Welcome to the second of two posts about the Ouseburn Valley arts scene. Open Ouseburn is a two day festival that allows the public to enter the artists’ studios and see what is happening in Newcastle’s art spaces.
Once a thriving industrial pocket on one of the world’s great industrial rivers, the Ouseburn Valley has become a place where fine artistic work nestles in rich seams. The Biscuit Factory is a former Victorian warehouse that showcases some incredible paintings, sculpture and jewellery in the heart of Byker’s industrial hinterland. It operates as a hub for the surrounding studios and houses its own underneath the spacious galleries.
The Biscuit Factory
Spend half a day walking around The Biscuit Factory’s well-lit exhibition floors and you get a real feel for what is happening in the north east art scene. It is an elegant building that has a cafe at the top and one of the region’s finest restaurants – Artisan – on the ground floor. Meanwhile down in the basement is the artistic engine room.
One of the stand out picks for me during the Open Ouseburn sessions was graphic designer David McClure, who trades under the name of Velcrobelly. His work is a mix of print design, promotional and literary work, pop art and imagery influenced by surrealism, propaganda and classic cinema.
Check out ‘Opening up the Ouseburn 01‘
Hidden gems like the Cobalt Studios sum up the DIY ethic of local artists. I had not heard of it before I visited it in November, but what an incredible place, situated just to the rear of the Biscuit Factory. There was a bar cafe and a performance space downstairs with two floors of studio space behind and above. I loved it.
Drawing on words and nature, Cobalt resident Mike Collier is part of a community of artists who hold art walks to get their inspiration. He is a lecturer, writer, curator and artist who was gallery manager at the ICA in London before moving to Newcastle’s Laing Art Gallery and latterly to teaching at the University of Sunderland. Setting up the Walking, Art, Landskip and Knowledge (WALK) research institute at the university allows Mike and his fellow founders to examine art walking and ‘bring together innovative and speculative ideas on walking, landscape, and social, cultural, artistic, vocalic, and geographical constructions of space.’
Prints of wildflowers, birds and elaborate word canvases with onomatopoeic spellings of bird calls – spelled how they sound – and field notes adorn the walls. Mike is also one of the prime movers behind the programme of drawing? exhibitions, looking at drawing in everyday practise ‘from art to architecture, product design to engineering’.
Down the corridor is Mark Collett’s studio. He wasn’t there when I arrived but a friend told me the studio was built to exhibit Mark’s work and to showcase an alternative living space. It’s a kind of duplex with an open plan lounge kitchen and work area, and a bedroom above. Interior design and furniture making are obviously Mark’s strengths and he creates rooms or entire building interiors on commission.
Mark creates ornate vintage and sparsely simple lightboxes containing found objects, photographs or phrases spelt out in LED or neon tubes. They work both as interior decorations and art.
Not actually part of the Ouseburn, but exhibiting at the Toffee Factory was the owner of Newbridge Books, an independent book shop in the city centre and part of the arts collective, the Newbridge Project. Tables were packed with arts volumes, graphics manifestos and a number of colourful fanzines, including a zine from the intriguing Joy Doom.
Joy Doom’s website is a riot of posters, models, collage, prints and digital GIFs, influenced by technology, pop art, Picasso and tribal art. It’s hard not to love its casual insanity.
Of course the Newbridge Project has its own roster of talented artists. Sneha Solanki in particular caught my interest with her ‘open source’ methodologies and work made from ‘invisible signals from military bases’ and ‘computer viruses enacting cold war politics’. Recent projects include her Analogue is not Digital/Death of Analogue, marking the end of analogue television, and Super-natural, an ongoing work looking at synthetic biology and enlightenment period witchcraft.
Sneha says her art uses ‘methods of cultural agency, citizen science and surveillance – extending to performance, sound and installation.’
Check out Opening up the Ouseburn 01 for more information on Newcastle’s artists.