L to R: Julia Burton, Robbie Wallis, Lizzie Sturm, Nikki Van der Zyl and Michael Brown
How did The Art Stables come about? Phillippa Clayden, a former student of Cecil Collins (the visionary artist and educator) had been teaching her magical classes underground for many years, quietly buried away in the Sternberg Centre in the heart of Finchley. To find this class was like mining; you had to walk down many steps and go through dark corridors to find this vein of gold secretly buried in the vaults. Once there, the colour hit you from all sides; creativity oozed from every pore; pictures, postcards, visuals adorned the walls; charcoal, turps, paint spattered carpet, blocked leaking sinks; rickety cupboards filled with drying canvasses, chatter of foreign words filled the air and talk about the disposition in space... “Close your eyes, feel you are the subject, free the intellectual mind...disposition in space…outline is a dirty word, it’s contour darling … pthalo blue, alizarin crimson dear…Barbara throw that ruler away! ...What an amazing colour Cyril...ooooh delicious..” A fair few swear words, easels squashed together...tomes of the great artists dripping off the tables.
We picked up our pencils, charcoal, conte pastels, two at a time, both hands drawing at once, 30 second drawings, 20 second drawings, even 10 second drawings,... Three hours later, with our charcoal blackened faces and paint covered hands we crawled out of our hole into the evening air, totally drained, yet filled with a quiet enthusiasm, and our scrolls of paper under our arm. The spell had been cast, it was like a drug, the drug of self-expression, the best drug of all. We were hooked.
People of all ages and walks of life...singles, barristers, mums, dads, grandmas, great-grandmas, rag-traders, profs; all joined by the creative impulse to paint. Sharing herbal teas and home-made cakes, stories, inspiration from any point in this world or the next...or the previous...making their mark. Expressing the inexpressible. The portal closed on Monday night at ten o'clock – “until the next time”, we said, like some secret society. On the surface we put on our normal face to rejoin the world but our DNA had been secretly altered; we would never be quite the same again. We had been touched, or some say splattered…until the next time.
Out in the light of day, many moons later, a newspaper arrived and whispers started...“have you seen this?... the old stable block, that building, locked up for ten years is up for grabs. We need a home, ours is threatened. Could it be...?” A meeting was held at the Old Bull and Bush. Ten of the clan were present. A pow wow of vision, debate, raised voices and unbelievable enthusiasm. To create a place of our own, a new home – the arguments raged well into the night – until closing time, nearly. The pragmatist said “what about insurance, legals, money? … it will never work.” A hand flew down on the table... “enough, we have been chosen and we must listen to the call...the results are out of our hands, we must try and create a home for our art... I pledge (a couple of grand and the rest of my life) to bring our vision into reality....an artist’s life is never easy...we are not made that way".
And so, many pow wows later ....with the big chiefs from the Manor House Trust, a shock came that would change our world forever. After many meetings, emails, discussions and debate we were told, “Your wish has been granted ...we love your vision.” And so we were granted the Art Stables for this purpose. “You will face many adversities on the way but painting and creativity is your path ... many will join you and you will have many battles, but the love of your art will carry you through.
”Today we’re inviting you to join us in this exciting adventure. It boils down to this: come and paint, we will never judge you, come join our community, to express yourself in so many surprising ways... everyone is welcome. We have a community of dedicated tutors, to help and support you, a place to drink tea, let the world go, park your worries, have a natter. We're waiting for you…in front of you now is an open door ...it's closer than ever, open the door, your creative journey has just begun!
From left to right in small photo: Julia Burton, Robbie Wallis, Lizzie Sturm, Nikki Van der Zyl and Michael Brown