Studio Dedman. It goes on, in spite of everything. Studio – dubious term really. Pertaining to small property for first time buyers and middle class pretensions about ‘creativity’. The first studio I kept was on Coldharbour Lane, Brixton. A chap from Winchester School of Art was moving and kindly passed me his let in an HMO (House of Multiple Occupancy) owned by Quadrant Housing. I liked that place, even though it was cold in Winter – freezing in fact. When it snowed, the toilets were like skating rinks (for rats). One’s ‘ablutions’ needed carrying out in polythene bags – before adjourning to the pub.
My Brixton studio was superceded by another in Hackney. Students from the RAS (Royal Academy Schools) squatted a series of Regency built town houses facing onto Queensbridge Road. Shored up by massive timbers, preventing them from falling over, these studios were suitably Bohemian but too far from South London.
I worked there for a while alongside the Maywood Brothers, John Richardson and someone called Matt (not RAS). At one point Matt cocooned himself in a cradle of chicken wire, then suspended himself from a ceiling for a period of three days (and nights). Frozen toilets or not, this performer ran out of nappies and must have caked himself up something rotten – all in the name of ART! (that’s an anagram for RAT btw) and the brilliant thing about this ‘event’ was ….. nobody knew about it! Genius.
I took a number 38 bus (when you could do so without the threat of being blown-up or catching a cold) and headed back to South London. Something about the space there – more generous. My next studio was in another squat, very close to the houses of parliament. Squats were always ‘edgy’ ‘sketchy’ or just down-right nerve wracking.
On one occasion, some brother from ‘the hood’ got well out of it on Special Brew and cannabis. He spent the entire night stomping round the block on the same storey, shouting: ‘IRA, IRA’ repeatedly. He didn’t look very Irish but clearly had sympathies with the Irish Republican Army. During early Summer, we were watching tv when a dull thud in the Southern distance occurred. My mate said ‘What was that?’ – to which I replied ‘Probably a bomb.’ And it was. The IRA had detonated some Semtex over a rail bridge at Clapham Junction to no effect, but that was life in South London in the 80s and 90s.
I moved from there to a disused factory in Vauxhall, a few streets away. The nearest pubs were: the Black Dog (they kept plastic Christmas decorations up all year), the Queen Anne (a go-go dancing joint) and the Royal Vauxhall Tavern (a place you could visit for good cabaret and Vaudeville in the 70s, but by the 80s if you were straight, no way).
The factory was big, damp and creepy. Opposite where MI5 are now and the Tate Gallery on Millbank, this remnant of post-war London was at least put to good use by artists. I slept there sometimes and during winters, the toilets froze over; there were rats. No studio is really a studio without rats (is it Grayson). I moved from there to a big old farmhouse in the shires and temporarily converted a lean-to into yet another studio.
After that I got lucky and was kindly received by a well-to-do couple who allowed me use of an out-building on their estate, for some time. Victorian built, with Gothic windows ‘the Studio’ was reputedly above an ice store, next to a 14th Century manor house. About as romantic as it gets. Pretty in Summer and cold during winter.
When the time came to move (as it inevitably does), I brokered a deal with the owner of an Indian take-away. I had to clear part of the premises to set up Studio Dedman alongside a dingy catering venue with a low hygiene rating. There were several mattresses and there was a lot of rat-shit. I discouraged the rats, because I know how to do that; however, their presence (to me) meant it was a studio.
It was bijou during warm weather and miserable during winter. I slept there on occasions, often during the cold months. Thames TV commissioned a painting from me and with the help of Dr. Stihl – I made it possible to shift their vain fancy into the real World, though compliance wouldn’t have it.
Since then I’ve moved to greener pastures and more romantic premises – with rats. One of the best things about St. Martin’s School of Art was the library. During my first year, I read Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler – now proscribed from being purchased on the internet. However, clutching a large volume of Der Feuhrer’s excogitations under my arm – meant I was judged (no doubt) by my lefty-liberal peers. This was the case at Yarmouth when I walked into college bearing a copy of David Hockney’s early biography – people immediately (and wrongly) assumed I was gay. You should never judge a book by it’s cover, nor the reader thereof!
One of the interesting things I recall from Hitler’s tome was: he asserted the British were to be respected (as a potential enemy) because they could will something for a very long time. Studio Dedman (yes, you heard) goes on.
Photos by Alan Dedman and Shez
Pic of Black Rat from ‘The Observers Book of Rats’