it remained there and meant you’d booked your place – that was the equivalent of about 5p. I went more and more, then studied theatre and design, which was fascinating. I did sets and costumes – hated doing sewing, and managed to get out of that, but liked doing models, and still do. I didn’t finish the course because an Irishman, Sean Kenny, who had studied in America under Frank Lloyd Wright (as Irish as they come!) settled down in London and saw and loved my work and asked if I would go and be his assistant. 

That was too good an opportunity to miss. The Mermaid Theatre was just opening – in those days sets and costume weren’t done separately. I also worked for Joan Littlewood and her amazing company. I was about 17 or 18 and we did all-nighters, working on Joan Littlewood’s Oh! What a Lovely War and Brendan Behan’s plays such as The Hostage.

The theatre designer Jocelyn Herbert was at the Royal Court and she put me up for an Arts Council bursary, where they paid half your wages and the theatre paid the other half. It was the first one they’d done and I worked for Jocelyn at the Royal Court for four years – did new John Osborne and Pinter plays. I learnt so much from her. Then I set off on my own to Birmingham, to Dundee, to the Edinburgh Festival, the Traverse and the Lyceum theatres.

Then I got married and had three children. It was difficult to keep on the theatre work because of the hours, so I went into teaching part-time and loved it. It was because of that I got into painting, started doing things that were very detailed. Had quite a lot of success. Not a huge lot of money. But people liked the paintings. I did a series of portraits of old people at the home where I worked at weekends, because their lives interested me.

I’m a bit of a ‘series’ person. My latest series is based on the Lotus Sutra, which are reputed to be the teachings of Shakyamuni. Some of the drawing is influenced by manga. As I draw it’s a form of meditation, where the subconscious takes over.

I’ve always loved the Japanese culture, especially medieval and 19th century art, and mid 20th century Japanese films. I also started reading haikus and love their directness. I like to try to use the space in a painting.

What you leave out is very important. I’ve always been interested in the Chinese philosophy that you mustn’t have everything perfect. A painting has to have a bit of darkness and the other side of life. A human is someone who has great love, beauty and compassion but also in everyone there is evil, darkness and destruction.”

'You Choose What You Reflect' 79.5 x 60cm oil on canvas 2007.

Born in Portsmouth, Emily studied for a BA in Fine Art at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth 2004-07, was included in the Welsh Portrait Award in 2006, and focussed in her final year on photographic portrait painting. Very influenced by the Classical tradition, she was interested in the ‘memento mori’, the reminder of mortality.

The 2007 exhibition ‘Art and Modern Life’ at the Hayward Gallery gave her work a new direction. Struck by Franz Gertsch and the way he captured the spirit of the 1970s, Emily wanted to do an up-to-date version, contemporary from start to finish, using contemporary methods. So she set up a group on Facebook, ‘Facebook generation’, and asked people to send images of themselves on a night out.She then chose ambiguous images, where you can’t necessarily see the faces, but which are like a portrait of this specific age group. For copyright reasons Emily always gains the photographer’s permission to use a photo. Her paintings are then put online.

Her first works were rather tentative and on a small scale, but she soon realised that the concept worked better when the images were larger.How do you do the paintings?‘First I make a grid, transfer that onto the canvas square by square, then paint the images in oil. I stick rigidly to the images in the photos – they’re chosen for their compositional qualities - so the paintings are pretty much the same as the photos.’Feedback?‘Very positive. One girl found an image online on my Facebook group of herself dancing, and loved it.’Would you describe yourself as a portrait painter?‘Not in the traditional sense. I prefer not to be under pressure to do something I don’t want to do: the idea of trying to ‘explore the inner psyche’ seems quite tired.

I find what I’m doing much more exciting: it’s fresh territory. The photographs feel un-posed because people aren’t looking at the camera, and it doesn’t matter if my work’s exactly like the person – it’s quite liberating.’Which audience are you targeting?‘The works are not aimed at an ordinary domestic setting. Maybe collectors or dealers.’Plans?‘I’m hoping to get up to 15 works in the Facebook Generation series.

My aim is to capture the mood of the moment. I’ll then make a CD to send to galleries and hope to have a solo exhibition in a contemporary gallery with a lot of white space.Facebook has had quite a lot of negative press, but I think my works are quite neutral in my description of what’s going on. To my surprise the general feeling was optimism and happiness and people wanting to fit in and enjoy themselves. My paintings are neither a celebration nor a criticism – they are a commentary.’ But perhaps they are a form of ‘memento mori’?