The Garage is owned by Helen Acklam. Helen, a painter with a studio at BV Studios, gifts this space in Clifton to other artists to experiment and share their findings. I’ve just spent a month there with two other Bristol-based artists: Esmé Clutterbuck and Henny Burnett

Esmé, Henny and I had previously built a working relationship through drawing activity based at Drawing Projects UK in Trowbridge, an hour’s drive away. On the shared car journeys (those were the days) we talked about our lives, mostly as mothers. We acknowledged common threads in our practices and decided to explore them together: the domestic; nourishing others; loss from the perspective of a mother, that kind of thing.

Also, I had my own agenda. I am at my happiest throwing out rapid makes without showing them and without much reflection. Now I need to consider how to resolve / present pieces for an audience. This is an obvious area of strength for Henny and I wanted to learn from her. 

Esmé’s work is sometimes representational and sometimes not: telling a story indirectly. I wanted to understand how unconscious or conscious her approach was.

The true value of this residency was in its timing. No-one could have known how important ‘actual contact’ would become: the kind you need to share thought and collaborate. These are aspects of my practice I’ve invested a lot of time and energy to develop. Covid makes them difficult to do, we’ve all had to navigate towards different ways of sharing. I’ve lost paid teaching because of Covid’s impact on the further and higher education sectors and for nearly six months I’ve been back in the role of full time carer. What joy to spend September reconnecting with other artists at The Garage. In terms of hanging on to my sense of self through a very difficult period it has been critical. 

Incidentally, I’ve never had a studio outside home and I see how important it is now. Lifting the work out of a domestic setting changes its meaning. The pieces I made during the residency was stuff I couldn’t have made at home: I had the empty space, both real and in my head, to imagine new outcomes. 

The three of us were not always all there at the same time; sometimes it was a question of bringing pieces into the space and leaving them for the others to react to or not. Sometimes we all three met together and sometimes in different groupings. I realised what a privilege it is to be allowed into someone else’s making process (or practice more generally).

The Garage is a versatile space: allowing both for play and formal presentation. It was important it was a neutral space, rather than one of our own studios.

On the final weekend we shared our work with local artists and friends but somehow the sharing failed to demonstrate how alive and playful the process had been. The work we presented looked slightly dull and less like exciting questions than half-baked answers, which was sad but taught me a lesson about the importance of avoiding polite and ordered results when faced with the prospect of showing the work.  

Helen, the extraordinarily generous artist who gifted the space can be contacted through The Garage’s web pages