Tin Opens on an Artistic Assortment; as Art Studios around the Ouseburn Valley Prepare for Their Open Weekend, David Whetstone Visits a New Kid on the Block

Article excerpt

IT IS a trend that has been seen worldwide - when recession drives industry out, artists move in.

Newcastle businessman Ramy Zack helped to bring new life to the Ouseburn Valley when he turned a Victorian factory into The Biscuit Factory, an art gallery with 30 artists' studios, back in 2002.

Now he has done it again. The Biscuit Tin Studios, a 40-studio complex in a former print works on Warwick Street, takes a bow this weekend as part of the Ouseburn Open Studios.

The Open Studios event was initiated years ago by the artists of 36 Lime Street, an established complex in the Ouseburn Valley which remains at the heart of the action.

But through the initiative of individuals like Ramy, Newcastle City Council and the Ouseburn Trust, a lively creative quarter has developed.

Before showing me round the complex, where work is still being done, Ramy says: "We knew there was demand for artists' studios from day one at The Biscuit Factory. People are always ringing up.

"I knew a place like this could be easily filled and that has happened. We had 40 studios here and no problem letting them."

In addition, Ramy is negotiating with the council over another nearby building where he reckons 50 more studios could be accommodated.

But what is the appeal of these studios and who takes them? My first port of call is the studio of furniture maker Daniel Evans who arrived in June.

"I've just graduated from Cumbria University (contemporary fine arts, but specialising in furniture) but before that I was into making guitars which is how I got into working with wood," says the 30-year-old.

"In my final year at university I was wondering where I was going to set up and it was totally by chance I came here.

"I'd been looking at industrial units and they were big enough, but I didn't really want to be on an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere.

"I was in The Biscuit Factory buying a present and saw a sign about artists' studios on the counter."

Daniel, who is the son of a judge, crafts furniture with a trademark double dovetail motif, resembling a bow tie.

Already he has a piece in the little gallery at the Biscuit Tin Studios, the boardroom of the old print works, and is appreciating the presence of other artists.

"I was in the gallery this morning and one of the glass makers was trying to fix a frame. I was able to help her with that and she might be able to help me when I'm making a mirror. There are these opportunities for collaboration."

Sarah Grady, 27, did a law degree at Newcastle University but then signed up for an art foundation course at Newcastle College. "I enjoyed it so much that I ended up doing a foundation degree there and finished it at Northumbria last year.

"I think my mum would have loved me to do art in the first place but I didn't have the confidence."

Sarah specialises in highly unusual pictures which are part painting, part photo-montage and are based on old and new photos of Newcastle city scenes.

She was working in her parents' loft until her mother found out about the new studios. Now Sarah has a window overlooking a pavement, the perfect showcase for her work.

Four people share one Biscuit Tin studio. Sam Knowles, who is a painter, is currently in residence with Amelia Davies, an illustrator who does delicate pen and ink drawings of people she sees on the street.

They share with Sam's partner, sculptor Ellie O'Keeffe, and art teacher Annie Ravazallo.

Sam, 32, was born in Kent but studied fine art at Newcastle University and stayed on. "This is the first studio I've ever had but I've always rented flats with spare bedrooms."

Sam, who is also the photography and print curator at The Biscuit Factory, is working on a series of paintings featuring birds and has made a series of paper collages on a similar theme. …