A few weekends ago, in a leafy and quiet London suburb, I followed the chalk arrows to a converted Victorian school building which is now home to 175 artists working in their own studios, as part of Kindred Studios, a new collective working space.
They opened their doors for visitors to see what different artists were working on. Having seen the open day advertised on Instagram, I thought I would go along as I’m always intrigued by artists who are new to me, and I couldn’t turn down the chance to see photographer and painter Emma Woollard‘s work with my own eyes, rather than on a phone or computer screen.
At first glance, it was quite daunting to see so many varied-sized spaces being used for such different and creative mediums. Photography, ceramics, fashion, sculpture and painting were all well-represented, as well as there being several art installations.
I remarked to a fellow open-day goer that the building physically felt like stepping back into high school or sixth form for me, but this was much more exciting, as so many creative possibilities, potential and opportunities seemed to exist in each corridor, enticing you in through their open doors.
I loved that it was such a natural building for artists to occupy, even down to the unisex toilets with leftover signs, high ceilings and beautiful big, high windows that let in so much light. Going up each staircase was full of anticipation as you didn’t know what each floor would hold. I was especially entranced by the ladder installation within the stairwells – such a fun use of space!
On the top floor, there was a bustling crafty market held where I recognised some beautiful work from Ssstutter and Oh Deer, amongst the stallholders.
At first I didn’t have a map, so I enjoyed dipping into different rooms and seeing what caught my eye. I was especially captured by Christine Marchese’s sculptures: who knew you could create such fluidity and sense of movement with clothes pegs? Her work space was so inspiring, too.
I started to become quite concerned that I couldn’t find Emma Woollard’s studio, as I knew the day roughly finished at 5pm so time was running out. I found her space tucked away on the top floor in a bright corner and it’s really quite a sight to see her work in person. Having followed her work on Instagram, I knew Emma produced stunning photography as well as the most realistic paintings I have ever seen, where her work capturing people really is quite something to behold.
Having been commissioned by the likes of Jonny Lee Miller and Matt Dillon for portraits, her work is in high demand and it was fascinating to see different examples of her photography and paintings hung up throughout her airy studio, which was decorated with lots of candles and beautiful flowers. I also loved spotting a Jean Michel Basquiat postcard on a beam behind a canvas.
Even though it is roomy and inviting, with chairs and couches to sit on, it’s still a working space with her oils, brushes and canvases on display, including an ongoing portrait of Sasha that is still in progress. Look at that beautiful hair!
There are different wall spaces to display her artwork, with some canvases still on their easels, framed photographs hanging on a shiny metal wall and a new triptych of studies of Matt Dillon displayed on a windowsill. I was especially delighted to see those, as I first became aware of Emma’s friendship with Matt Dillon through collecting original photography of him and they were often photographed together in the ’80s. They are still friends to this day, as he owns several pieces of her work and shares them on his Instagram amongst other art he appreciates.
Emma’s latest project is ‘In My Portrait Box’, an ongoing photo series where people pose in a narrow box studio, and she was taking photographs throughout the weekend for those who saw her work displayed prominently on the walls and wanted to take part too. I found myself taking part and, spotting that I was nervous, Emma was excellent at coaching me through the particular seating and poses she wanted to capture. She was open and approachable and lovely to speak to.
In between greeting family and friends, answering queries from interested viewers and taking more photographs, Emma kindly answered some questions for me about her work, her process and her favourite subjects to paint.
You were a model in the ’80s, did that get you interested in photography and perhaps wanting to be on the other side of the camera?
“I actually initially wanted to be an actress and went to drama school. My family are so creative in film design that I felt I wanted to do something different and fashion is a huge passion of mine, as well as travel. I always dabbled in photography and was a painter’s assistant too, studying at art school.”
Coming from a hugely creative and talented family, did they inspire you?
“I learnt so much from my father, a production designer, my mother, a set designer and sister Timna, an artist. I am equally comfortable in both photography and painting.”
Do you have any favourite subjects and what do you enjoy the most about your art?
“People are my favourite subject to work with. I love capturing their beauty, I see beauty in everyone, I love to bring out their character and personality, as well as capturing vulnerability.”
How long does the process take, does it differ for your subjects?
“It depends. For children, I use photographs as the basis of the artwork, but for adults, I prefer them sitting, perhaps sessions as short as 20 minutes or up to two hours. I tell people it can take up to two to three months for a finished piece of art but that depends on the background as some backgrounds can be quite elaborate.”
Do you have any future art series or projects, I notice you are working on your ‘In My Portrait Box’ series this weekend?
“Yes, I want to continue with the photography series and eventually turn the ‘In My Portrait Box’ series into a book”.
It was an honour to visit Emma’s studio, held within the beautiful Kindred building, and see her work in person. I look forward to the In My Portrait Box book coming out – be sure to follow her work on Instagram
The Kindred Studios
is an amazing place to visit and they are transforming the local creative landscape for artists, inspiring local communities and hosting workshops, growing a community garden and supporting charities.