Behind the Art: Four new ‘Artists at Home’ explain why they’re opening their homes to the public

Photograph above: Saskia Daniel, potter

Guest blog by Cameron Kerr

Every year for a weekend in June, Artists across West London open their homes and studios to the public. It’s a chance for visitors to discover new artists and speak to them about their work, and maybe find new art for their home. For artists, it presents an opportunity to expand their audience and perhaps sell some work. This year, four new artists take the total number of places for viewing to 77. I spoke to them about why they decided now was the time.

Sophie Aylward

Studio 54 (on the official map) is tucked away at the end of a residential street in Shepherds Bush. Steps down open onto a corridor revealing a modern open plan kitchen/living area… flooded with light and paintings. A sea of blues in a variety of tones and hues, predominantly oil paintings, but look carefully and you will find experimentations in gold leaf and charcoal too. Standing amongst the paintings is Sophie Aylward.

Sophie believes she’s always had an artistic leaning, but it fell to the wayside behind her career as a chartered surveyor. That all changed when she hit her early thirties. “I decided I wanted to set up my own business and have the time for something that isn’t purely one direction”, says Sophie. Being her own employer freed up time to dedicate to art work. When her partner directed her to a painting he’d seen and asked if she could create something similar, she created ‘Cubism’, which hangs behind the living room sofa, and a new era began. “Before I started my own company, I suffered a burn out from my former job, lots of stress and anxiety. The art works together with the business. I enjoy doing the work, but the art keeps me happy.”

There’s a reason why blue features so heavily in Sophie’s work too: “A lot of my holidays and experiences – as a child I lived down by the sea, that is why blue and water features a lot in my work.”  The skills behind Sophie’s seascapes have family roots. “My Grandma, Mary Oliver-Lawrence, has been an artist for decades, she is well known in Kent for her seascapes. I go down to her studio and she has taught me a lot of her techniques, she is the source of my inspiration.”

So why Artists at Home now? Sophie has sold work on commission, and would like to sell more. “I would love to go full time if it took off… if people wanted to buy the work. Taking part in Artists at Home allows me to test the waters.”

Saskia Daniel

Studio 50 on the map is not far away. On the first floor of the house is a small but efficient room which contains a shelf of completed work, a pottery wheel and a desk. It is home to potter Saskia Daniel. Fifteen years ago, when she was working full time with two children at home, an evening class kicked off a hobby, which helped bring a bit of peace to a busy life.

“I bought most of the equipment off Ebay… from a woman in Essex.” Saskia explains. But, she continues, as soon as she was set up, her motivation disappeared – “I sold things to my friends and at my daughter’s school. My studio became the place I dried my washing. Twelve years later, eighteen months ago, I decided it was time to see if I could still throw a pot.”

Saskia’s pottery is not about delicately carved figurines. That kind of work “leaves me completely cold” she says. “I like making things that people can use.” On her shelves are several mugs and jugs. “Pottery to me is tactile, about texture … I am more interested in a limited number of glazes … how I can make them look different, by applying them to different surfaces.” Saskia prefers a handmade look to her work, rather than Scandinavian-style pottery “so perfect it is almost indistinguishable from a machine”. For Saskia, a few imperfections that arise during the process can give the piece “a sense of uniqueness and character.”

Why Artists at Home? “I did not want to repeat my lack of motivation; if I have something to aim at … it might help” Saskia explains. She also hopes that her pricing – her mugs retail for £25 each – might be accessible. “People do not have to buy something, they can just come and look,” Saskia says, adding “often I don’t like my work … [when] someone else comes along and says they love it, it makes it all worthwhile.”

Eve Pettitt

Studio 40 is another Shepherds Bush flat, this one is decorated throughout with portraits and artworks, rich in colours, shapes and shadows. Eve took part in Sky Portrait Artist of the Year 2019, and while she didn’t win the series, she won her round and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson now owns the portrait Eve produced.

“I am passionate about colour,” Eve explains, “Even as a little child I wanted to wear bright coloured clothes and was painting with bright colours.” Shapes are important to Eve’s work – “the shapes create a rhythm around the canvas … your eye catches one shape first, then goes to another, and another.” She has no interest in simply making a photographical representation, her paintings are about shapes and patterns.

Eve doesn’t just paint other people – “My work is quite … biographical, it is emotive and about what I am feeling in the time … [that] is reflected in the colours I use.” Eve shows me a painting, “this piece with the three girls (gestures) … is about when I was at boarding school. It represents me as a girl growing up … locked away, looking to the outside world of nature and trees, but not being able to touch it.” Eve grew up in Dorset, but with a father in the Navy, they often lived all over the world. Painting, along with yoga, are where Eve is happiest and most present, she says, “ten hours can go by and you do not notice.”

With an established history as an artist, Eve tells us why she is undertaking Artists at Home: “I’ve lived here for a long time, I always go to Artists at Home as a visitor and I’ve loved it – I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a go and for local people to see my work.”

Jill Spearman

Studio 29 is a family home in Chiswick; the children are all grown up, but two in their twenties still reside with Jill. In a contemporary kitchen, where it is easy to imagine family dinners on weeknights, Jill takes me through her art work.

“In Washington DC, I went straight into painting landscapes… with oil and pastel… but never did portrait or figure painting.”, says Jill. After she returned to the UK, she attended London Fine Art Studios, and started doing portrait and figure work. She worked with the late Jason Bowyer, well known in Chiswick. “Working in Jason’s studio … was an inspiration … [previously] I had never done project associated art … or mark making with tools.” Jill explains. When it comes to her style, she tells me: “I am not in the camp of classical, I like to respond to things more instantly.”

I find myself drawn to a landscape depicting a scene in London. Big red buildings and buses contrast shadowy figures – commuters going about their daily business. A contemporary scene, painted in a timeless style where only the buses and traffic lights give away the date. Jill tells me the image came from a commute through Clapham Junction… “I walked home one night, the light was just amazing, so I took photographs. Through photographs and a combination of memory I made the picture, which is pastel on gouache.”

Jill now volunteers at the Blackfriars Settlement, working with visually impaired people; she is attempting to document the stories of the people she works with for her next project. Art is fast becoming a full time occupation, and she has a studio space down at Dukes Meadows. She poses for a picture, holding a painting of the local allotments.

So why Artists at Home, now? “I have spent three years as a visitor,” says Jill, “I previously didn’t feel I was confident enough”. But Jill has been honing her skills for a few years, and now it has given her “the confidence boost to have a go”.

Artists at Home takes place from Friday 14 to the Sunday 16 June. Details about the four artists above, and all others participating can be found on the website.