Life as an artist in residence

Beatrice Priest 5 October 2007

Only from my time as resident artist at Christ’s and my exhibition did I begin to realise the scale at which the visual arts are thriving in Cambridge. There are activities organised for groups, while other artists pursue their talents individually. The most successful visual arts groups are the college or department based life classes. Some of the more established classes are organised by King’s, Christ’s and the departments of Engineering and Architecture and Art History, while New Hall, Magdalene and Queens’ have set up classes more recently. These classes provide a venue and materials for a passion that can be so easily sidelined. The emphasis of each of these classes is slightly different. While Christ’s goes in for shorter, more expressive poses, King’s goes for longer, more traditional ones, but neither is prescriptive. In all cases, attendance is high and backgrounds are diverse, from first year undergrads, graduates, to lecturers, visiting professors and even porters.

Students are often frustrated by the lack of a ‘space’ within the university to pursue the visual arts. While King’s and Queens’ have studios, Christ’s has by far the largest artist community in its studios and is the only college to have a student artist in residence. The resident artist encourages the visual arts within the college. Students can take out a key and access the studios and the facilities whenever they like. There is also an open studio system whereby students from other colleges can use the studios especially when the resident artist is present. The classes and workshops organised by the resident artist are open to all members of the university. During my time as artist in residence I ran Wednesday evening life classes until well into Easter term and a Sunday afternoon session more geared towards painting from longer poses. I also opened up the studios for students to use during the holidays. This year’s resident artist will continue to run the Wednesday life classes and workshops focused on producing experimental art on Thursdays. The studio at Christ’s provides a forum for the exchange of ideas across artistic genres and commentary.

Although other residency positions exist in the university, such as at King’s and in the Institute of Astronomy, the position at Christ’s is unique because it is open only to Cambridge graduates and does not require a formal training in the visual arts. The opportunity to have a studio of one’s own and spend a year producing and experimenting with one’s own work is a godsend to any budding artist. The resident artist is provided with a stipend for living expenses and materials and is funded for a travel abroad. The travel abroad is an excellent opportunity to develop one’s art, extend the market and look into future study. Up until my trip to the Utah desert, my work had been mainly figurative, abstracting parts of the female body and accentuating its colours and textures. Since my travel abroad, my work has increased in size and I have become interested in barren, wild landscapes that seem almost uninhabitable.

Cambridge has an extensive network of colleges, galleries and museums to showcase student art. Exhibitions were organised last year at Jesus, Selwyn and Christ’s. For a solo artist New Hall and the Museum of Classical Anthropology are venues to note. As resident artist I held my first solo exhibition in the Christ’s studios over a three week period in June and July. The exhibition provided me with the foundation and confidence to pursue a career as an artist.

For information about Life Classes and Workshops at Christ’s, you can attend a meeting at 6pm on October 10 in the Christ’s Studios, before the usual class at 7pm, or contact Vera Kovacevska, vk254@cam.ac.uk. For information about Beatrice Priest’s work contact her at Beatrice.Priest@gmail.com.

Beatrice Priest