The Artist’s Studio: Sian Torrington

Sian Torrington makes her sumptuous works by sculpting, drawing and assembling from her Lyall Bay studio in Wellington. She has generously allowed us into her studio space and talks to us about the benefits of having a studio near the beach but importantly, without a beach view….

Is your studio near to or far from where you live?

My studio is in Lyall Bay, which is about 40 mins bike ride from where I currently live. I do wish it were closer, but I just can’t let it go. I think I’ve been there around four years now, and it’s an incredibly nourishing, studious and focussed place for me. The other people who work there are inspirational, encouraging and hard working, and it’s right by the beach. All things which make a bit of a ride well worth it!

How much time do you spend there during an average week?  

A  minimum of two days a week, which has been my standard for at least the last ten years. Any less than than is not enough to keep things rolling. Depending on the project it might be more, for example a funded project allows me to spend more time in the studio. And of course leading up to a show there are some later nights as well. Weekends are emergency studio time only for me though, I try to keep a healthy balance between art and life.

What does an average day in the studio look like for you (if there is such a thing!) 

I always tell myself the most important thing is just to get there. Once I’m there everything makes sense and the next step seems clear, which can be obscured when I am worrying about how the work is or how to resolve it. Once I’m there, I make a cup of tea and put on some music, and just look around. I always work on a series of works at once, so I can retain the gestural and loose nature of the work. I will see something which needs to happen, and start there. I work across drawing and sculpture, and when I get stuck in one medium it really helps to move across to the other. It loosens up my mind and gives me new solutions. I try to not arrange things in the evening on studio days, so I can feel free to work as long as I need. At the moment I’ve been going for swims with my studio mates in the afternoons, which is refreshing. When it’s cooler I tend to take a break around 2 or 3pm and go have a coffee or walk on the beach. Lyall bay is the dog beach and it gives me great perspective to hang out with a bunch of pooches.

Do you let other people/artists/dealers into your work space or do you prefer privacy?

I’m really private in the studio. It is very important to me that it is a space where everything is allowed, whether it is beautiful, ugly, or resolved. I find that often the best work is confronting because it’s new, so I don’t recognise it yet. The way I have created the space for this is by making sure the studio is my own private room. I think of it as a place with layers and layers of past experience and learning embedded in it, which bolsters me as I make new work. Of course it’s great to see the place where the work is made, and people always want  to come to the studio. There is a generosity in my work which is about revealing the process in the final work, but I also need to protect the space where I work it all out for myself first.

It’s also important for me not to be looked at while I am making work. I chose my studio without the view of the beach, so that  noone can look in. What I do is very physical, and I’m sure it’s fascinating to watch that process, but I need to feel like it doesn’t matter what it or I look like in order to be able to create it. I did let a film be made of me making a drawing for the promotion of ‘The way you have held things’ for Christchurch Art Gallery and that was fascinating to be able to watch myself from the outside. Perhaps one day I’ll make some performative drawing pieces but as a woman, and a queer person, it’s important for me to find ways to negotiate the space of being looked at and being embodied in a powerful way.

There are a few key people who I let into the studio when I need feedback or encouragement. My partner is one, and also some trusted artist friends. Also our band has rehearsed a couple of times in the studio which was great – lots of materials to make sound with! I also do invite people to come see the work in a professional context; curators, dealers, writers or clients. Generally though they are coming to see a specific body of work, so I’ll set that up and it feels like a different kind of space then. That’s what I do for open studios which I have occasionally as well. People always seem to enjoy that.

Do you make better work when the studio is tidy or chaotic?  

My studio state goes in cycles. When I am making work I need things to be accessible so I can allow accidents to happen, materials to be noticed, new colour combinations etc. When I’m drawing, even on one page, my method is assemblage. So I might spend a while drawing a corner of a sculpture, and then incorporate a found object, then let the drawing take its own form. This allows a balance between the conscious and unconscious decision making to happen. I’ve always treated the studio walls as a large, movable sketch book, where there might be notes, or fragments of drawings which, collated together on the wall help me to understand the work and where it needs to go.

At the end of a body of work though I will tidy up and reorganise the space. I’ve just done that recently, and it’s a really important ritual for me to clear away and complete one body of work, and make space for the next. There’s always lots of glitter and lovely fragments in the sweepings, and I sift through what is being discarded or retained to begin the process again.

Do you play music while you work? (If so – what’s on your playlist?)

Music is essential to me being able to work. I tend to have one or a few albums which I play over and over during a body of work. Vespertine by Bjork has been one of those, along with Rid of Me by PJ Harvey, Third by Portishead, and Hail to the Thief by Radiohead. I tend to like introspective type guitar music, but also have some old school disco for the mid afternoon slump. Salt and Pepa is a favourite for that time of day; Push it!

What are the three essential elements for your ideal studio?

I’ve worked in so many spaces; a gallery foyer,  a tiny room under the house, an old church. They all have an influence on the work; in my smallest studio, which was about 3m square, I was making tiny wall works where all the pieces were balanced on the head of pins. I really value the changes and learning in the work which happen through being responsive to space. But I think in terms of the ideal;

Privacy in the studio

Not too isolated, ie everyday life going on outside..

Warm, dry, with light, storage and wall space.

(More than three!)

Describe your studio in one word

Sanctuary

To read Sian’s blog go to: https://allmeaningisthelineyoudraw.wordpress.com/ and learn more about her upcoming residency in Bangalore, India here: http://asianz.org.nz/our-work/arts-and-community/opportunities/artist-residence-exchanges/1shanthiroad