For the final two weeks of September Surrey artists will be opening their studio doors to the local community for Surrey Artists Open Studios (SAOS), an annual event now in its 20th year.
So often art is a beautiful object which we display in our homes, not something created by someone with a story to tell. SAOS gives visitors the chance to meet the artists and makers, watch them at work, and find out first-hand about the stories behind the creations.
Many artists have struggled during lockdown, so this is the chance to support them directly by buying their work.
“[SAOS] felt much needed as a focus for our artists and makers as it’s such an important part of the year, plus many exhibitions and other areas of work have been cancelled,” says Caitlin Heffernan, Programme Manager at SAOS. “For the public I hope it will be an uplifting experience, to show how important art is in our lives, especially right now. There will be lots of wonderful artworks to see both within indoor studios and outdoor spaces. Artists have worked really hard to make their spaces, safe, welcoming and Covid-secure.”
The event comprises of 109 studios and 160 artists spread across Surrey. There are painters and printmakers, ceramicists and glass artists, textile artists and photographers. Many exhibit and sell their work on the national and international stage.
Aside from being rescheduled – the event usually takes place in June – additional safety measures have been put in place to ensure studios are ‘Covid secure’.
“Artists have worked hard to ensure their spaces are safe for visitors, this includes wearing face coverings, maintaining social distancing, using hand sanitisers, using the track and trace system, cleaning procedures and limiting the number of visitors within each studio,” says Catilin. “Many studios are separate spaces in gardens or accessible separately from their house, with clear entrance and exit areas.”
Painter Clare Bowen is excited to welcome people back to her studio, but nervous because it is all such unknown territory. “The date has changed so people aren’t expecting studios to be open now,” she says. “Also, there is no catalogue this year so there is a fear similar to putting on a party that we are not sure if anyone will come!”
“I hope people do come,” she continues. “We [her husband, the photographer Nick Oakley, who will also have an open studio] have so much work to show and it would be lovely to see and talk to people. I think we’ll appreciate the connection even more this year!”
Artists and creators were impacted in different ways by lockdown.
Clare struggled to get back into painting during lockdown, but once she did, she found it grounding and gave her a sense of purpose. “I enjoyed daily painting in my garden – peonies and other flowers, making use of what was available and it was a blessing we had lovely weather!” she says.
SAOS understands the struggles their artists have been going through.
“One of the reasons for running SAOS later in the year to now, was to give artists the opportunity to recoup some of their lost earnings during lockdown,” says Caitlin. “Not only that but it gives a structure and focus to the year which understandably has caused anxiety and worry for many.”
Aside from opportunities like this for artists to exhibit their work, SAOS also offers training and bursaries. During this difficult time, SAOS stepped up to offer further essential support to help artists through the uncertainty.
“We have been working with artists to upskill and this will continue this autumn, looking at ways to sell their work more online, offering courses on this,” says Caitlin. “As well as supporting artists to run online workshops to help monetise their practice. We also encouraged artists to create virtual tours of their studios during lockdown as well as share sketchbooks they created. There are some on the website and the Surrey Arts YouTube channel.”
The SAOS website boasts an interactive map; an extensive list of all the artists, their work, and when their studios are open; and even artist trails where visitors can stop in at multiple studios in one area while enjoying a stroll in nature.
The launch weekend for SAOS is September 19th to September 20th. Many of the studios will be open, with some offering demonstrations or workshops.
Should you not be able to make the allotted times, some artists offer 1-2-1 appointments and are open at certain times all year round.
Feature image is Autumn Calm, Frensham Common, Surrey by Nick Oakley Photography.