Friday, 10:18am
18 May 2012

Come all ye …

Chloë King looks at the work in ‘Artists Open Houses’ at the Brighton Festival

There’s more to Brighton Artists Open Houses (AOH) than artsy-crafty delights and polymer-clay fairies, writes Chloë King. The event, which began in 1982 as a protest against the lack of visual arts in the Brighton Festival, runs on weekends from 5-27 May and comprises twelve official trails and a number of independents.

Like the original Brighton Festival, AOH also has spin-offs, including the brand new The Underground House Movement and the new(ish) House festival, of high quality, curated contemporary art.

The format of AOH is special in that it offers a unique insight into the breadth of creative activity in Brighton: from hobbyists to professionals in every medium you can imagine, from printmaking to, well, polymer clay.

Sean Sims, who is exhibiting at AOH for the second time this year, at 14 Southdown Avenue, likes the event because as an illustrator, it gives him ‘a break from the solitary confinement of my office’.  It’s a viewpoint shared by many of the participants I spoke to, who enjoy the opportunity to engage face to face with an audience of not just of art buffs, but nosy types as well.

‘Seeing inside some wonderful Brighton homes is a big attraction,’ says Sean. ‘It’s so huge now with all the various trails, that it’s virtually impossible to visit all on show, so the sitting down planning what to see is all part of the fun.’

The danger of AOH is that the quantity of items on display – mixed in with the distraction of so much bunting, tea, cakes, and artists’ friends and family – has the potential to blind. It takes time, and an element of chance, to discover what houses might be your cup of tea. The guidebook, though comprehensive and fair, remains rather dry, and leaves much to the imagination.

Artist of the Year Louise Bristow, who is exhibiting at The Old Market, Hove says,  ‘I am ambivalent about the domestic setting – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but one of the best aspects for me is that it’s a space in which you can do something on your own terms.’

Many places across the UK run similar events, but the format has taken real force in Brighton, perhaps because it’s a city that prides itself on its independent spirit. Or maybe because, in spite of its thriving community of creative professionals and renowned University Arts Faculty, there is still a conspicuous lack of dedicated exhibition spaces in the city.

Louise says, ‘[AOH is] a bottom-up thing that happens because artists and audience want it to. This is how it started, and it’s still why and how it happens. Even if it has got more polished and professional-looking, it is still essentially individuals showing their work in accessible settings, without much (or any) funding and without validation from ‘the art world’.’

This is a sentiment shared by illustrator Jonny Hannah (see Dress, below), who describes AOH as ‘punk rock exhibiting’. ‘Have some wall space and bang up some pictures,’ says Jonny, ‘It's that simple.’

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Eye picks for Brighton Artists Open Houses 2012:

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Artist Louise Bristow constructs intricate stage sets which she then paints from. Her subjects, which include a Polish Lotto kiosk and Brighton skateboard ramp (above), are extraordinary in their isolation and appear to be filled with stories.

The Old Market, Upper Market Street, Hove

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Circus Kinetica (above) is a multi-disciplinary art collective that explores sound and movement by repurposing found objects as anything from jewelry to giant mechanical sculptures. You can discover their studio-cum-lair underneath a fabulous 1935 modernist apartment block.

The Boiler Room Studio, Embassy Court, Western Street, Hove

Jonny Hannah (HEART), famed among illustration circles for his vibrant paintings and linocuts, Hannah is also known as a maker of artists books and limited edition prints under the moniker ‘Cakes and Ale Press’.

Brighton Dome and 49 Hove Park Villas, Hove

Sean Sims (New Division), originally from Teesside, vector illustrator Sean Sims relocated to Brighton where he found a keen following for his pop-modern series of posters The Brighton Line.

14 Southdown Avenue, Brighton

Helen Musselwhite grew up just outside Brighton in Pycombe, and now spends her time crafting fine paper sculptures of flora and fauna that reference mid-century design, folk and ethnic art.

14 Southdown Avenue, Brighton

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Maria Rivens creates fantastical collages (above) and silkscreen prints from a cornucopia of vintage ephemera. A prolific open-houser, she is exhibiting at 31 Sandgate Road; The Rock and Roll Boudoir, Flat 40, 9 Upper Drive; and at Out of the Box, a super exhibition of box art at Inkspot Press, Melbourne Street, Brighton.

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Precious Murphy Paul Griffin aka Precious Murphy is inspired by ‘predictions of the future, robots, architecture, maps and art deco,’ and this comes across pretty clearly with his impressive ‘floor plan meets circuit board’ style of digital giclée prints (above).

The Rock and Roll Boudoir, Flat 40, 9 Upper Drive.

John Simpson is an exceptional draughtsman; working with monotype printmaking he draws energetic anthropomorphic creatures in oil-based ink on textured surfaces, with reference to folk tales and classical myths.

31 Sandgate Road, Brighton.

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Peter James Field (Agency Rush) is an illustrator who recently published a book The Peter Andre Saliva Tree, featuring over 200 celebrities connected, via love affairs and marriages, to Peter Andre. Pictured is his beautifully drawn portrait Rainy Hove (above), but we hope your experience of Artists Open Houses isn’t like this.

MIY Workshop, 33 North Road, Brighton.

Website for Artists Open Houses (AOH).

See also ‘Batchelor’s mix’ on the Eye blog, Chloë King’s article about ‘Brighton Palermo Remix’ also at Brighton Festival from until 27 May 2012.

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It’s available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues. Eye 82 is out now – you can browse a visual sampler at Eye before you buy on Issuu.

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