Jayne Dwyer is inspired by the art and the atmosphere found inside a former tannery
York’s newest art studio, Rogues Atelier, is housed in the old tannery in Fossgate. You will find it easily, with its urban façade and its striking logo, sandwiched between MOR Music and a row of cosmopolitan shops and restaurants.
Art studios can be daunting places for the passer-by, who may be intrigued as to what goes on inside but a little bit nervous about disturbing the artist. Unlike York’s other studio, Bar Lane, Rogues Atelier does not have an obvious gallery attached, or for that matter, a front door: its entrance is situated around the side of the building, adding to its mystique.
I took my friend Rev Stephen along to the studio. Despite the near freezing temperatures outside and inside, we were given a very warm welcome and were assured by Penny Phillips, the studio’s resident ceramic artist and sculptor, that you are very much invited to call in and see her when you are passing.
The studio instantly reminded me of the kind of place you would come across in St Ives in the Eighties. It is the kind of place that reminds you of the dreams you gave up of becoming an artist to work in insurance because it paid the mortgage. I have a romantic notion that it would be a wonderful thing to be moulding clay all day, or experiment with paints, but from talking to Penny it is evident that the life of an artist is not always a lucrative one and this recession is taken its toll. Owning art is increasingly becoming a luxury.
Keeping her art affordable was one of Penny’s main incentives for joining Rogues Atelier. She explained to me that galleries are now charging up to 50 per cent commission. Whilst she has enjoyed some success and enjoys exhibiting in galleries, selling her work via galleries is becoming increasingly less viable. Her beautiful ceramics and sculptures are time consuming and costly to make, but she is determined to keep them affordable, whilst covering the costs of producing the works.
Penny was also excited about the opportunity to work in a venue where people can easily drop in and meet her personally. Penny has been running workshops in colleges and community venues for several years but the studios give her a space that she can now invite her students to.
I love the studios, but I particularly love the space created by Penny. The walls are decorated by some of her pieces and the bookshelves are crammed with books. Penny’s white hares look like they have been scrunched into being (you will have to go and see them to understand exactly what I mean). Her animals are made from a mixture of paper clay and ceramic bodies. She is particularly interested in conveying the spirit and vitality of the animal.
On the day Stephen and I visited, amongst Penny’s art there were also some very impressive pieces waiting to be fired, which had been created on the last workshop she had held. She had run the workshop for a team from Ebor Law. Penny explained that her workshops are ideal for companies wanting to encourage teambuilding. There is no hierarchy when placed out of your comfort zone and told to create something out of clay.
“Everyone is on the same level and boundaries get broken down,” Penny said. She also runs short courses, usually of six weeks for 2½ to 3 hours a session. You can find out more about these by emailing Penny at [email protected].
On the same floor of the studio we met Jane Elmer. Jane designs beautiful haute couture. Her pieces are one-offs. She told me that she particularly loves making beautiful long winter coats, but most of her business is bridal wear.
My Rev reminded me that I am getting married later this year. I had hardly forgotten but I suppose I never saw myself in a traditional long white dress, being a little further away from 40 and having an obsession about my arms
Jane showed me a couple of her recent designs, stunning pieces that have made me rethink not just my dress but my entire wedding! Jane prides herself on having “a deep love and knowledge for fashion throughout the ages, as well as a great understanding of the female form”. I was drawn to her display of 1950s patterns on the wall and Jane suggested that this might be a style that would suit me.
Before setting up her own couture business in 1997 Jane worked in Sydney, designing dresses and outfits for shows in the Sydney Opera House. I feel that her dress designs manage to achieve a sophisticated elegance with more than a hint of drama.
Rogues Atelier is also home to Elise Bikker and Jo Walton. We had a sneaky look at some of Elise’s paintings whilst she was at lunch, which are playful and have a dreamlike quality. Her profile explains that she has a love of vibrant primary colours and that she is influenced by “the primitive work of Picasso, Klee and Kandinsky”.
Elise is currently running oil-painting workshops from the studios, explaining over five lessons how to mix colour, techniques, shape and form with students given the opportunity to work on a larger canvas in the last two weeks. Her Facebook page is enchanting and she features the work of some of her recent students.
Jo Walton, the founder of Rogues Atelier, previously founded and managed Space 109 in Walmgate. She is rightfully proud of what she achieved there but managing Space 109 left her little time to work on her own artistic pursuits. As Jo is an upholsterer, she needed a space that was large enough to work in and was delighted when the tannery presented itself at a reasonable rent.
Jo’s clients mainly come from recommendations and commissions. She is also a printer and works alongside other artists, supporting them with a variety of projects and helping them to secure studio space to run their workshops. She told me that she sees the studio as an ongoing project, in its infancy and is excited about its future. To learn more about the studios and current events, check out the Rogue Atelier Facebook page.
Stephen has taken to making greetings cards this year and I made an apron for my niece, recycling buttons from my nan’s old button box. We have both been trying to be more creative, our own response to the recession. I wish I had the bravery (and pure talent) of these ladies, but they have already inspired me. The building has inspired me!
I could have stayed forever, but Stephen and I left the studio to drink tea, warm up and decide what to make next.