This facility is a converted cigarette factory. Cigarettes were one of the major industries in Glasgow during the early to mid 1900’s. The building is situated off of Alexandra Parade, a major thoroughfare near the Infirmary and Cathedral area. The building was built in the 1930’s for the manufacture of cigarettes and was purchased by Wasps which renovated the interior and added another floor. This building was architecturally designed to meet fire safety codes as well as make it possible for artists to customize their studios with little disturbance to common areas. Metal tracks run along the ceiling so artists wishing to bring more electrical or sanitary services can do so without making major alterations or disruptions to the building common areas. This facility is a large building offering a variety of studio types and sizes as well as common areas for viewing work. Kitchen and bathroom areas on opposite ends of the long corridors are provided as well as a fully equipped kitchen on the top floor to provide a communal atmosphere and comfort facilities for those who work long hours in the building. Wasps administrative offices are located on the main floor. There is also a café open to the public as well as open gallery space for exhibitions. I toured the top level roof deck from where I could view living quarters for visiting artists in residency as well as rooms with ample natural light used as painting studios. To filter direct sunlight a series of metal rails protrude from the rooftop and run along the length of the building. I was impressed by the attention to detail of the overall design, especially of the common areas.
In addition to the individual artist studios, I also visited a large, clean and well appointed ceramics studio which contained individual work spaces in an open plan, communal access to equipment, a small gallery area and three separate rooms, one each for glazing, drying and firing. The kiln room contained gas and electric kilns for ceramics and separate kilns for glass with an access door to the communal glass studios, which although was smaller with less appointments, was very impressive and well laid out. Of most interest to me was a grid series of track containing electrical outlets over all the worktables that allow several people to work without tripping or becoming entangled in each other’s electrical chords. The glass studio also had large lockable storage cabinets for each artist.
In addition to serving the artists, the cafe generates public foot traffic to the facility. The neighborhood seemed to be in a state of transition. Chris Biddlecombe, who arranged my tour explained that the other factory type buildings in the area were also built in the 1930’s for cigarette manufacture and had been altered for occupancy by small businesses and middle income housing. He did not think the neighborhood fabric would stray much from the paradigm. From our perch on the roof terrace we could see a lot of new construction work in progress as well as an active concrete factory with the infirmary in the distance. Chris explained that the building has 24/7 access and along with the surrounding neighborhood, is quite secure.
I interviewed Chris and visited his studio. His is a very clean, organized and simple studio which seems in contrast to his complex projects. He explained to me several of his projects including No Noise Samples, a collection of fictional musical instruments which make no sound, Taking Tea with Mr. Thompson a public art installation to celebrate the bi-centennial of the Battle of Trafalgar, and introduced me to Vic, a small wooden boy he created who lives in his studio. Although his studio is set up primarily for woodworking, Chris does not limit himself to one medium, rather, he uses whichever medium best suits the execution of his ideas.
My next stop was the studio of Stephan Richard, a glass artist. Stephan has one of the larger studios. In addition to submitting to the interview questions, he answered many technical questions I had concerning glass making. His studio was well equipped, well laid out and visible from the street by floor to ceiling windows. The windows were problematic in the amount of direct sunlight that comes in the studio, especially in the months when the sun is low in the sky. Stephan deals with this issue by lowering the security gates like blinds. In addition to commercial projects, Stephan’s work currently includes slumping glass onto molds cast from human torsos.
My last interview was with Helen Moore, a printmaker and painter. Helen told me she was happy to have her studio and especially to be amidst all the other artists for support and feedback. She works several part time jobs that take her away from her artwork but use each as fodder for her creativity rather than keeping them totally separate. She appreciates especially her job at the greyhound races that is next to a carnival for the atmosphere and characters she meets. Much of the artwork in her studio involved signage. She uses the floor as her horizontal work surface. Helen is recently out of school and spent time in Krakow, Poland, an experience which greatly influenced her work.