I am enthralled at the creative genius that spills out of garden sheds. Artistry, in particular. It seems that the blank mundane canvas of the common timber structure allows imaginative and intense focus on painterly expression. Perhaps it is the physical solitude of the shed which enables its inhabitant to travel the heights and depths of ambitious cogitation.
Damian Hirst spent the best part of three years alone in his garden studio in Devon painting a collection of works. The paintings, most of which had never been seen outside the shed, featured in the prestigious Wallace Collection in London, 2009. “For two years… the paintings were embarrassing and I didn’t want anyone to come in,” he said. Although he is now working with oil on canvas rather than animals in formaldehyde, the focus of his paintings remain familiar – human skulls, sharks jaws and cigarettes. Hirst holds the world record for the largest transaction of a single artist at £111million but has returned to his art college roots to concentrate on oil painting, from his garden room! I took a family member to the summer exhibition in the Royal Academy, 2009, where Hirst exhibited a silver sculpture of a male figure. He displayed a precise anatomical understanding in the sculpture and, although touching the piece was forbidden, it was too tempting to refrain.
Dublin born self-taught artist Paul Kelly burst upon the Irish art scene in the early 1990s, winning the James Kennedy Memorial Award for portraiture at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) at the age of 23, and, nine years later, the Artist of the Year Award of the most prestigious honours in UK/Irish fine art. Enjoying tremendous commercial success with sell-out exhibitions at the Gorry Gallery in Dublin, he still worked out of his own garden shed studio at home.
Stan Price, a lifelong painter whose professional career began as a student at the old Nottingham School of Art, working under the tutelage of famous Nottingham painter Arthur Spooner. As a long-term member of the Nottingham Society of Artists, Stan had continued to paint and exhibit in his leisure time, working out of his garden shed studio at home in Beeston well into his 80s.
Such intense creative garden shed activity extends well back into the previous century with sculptor, and successor of the pre-Raphaelite Rosetti, Giovani Fontana enjoying garden studios in both London and Australia.
It is true to say that the veritable peace and solitude in a detached garden studio is condusive to creative thought. However, having lots of natural light and being in a natural setting – a garden – adds an edge that cannot be rivaled in any old college art studio or home study room. The freshness of the greenery and reflections of light throughout the day are inspiring. I came across one story about a dedicated author in the late 19th century who had his garden studio erected on a rotating frame, so he could wind it around to follow the sun. I don’t think I would venture that far but the new garden room designs with the corner wrap around glazing are very appealing.