Open Studios: Pop next door for amazing art and original snacks

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to discover a plethora of talented artists producing world class art, on my very own street. This discovery was part of the 22nd annual Brockley Open Studios, a three day event where artists living and working in the area, open their studios to the public.

Open Studios is not an initiative confined to Brockley, if you search it’s apparent that many neighbourhoods up and down the UK hold something similar during the year. It’s a fantastic way to have a nose around your neighbours’ houses, make some new friends and discover original, often non-commercial art in an unintimidating environment.

We began by having a quick look at the beautiful miniature watercolours and murals by The Wonder Scope, a partnership between two artists working across a variety of mediums. My eldest daughter instantly recognised the watercolour image of the cafe on Hilly Fields. The portfolio of their mural work was also impressive, particularly the Tree House View of Greenwich Park; a bespoke commission for a resident who loved the view so much on the outside, they decided to bring it inside!

Just opposite we were warmly welcomed by the delightful Clarissa Porter and photographer husband David, with their collection of painting, drawing and curios. The perfect hosts, they had set out a table full of chilled water and wine, fresh cherries and some unusually large pork scratching crisps. As you can imagine, this stop soon became a firm favourite with the kids.

On the subject of food, Shopping in Lewisham Market 2014 was one of the first works to catch our eye. Awash with the remnants of Heinz baked beans labels, it was inspired by the comparisons between the rich experience of shopping in Lewisham fruit and veg market and a Parisian stroll. This tongue-in-cheek piece explored an idealised relationship between the market and a well-known local celebrity and food lover, who recently moved into the area from Chelsea.

Steering my youngest away from the curious yellow shoes (reflecting Clarissa’s love of high heels in her youth), we moved into the second room. Within minutes my youngest was making clippety-clop noises into my year, her way of telling me that she had spotted a horse in another interesting piece, Whisperer. A spiritual work, inspired by Clarissa’s love of horses, it serves as a reminder that if we can talk in whispers to these magical animals, we should always afford the same level of respect when talking to loved ones.

Before I’d had much time to appreciate the rest of the room, my 3 year old was insistent that we return to the first room. ‘Is there a picture that you really liked in there then?’ I asked. ‘No mummy, I want some more of those big crisps’. Ah ok. Time to go I thought, we’d certainly had our fill.

Images ©Clarissa Porter . Images of curios taken by Phillipa Ellis with the kind permission of Clarissa Porter.

Twist and shout in the Tunnel of Love #southbankforlove

So with the hottest day of the year forecast, feeling brave (or crazy?) I decided to head to the South Bank with the kids to check out the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love. For as long as I can remember, the Southbank Centre’s summer festival has always had plenty on for the kids; and this year is no different, with the fantastic addition of Sliding Gate by Sean Griffiths, six huge playground slides installed on Festival Terrace to symbolise family love and the ups and downs of family life.

The ever-reliable city beach was also in full effect (although lacking in buckets and spades!), as was the hilarious Appearing Rooms by Jeppe Hein, a popular installation-cum-water park, which left me smug at having packed a spare set of clothes after getting caught out last year for thinking that it looked very dry inside the rooms!

Having picnicked in Jubilee Gardens, we decided to escape the heat and have a nose inside the Tunnel of Love, housed in the Spirit Level of the Royal Festival Hall. Don’t be put off by the very x-rated looking exterior. It’s actually just a very playful and interactive installation piece by Heart n Soul, a leading creative arts company.

Today was the perfect day to explore this space as it was almost empty, with most of its planned activity taking place in the evening in the form of gigs, club nights and talks. Aside from the initial hall of fame walkway which features images of anyone and everyone from Jason Donovan to Prince Harry (to which my daughter said ‘mummy, who are all these people?!’), the highlight for me was the giant Twister mat.

It didn’t take too long to convince a 3 year old that clambering around on your hands and knees at the orders of an automated spinning board was a fun way to spend 15 minutes, it soon however descended into confusion, followed by an argument around who was or wasn’t cheating, mainly due to the issue that my only opponent still doesn’t quite know her left from her right! Thankfully, we had less of an audience than any game of Twister I have ever played. Don’t miss it. Just try to rope in more players.

Festival of Love runs until the 31st August.

This blog won’t change your life, but it might help you enjoy the arts again. Even with the youngest of children in tow.

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This is a picture of Yayoi Kusama’s Obliteration room at Tate Modern, a bespoke installation room designed to engage children around the theme of her 2012 exhibition. There are plenty of great examples of this from some of our best loved art institutions, a host interactive sessions and family workshops at the weekend, but what happens when we try to take our kids along to enjoy some of the regular exhibitions that aren’t specifically catering for this audience? Not nearly half as much fun that’s for sure. On the numerous occasions I have braved it, I’ve been met with more than a dozen glares from the regular art-loving public for spoiling their enjoyment with a sqwarky baby or an over enthusiastic toddler. And me? Not much fun for me either as I’m left with high anxiety trying to keep it all under control, whilst still trying to pay attention to even a fraction of the exhibition, that I made my way to see.

Inspired by successful initiatives such as The Big Scream and For Crying Out Loud, I would love to see a time when art institutions big and small give as much thought to how parents can enjoy a featured exhibition with their young children, as they do to the dedicated kids activities around a major exhibition, without anxiety and without impacting the experience for others.

This is not a crusade, this is just one mum’s mission to capture the best of the arts for children, right now, and share my experiences of finding new ways to enjoy the arts with my own little ones in tow.