Showcasing the city’s hidden art

Gillian in her studio.   Picture: Allan Hutchings (131035-942)
Gillian in her studio. Picture: Allan Hutchings (131035-942)
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With its rows of Victorian terraced houses and concrete tower blocks, Portsmouth can sometimes seem a little, well, grey.

At first glance, it doesn’t feel like there’s a network of artists living and working in the city. But behind closed doors in back bedrooms and studios, there’s a vast network of people who are displaying their creative skills.

As part of Portsmouth Festivities, which were launched on Thursday, there’s going to be an arts trail in Old Portsmouth. Organisers want artists that live in the postcodes from PO1 to PO6 to come forward so that their work can be showcased. And of course Portsmouth is also bidding to become the UK City of Culture in 2017 and art is an important element.

Gillian Hawkins lives and works as a painter and printmaker in Southsea. She’s a member of Art Space, a society which provides artists with affordable exhibition space and studios in the city.

‘I’ve been a member for about 20 years now and I’ve had my own studio for five years, explains Gillian.

‘Art was always something I wanted to do, but it was never really encouraged when I was at school. But I got to the point where I felt like I had to do it. It was the right time.’

Gillian has held a number of exhibitions with Art Space, and she’s also a member of Omega Printmakers, a local organisation which has printing workshops and offers courses for local artists.

She specialises in paintings and prints, but also collects china and takes photographs. She explains: ‘My neighbour, who’s also an artist, and I put on an exhibition together once, and we took inspiration from our allotment we shared.

‘I wouldn’t have been able to put on the exhibition without being a member of Art Space. Some of our artists show in national and international exhibitions, so it really does help you get your work out there.’

Other galleries in the Portsmouth area include aspex at Gunwharf Quays and The Gold Room underneath Room 237 in Southsea. There are also organisations that promote art in the city, including Add Art and White Elephant.

Gillian believes there’s a lot of art and artists in Portsmouth, and that they should be recognised for their work.

‘There’s a vibrant art scene, although it’s not very mainstream – you’ve got to go out and look for it.

‘Art Space does try to showcase art locally and there are lots of exhibitions and graduates from the University of Portsmouth involved. We have galleries that are supportive, but we need a high profile modern art gallery that showcases local work.’

A Southsea-based urban artist whose had his work shown locally and nationally is Paul Stone or, as he’s better known, My Dog Sighs.

Previously a primary school teacher, he’s only recently begun working full-time as an artist.

He’s also well-known for his concept of Free Art Fridays, where art is left in the street for passers-by to pick up. It’s now a worldwide phenomenon.

Paul says: ‘I leave art in the streets of mainly Portsmouth for people to find and take home with them. I started working on what I could find because I couldn’t afford to leave canvases in the street, so some of it was on cans and cardboard. I leave an e-mail address on the back and I get some lovely messages. They’ve ended up going all over the world.’

He adds: ‘It’s turned into a movement and people have taken it up all over the world. There’s a big online community and I love it. I like the fact that anyone can go and see it.’

Paul designs and paints The Can Men, which stems from his work with Free Art Fridays. He explains: ‘I kicked a baked bean can one day and that’s where I thought about painting cans and leaving them in the street.’

Another image he uses is a stick man, originally sketched by one of his students.

‘I spent years trying to bring emotion into a painting and he did it in five seconds. I guess that’s all you need.’

As My Dog Sighs, Paul recently exhibited at a gallery in Notting Hill, London. He spent a whole week living on the floor finishing off the work that covered nearly 1,000 square feet.

He’s also got projects lined up in Blackpool and Bristol, as well as possible work in New York.

But street art in Portsmouth is his first love. He says: ‘It can be difficult to find space to put work out there as an artist in the city. I’m part of the Portsmouth Creative Movement, which is a bunch of artists sharing their skills, and it’s a good opportunity for us to learn from each other.

‘I love what I do because with street art people don’t have to go out their way to find out about it. Even if people don’t like it, at least they’re talking about it. It’s a discussion, and you don’t have to like it to be involved.

‘My work to me is seven days a week. I’m waking up at five in the morning because I’ve got an idea.’

Paul adds: ‘There’s so much amazing art in Portsmouth, especially in Southsea. People enjoy living here and they’re proud of it.’

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‘There’s a massive culture of art and music’

Jack Daly is a student at the University of Portsmouth who lives in Southsea. The 19-year-old is in his second year studying entertainment technology and works freelance as a photographer and filmmaker.

As part of one of his degree units, he began a project called People With Passions.

‘We had to take four photographs and document something. I was quite interested in looking at people and all the stuff they have. They spend all this money and time on something, but it’s not a waste to them.

‘There were about 20 people but now I’m approaching 40, and it’s going to be ongoing – I’m not going to give it a finish date.’

He continues: ‘Doing the People With Passions project has helped me find other artists locally, especially in Southsea, and people always have someone to suggest.’

Originally from near Oxford, Jack hopes to stay in the area once he’s finished studying because his freelance work is doing so well.

‘There’s lots and lots going on locally and there are people working who I’d never heard of, especially in Southsea. There’s a massive culture of art and music within the community, and there’s a great atmosphere here.’

He adds: ‘Everyone is so friendly and there’s always something interesting going on.’

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