Inside the artist’s studio

Over the next two weekends several hundred Norwegian artists open up their workspace to the public. None are more spectacular than the studios in the western tower of the Oslo City Hall.

Before I started writing about art, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what an artist’s studio looked like. I sort of pictured a Lucian Freud-looking type standing bare-chested, palette in hand, painting a naked lady or a fruit platter. Maybe I was a little disappointed when I discovered that they might as well be sitting in front of a computer like me. Since then I have come to realize that there’s not only one type of studio, there are many. Some look like ordinary offices. Some look like factories. Others look almost like serene galleries. Some are tidy. Some on the verge of chaos. But no matter how they look, I always feel privileged when I get to visit one.

The studio of Ann Iren Buan in Oslo City Hall. A variety of chalk is laid out on the desk, which are used to color the monumental paper sculptures she creates. Photo: Ivar Kvaal

If you are in Oslo next weekend, you can visit several hundreds of them – and the weekend after that in Bergen. Oslo Open is an event that has been going for over ten years, where artists all over the city open up the doors to their workspace. You’ll find them scattered around office buildings and old factory halls, places that you may have walked past many times without knowing that a sculptor or a craftsman or a painter was working inside.

– We want to show the public that being an artist is a real job, said Marthe Elise Stramrud, project coordinator for Oslo Open and and artist herself, when I talked to her on the phone a while ago.

– This is a great way to put the spotlight on all the professional artists living in the city who are doing this full time.

The economy often dictates where an artist ends up. There is no guarantee that they will even find a studio.

– Around one in four active artist in Oslo has no place to work. The city is really to small to accommodate everyone who want’s to live here and that pushes the prices up. Artists often have quite a low income and have to look around for cheaper lodgings outside the city center. But even these houses will eventually become too expensive, says Stramrud.

– I often hang my sketches on the wall, especially if I’m wondering what to do next. Only a few of them are actually produced, says Ann Iren Buan. Photo: Ivar Kvaal

For many artists, the solution comes in the form of government owned properties which are let to artists at a very favorable price. In Bergen the city tend to give financial support to whole artists communities. But the competition for these properties is fierce – when the city of Oslo made nine vacant studios available this fall, over 400 artists applied. Some have more luck than others, like Ann Iren Buan, who is now working in a studio on one of the top floors of the Oslo City Hall.

– When I got the phone call from the city, I was very surprised but also incredibly happy. I had not dared hope that this might happen this when I submitted the application, says Buan.

The three studios in the western tower of the town hall was originally built for the artists who worked on decorating the building. Today they are under government protection  and lent out to three artists every other year – one in a startup phase, one experienced artist and a foreign one. The lucky candidates are selected through open applications. At the moment Sven Påhlsson and Apichaya Wanthiang work here side by side with Ann Iren Buan – without having to pay rent.

– A studio of eighty square meters with a ceiling height of eight meters and plenty of daylight is almost impossible to find in the center of Oslo, says Buan.

– I make quite monumental sculptures and when I work in smaller studios I’m not able to roll them out until I come to the gallery. Being here allows me to see my work in a new way and to work on several pieces at the same time. To able to stay here without paying rent for two years is also a great relief for an artist, because we ofte do not have the most solid economy.

One of the artist’s studios in Osly City Hall, where Ann Iren Buan works. Light flows in from the window in the ceiling, one of the may advantages of being here, says Buan. Photo: Ivar Kvaal

Ann Iren Buan usually works with paper, and lot’s of it, as her work can sometimes fill an entire room. Sometimes the sculptures hang from the ceiling, other times they stand leaning against a wall or seemingly float in the middle of the room. Her work may be associated with waves, a wall or a river, all depending on how they are shaped  and what color they have. The studio where she works has been occupied by a long line of artists before her, all working with different materials and techniques.

– It’s inspiring to be here, with so much history to draw on. It’s also incredibly peaceful on the 13th floor. The three of us work a lot and we find peace in these rooms. The fact that the city continues to offer this space up to artist for free I find truly amazing.
Oslo Open will take place on April 16-17, B Open in Bergen from April 23-24. A map of the studios can be found on the festivals website. Want to tag along? Follow my route on Saturday on Instagram. All Photos: Ivar Kvaal. 

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