Poble Nou, 1994
Before I went to art school, I used a room in my small, three-bedroom terraced house in England as a studio. My first real studio was in Barcelona, Spain, during the year that I lived and studied there for my Fine Art M.A. The English art school that accepted me had rented two buildings, one in the heart of the Barrio Gotico near the Picasso Museum, the other in an old factory building in Poble Nou, the old anarchist quarter a few miles from the center. I was in the Poble Nou space, sharing the building with nine other artists. When I say factory, I mean a small workshop rather than somewhere they built cars. It was an L-shaped building faced with ochre stucco, with 25 feet high ceilings and a glass roof.
The studio building was part of a cluster of similar structures on a site about four acres in size, surrounded by a wall, forming a compound for light manufacturing that was common in Barcelona in the late 1800s-early 1900s. You entered the compound through a wide arched gate. As you crossed the cobbled courtyard to the art-school studio, there was a long low building on your left that housed the design business belonging to Mariscal, the guy who was the official designer for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Toni, the mangy dog who lived in the compound, would bound up to greet you when you came up to the building. When you slid open the big wood door to the studio, Toni would always try and squeeze in ahead of you, so you would have to fend him off with a foot at the same time as you were grappling with this eight-foot high door.
The downstairs space was subdivided by drywall into eight studios. There was a loft area above the main entry-room, which I shared with a Scottish guy called Eoghann. We took two walls each, and worked back to back with headphones on, trying to give each other space and not bump into each other when we stepped back to size up our work.
I was 31 when I went there, and used to getting up very early for work. He was 22 and came to the MA straight from his BA, and rarely appeared in the studio before late morning. So I continued my early-rising habits, and usually had three or four hours painting on my own before Eoghann arrived. Any studio given to me during my MA would have been use the same way: I had all day, every day, for more than a year to paint, and that’s what I did, trying things out, discarding ideas, observing my peers as much as I could, developing a few things of my own and then pushing them as far as I could go. What stays with me now are the memories around the studio: of the subway ride from the Barrio Gotico to Poble Nou, and the junkie kid in punk clothes who huddled near the subway exit every day; the short walk from the Selva del Mar stop to the studio; Bar Sanchez, on the corner outside the compound, where I went for the menu del dia every day, and struck up a friendship with Paco, the owner, over our love for Barcelona FC.
You could walk from the studio to the beach in a couple of minutes, and sit by the Mediterranean for a while before returning for a few hours more painting. I would sit for an hour on the sand, listening to Beethoven on my Walkman, watching the sunlight glittering on the waves in sharp-edged sickle moons, tilting my face up to the sun. Looking to my right, the beach curved down and back towards the ancient city, glowing like a jewel-box in the mist. Often I would walk back along the coastal path, breathing the salt air, enjoying the wind whipping my hair, before I plunged back into the labyrinth of barrios, ready to let one of the winding streets take me to a place I hadn't seen before.