There was once a time when the magnificent arches surrounding Old Portsmouth lay barren; a landmark of historical significance to keep the area safe from invaders, but a slightly outdated concept.
But now the walls are filled from pillar to post with some of the most jaw-dropping artwork the city has to offer.
Hotwalls Studios in Broad Street, Old Portsmouth, were opened in the summer of 2016 after a £1.75m grant from the government’s coastal communities fund, as well as £40,000 from the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (PUSH) and £100,000 from Portsmouth City Council.
The project transformed the arches of the Hot Walls into 13 art studios, as well as a new brasserie and cafe.
All of this was done with a clear purpose in mind – to breathe new life into the arches and allow creative industry to thrive along the seafront.
The introduction and growth of the Hotwalls Studios has led to an explosion of artisan work in the city, with artists using the studios to grow their brands, share ideas and make a greater impression on both a regional and national level.
One of those who has seen success from the Hotwalls Studios project is landscape artist Sadie Tierney, who moved in last year and has seen her creative spark turn into a roaring flame.
She says: ‘I moved into the Hotwalls Studios last September, and immediately noticed a difference in how I work and how much inspiration I had.
‘There’s a lot of artists working at the studios and that creates this really great community of artists who all chat to one another and share ideas.
It’s great to have other like-minded people around you on a day-to-day basis because we all help each other with ideas, and having the Hotwalls Studios as this central location for so many different artists really brings everyone together.
‘It's great to have a designated place for artists to meet in one place like this.’
Sadie started off at the Royal College of Art, before juggling the artwork with her full-time job as a teacher.
But now, as the art scene grows in Portsmouth, she has been able to make her passion her full-time employment – something she attributes to the close-knit network of artists created by Hotwalls Studios.
She says: ‘The community of artists at the Hotwalls is a really supportive one and it’s wonderful to see everyone’s businesses starting to thrive as a result.
‘To have this as my full-time job is like a dream come true.
‘I think the main reason why everyone’s businesses have started to take off like this is that it isn’t just fine art that is done here. There are people who work with fabrics, others may do ceramic work – it’s a real variety and that’s so important for a project like this.
‘That community of artists with different talents who are all helping and promoting one another is incredible to see in action.
‘There are a couple of people working for the council who manage it and they also look for other groups that we can meet up with, so that’s very helpful.
‘It’s just a brilliant group to be involved with.’
Another artist who has benefitted from the Hotwalls Studios project is Karl Rudziak, a landscape painter.
Karl says: ‘I moved in when Hotwalls Studios first opened – before that I had a studio in my spare room at home, so it was a massive upgrade for me!
‘It’s a huge space and always a very productive place to be.
‘For me, what's important is getting the opportunity to share ideas with one another and meeting people around the city.
‘There’s never a day I can walk by and not say hello to somebody and chat to the other studio artists.
‘The outreach that we can do to the public from the studios is great – as an artist it’s crucial to have that engagement with the community.
‘All of us are actively making new artwork, so people tend to just pop in and have a look round; it’s great for educating people about art and what our artwork represents.
‘I feel that the outreach is the most important thing we can do, and the Portsmouth Festivities (see panel below) each year gives us the perfect opportunity to do that.
‘It is an event that really echoes the cultural backdrop of the city, and the growing significance of the arts in Portsmouth.
‘There is a real explosion of art going on around here and creative inspiration is the highest it’s been in a very long time – and that’s something that is beneficial to everyone.’
Both Karl and Sadie have seen their hard work come to fruition as their work is being displayed at the prestigious Royal Academy Summer Exhibition this year.
Sadie has two pieces on exhibition and Karl has one too – putting them at the top of the thousands of artists across the UK.
Sadie says: ‘We didn’t actually know that we had both entered because it’s the sort of thing that artists tend to keep to themselves about.
‘But I think it just goes to show how far Portsmouth has come in terms of art – it’s great to have so much representation for the city at such a high level. I think it’s a bit of a first for us so we are both delighted to have been included.’
Karl adds: ‘The fact that our artwork has reached a level of national recognition is fantastic, and just goes to show how far our artistic outreach can go.
‘We are here working hard and making some incredible art, so it’s great to see it putting Portsmouth on the map.’
Go to hotwallsstudios.co.uk
LET THE FESTIVITIES COMMENCE!
The theme for the festival, running from June 15-24, is freedom – with a range of music, speakers, theatre and art events to reflect that.
Events will be taking place right across the city, uniting the arts with an action-packed 10 days of festivities.
More than 100 events have been planned for this year’s festivities, including a specially-commissioned Escape Room – looking to break the world record for being the smallest of its kind.
Some of the festival music highlights this year include The Tallis Scholars, Carlos Bonell, and award-winning folk group RURA.
Hotwalls Studios will be welcoming visitors, Kings Theatre will be celebrating a century of women winning the vote in an exhibition, and Jack House Gallery is showcasing work of young local artists.
Festivities director Erica Smith said: ‘Freedom seemed really fitting for this year as we mark the centenary of women’s suffrage and the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela.
‘We have over a hundred free events for people to attend this year so we are delighted that everyone should be spoilt for choice.’
Chairman of Portsmouth Festivities, James Priory, said: ‘There are going to be some novel events this year, such as our specially-designed Escape Room, as well as our superb line-up of speakers and musicians.
‘So we hope you are able to break free and attend as many experiences as possible this summer.’
For a full list of Portsmouth Festivities events, go to portsmouthfestivities.co.uk