Review of Bow Arts Open Studios

During the evening of Friday 27 June and the following Saturday afternoon, the artists of Bow Road Studios opened their private working spaces and courtyard – bustling with performance artists, educational workshops, stalls, bars, and DJ beats – to the public. Housing 150 artists, Bow Road Studios consist of a renovated Nunnery (now also a gallery space); its surrounding four-storey buildings, and the recently converted biscuit factory, P1 Studios.

P1 Studios bear similarity to other popular nearby developments at Fish Island, or even the Bussey Building in Peckham, by attracting not only fine artists but graphic designers, small creative businesses and new media businesses too. Set up as a state-of-the-art, more commercial space, P1 intends to produce an annual income of £20,000, which will then go directly back into the local community – this is all part of a partnership with East Thames who have offered the space to Bow Arts on a twenty year lease.

To keep up their end of the deal, Bow Arts and P1 artists have set up an education programme including artist-led projects for local children, young people and schools, and host community events as well as these open studios events which bring the arts to the public whilst encouraging creative awareness and involvement in Bow, an area perhaps otherwise lacking in art institutions.

Very few emerging artists can grow their sales as quickly as studio prices appear to be rising, and as property prices rise some studio complexes are disappearing altogether – the other biscuit factory in Bermondsey for example – so these sorts of partnerships are now crucial to ensuring that London remains a creative capital, currently home to two-thirds of all artist studios in the UK.

Bow Arts has been running since 1995, and seeing the standard and diversity of artwork that its artists continue to produce is both fascinating and uplifting. Established artists such as international exhibitor G. Roland Biermann work alongside recent graduates like Hanne Lillee, who recontextualises found blog and Tumblr images. The range of practises is astounding: architectural and theatre set models; fashion design and millinery; glass works; painting and sculpture; film and photography.

During the Friday evening, the studios were a hubbub of activity – each space filled with artists chatting about their work, and asking about the practise of visitors, over plastic cups of complimentary red and white. The atmosphere, as is usually the way with open studios, was relaxed and although most of the work is for sale, discussion veered away from the commercial and stuck to the creative.

Conversation with the more established artists tends to lead to a fair amount of mentorship and advice for those who aren’t sure whether they should, can or even are justified in getting hold of a studio space or making works of their own. These events are, of course, intended to allow artists to show and sell their work, but they also offer a huge amount to attendees – as well as a cup of room temperature wine, lively music and a sunny courtyard to enjoy it in.

It’s inspiring to see practises bouncing off one another, to discover new processes by looking at works still in progress, and rather than see the face of art, to see the humble and friendly beginnings of it too.

Bow Arts Open Studios ran from 27 to 28 June. For more information visit

Chloe Hodge

1. Photo by Ollie Harrop for Bow Arts.

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