Fancy That: Bristol's Jamaica Street Studios turns 20 and opens up its doors

By Hannah Stuart-Leach | 02 July 2013

It's customary to give china on the occasion of a 20th anniversary. This proves convenient, then, for Bristol's Jamaica Street Studios, which celebrates reaching the milestone on the first weekend of July.

a painting of a tree of life with people in it
Øivind Hovland© the artist
It shares its building, a Grade II-listed former carriageworks, with Stokes Croft China, makers of "peculiar china for a peculiar society".  

Perhaps the subversive company, run by social enterprise The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, might present the studios’ artists with one of their "fancy bogs", lithographed in royal blue with "We are all Artists".

After all, this birthday is something to congratulate. What started out in 1993 as a small group of artists in Stokes Croft, then a run-down part of the city, has now grown to be one of the largest artist-led studios outside London.

The studios’ 36 artists – comprising illustrators, sculptors, fine artists, art doll makers and textile artists – are marking the occasion by elaborating on their annual Open Studios event.

Even the city’s independently elected Mayor, George Ferguson, will be there. He’s auctioning a series of specially created mini-canvases on the final evening of the weekend-long extravaganza, which invites the public to discover the inner workings of a major art studio.

In a city full of creativity whose artistic connections cover all bases, from Banksy to Wallace and Gromit, Jamaica Street Studios has endured, supporting and launching the careers of many up-and-coming artists.

Its lengthy waiting list is testament to its success – some wait years to get in.

Hyperrealist painter Philip Munoz has been at the studios for seven years. He applied for a space after going to previous Open Studios, which can be so popular they often see visitors spilling out onto the streets.

“I really love the place," says Munoz, who has a space on the first of three floors – all of which will be opened up during the event. “There's a genuine sense of community.

“Lots of people share spaces so it creates quite a buzz, but we also give each other the mutual respect to get on with individual practices.”

Munoz appreciates the informal mentoring and opportunity for development the environment provides. “Also, when people can see what you're up to it certainly ups your game and focuses your attention on what you're good at," he adds.

Although the artists exhibit individually all over the country, the Open Studios remains their most important group event. It helps ensure the studios’ survival, as proceeds from it go back into the building’s upkeep.

As well as a commemorative collection of 20 postcards, visitors to the Open Studios will be able to buy art, to suit all budgets, directly from the artists.

The artists are notable for the diversity of their undertakings – one of the benefits of working at the studios. Still, the influence of Bristol – which for many of the residents is an adopted home – is visible in a lot of their work.

Self-taught Munoz originally moved to the city in 1999 to study biochemistry at university, before deciding to pursue art full time. His oil paintings are inherently connected with his immediate surroundings, and often feature the “vibrant, youthful and carefree characters” he notices from the studios every day.

The colourful fashions and bold identities on show in the area are fascinating for Munoz.

“They fuel my desire to paint," he explains.

"Whether it’s a close-up examination of the glamorous and modified, adorned with tattoos and piercings, or a figure caught in a fleeting moment of everyday life.”

To fully understand what so captivates the Jamaica Street Artists, though - many of whom have come from as far afield as Argentina and Australia - you need to witness Stokes Croft’s lively streets for yourself, says Munoz.

“The Open Studios really contributes to Bristol’s vibrant artistic scene,” he concludes.

“We’ve reached 20, and it’s great that we can celebrate that with the community Jamaica Street Artists have grown up with.”


More pictures:

a photo of trainers displayed on a shop window
Philip Munoz.© the artist

a painting of two small figures in a winter forest of trees
Dan Ablitt, Nearly Home.© the artist

a simple watercolour of a shack in the woods
Kate Evans, Woodcutter's Cabin.© the artist

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