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Take a Peek into the Unseen World of Leeds’ Artistic Studios

· Ali Turner · Culture

Discover the story behind the city’s most creative artists.

Chloe Kutkus Morton

Leeds is a hotbed for artists, but what goes on behind the scenes in their studios? We found out…

Art is a very public medium. It’s designed to be seen, but the process is often shrouded in mystery, as is the place where it’s made. Until now that is. We ventured behind the scenes in the city’s artistic studios to reveal the unseen world behind the artwork and the exhibitions. From practical workshops to eclectic studios, join us as we lift the veil on the artistic process from within.

Pat Bradbury

Best known for his vivid colours and nonsensical shapes, Pat Bradbury is an illustrator and image maker who works his magic in the depths of Union 105 – and his workspace is as eclectic as his art. He works in a world of colour, taking inspiration from everything around him. In fact, his studio is what we affectionately like to call organised chaos.

“It’s all a bit all over the place at the moment. Usually when I’m working on a project I let it get a little chaotic, a lot of my work uses mixed media and I find that being able to make use of a range of materials at hand encourages me to alternate my medium a lot more,” he explained. “I have all of my drawing and mark making materials within arms reach, so I can grab whatever I need at that stage within a project, then I have a bit of a tidy and reshuffle when I bring out the computer and scanner. Below my desk I have boxes and boxes of collage material, painting and textures which I have been collecting, some of it dating back over ten years. I use some of this material to create textures or use as source material for my work.”

Although he’s freelance, Pat rarely works alone – for his commissions, he works closely with Art Directors to meet a very specific brief. His work is wonderfully abstract and playful, so this is his chance to experiment and see what will translate to different forms of media. In the past, he’s done wrapping paper, prints and even clothing. Now he’s adding another string to his bow, by teaming up with publishers Belly Kids to publish a book on collage.

Michaela Cullen

The pressure on young artists today is greater than ever. Many are working full time jobs to support themselves, while pursuing their art in their spare time, but it’s a little bit easier when you’re surrounded by kindred spirits. And that was the inspiration for Serf. It was founded by a group of friends who found themselves without a studio one summer – and Michaela Cullen was one of them.

“Serf is unique in that we employ an open-plan structure more reminiscent of a school or university studio,” she told us. “The break-down of the usual cell into an open format fosters discourse between artists, it’s more likely that people will exchange tips and ideas. One of the main aims of setting up Serf was to create a community, and I believe that’s what we’ve done.”

Her own space is usually quite messy – she throws herself into research, reading, writing and drawing until the ideas begin to form, and although she now works largely in film, she’s amassed a huge bank of materials that help to inspire her work (and clutter her studio). It all comes together in her large-scale installations, which use film, photography and text to reveal the artistic truth behind her chosen subject.

Jake Krushell

Experimentation. That’s the secret to art, according to craftsman Jake Krushell. By day, he creates custom light boxes and signs for companies across Leeds, but he also works on this own artistic projects, which range from paintings and sculptures to contemporary video installations. One of his pieces even made it to the New York Jazz Film Festival.

His studio at Assembly House is more of a workshop than an art space and he’s spent a long time setting it up just the way he likes it. He has a big old table saw that weighs a ton, alongside a compressor with an airline that links up to sanders, pin guns and more. There’s a vast work surface for wiring, drawing and sewing, the walls are covered with inspiration and two massive speakers overhead blast out tunes while he works.

“Everything has a place and I know where everything is kept. If it isn’t organised you spend half the day looking for things, and it can affect the end product,” he explained, but that’s not the only reason why he likes it here, because he’s at the heart of a thriving artistic community. “I am inspired and really into everyone else’s work going on here. It’s great being surrounded by others as it allows you to chat about the work you’re doing and get other people’s opinions and thoughts.”

Kyla Dante

Kyla is a painter and earth artist, so in a way, she has two studios. The first is outside, where she uses natural materials to create new interpretations of the natural world, the second is in Aire Place Studios, where she’s created a more traditional working space for her paintings and drawings. The two art forms complement the ebbs and flows of her creative process – her natural mandalas calm her mind, giving her the peace and tranquility to approach her studio work, which requires complex thinking and problem solving.

In her studio, she works on multiple different works at the same time, adding layers to her work until she reaches a point that she’s happy with – and she’s created a space that enables her to do that. Her painting space is surrounded by materials and brushes, while across the room, her desk gives her perspective on her work, as well as a place to work on her drawings and sketches.

And although she’s in a co-working space, her privacy is incredibly important to her, “I like working alone and the peace of my cave fosters a deep commitment to my practice. I am not disturbed or distracted easily like I can be working from home,” she explained. “The studio is my space for guilt-free mess making, expressive and spontaneous, private and boundless. Painting can take anything from a day to hundreds of hours, drawings and idea generating are generally quicker and expressive.”

Chloe Kutkus Morton

Printmaking is a tricky beast. You have to know your materials, you have to work on your technique and you have to experiment, but even then, so much can go wrong – and that’s the beauty of it, because sometimes you can create the most beautiful mistakes. At least, that’s the way Chloe Kutkus Morton sees it.

Her studio, like her art, is a work-in-progress. It’s continually changing as she sees new ways to adapt the space. “My desk gets light all through the day, so I try to keep that clear for whatever I’m working on at the moment. Anything I need to grab in a hurry is in the drawers next to me, the cupboards at the back are for drying larger canvas pieces, and I organise my projects on my whiteboard,” She told us. “I also stick up little quotes to keep me motivated, like an article on time management. I’ve recently bought some new plants too, which has made a big difference.

But while she may have made it her own, she doesn’t have it all to herself. It’s a shared studio space at Aire Place, so she has a corner of a larger room – and as it happens, her best friend is right next door, which means there’s always someone there motivate her and inspire her.

Nicolas Dixon

A colourful, abstract artist, Nicolas Dixon’s path into painting didn’t follow the traditional route. After graduating from the UK’s first music production course at Leeds College of Music, he started his career as a DJ. He first discovered his love of art on a trip to Thailand, but it was another 10 years until he made the shift from music to art. When he showed his sketchbook to friend and artist Mikey Brain, the pair decided to create an exhibition together under the moniker ’DickBrain’ and the rest, as they say, is history.

These days, you can find him at his own studio, which he shares with local Leeds radio station KMAH. You might remember that they lost all their equipment to a burglary – well, Dixon heard about it too, and in response, he offered to paint them a mural. That mural turned into a proposition and he moved in shortly afterwards. “It was a no brainer all round and a chance for me to link up with my old passion once again. I have a lot of my paintings in there, which fill the walls, and they play a wide variety of music, which inspires the art and vice versa,” he explained, but more often than not, his work will take him out of the studio.

Dixon is famous for his murals and you’ll find them all over Leeds. His biggest by far is the one in Kirkgate Market, which is over 80 foot. The focal point is an owl, but it’s not the European owl normally associated with Leeds – he used a Great Grey to symbolise the changes coming to the market and the UK with Brexit pending. The 29 stars surrounding the owl represent the 29 postal areas of Leeds, and the abstract shapes around them were inspired by people of Leeds, who told him what the market meant to them. So while it may be abstract, it’s very much inspired by heritage of the site.

Kimberley Bennett

Kimberley Bennet is something of a multi-tasker. She’s a teacher at Leeds City College by day and an artist by night. She works in ceramics, glass and sculpture to create unique one-off pieces that explore new techniques. Her day job carries over into her personal art, as she runs a series of art-centric workshops to help others to harness their skills.

This all takes place in her studio at Barkston House. When she moved in, it was a blank canvas, but she’s turned it into a practical workspace that toes the line between a studio and a workshop. The space is warm, inviting and designed for sharing, with dedicated workspaces, units to store equipment and even a kiln, but it’s not necessarily a source of inspiration – that comes from the people who use it.

“Having a space dedicated to my artwork is as vital as a scientist having a laboratory. In fact, that is kind of how I treat my studio,” Bennett explained. “I built my studio to suit the processes I use in it. At the moment I am working a lot with glass, plaster and paint. I’m always experimenting and finding new ways to work and push boundaries with the different materials I use. There are always about 100 new processes I want to try out every week!”

Cover image credit: Alia Drewery.