Jacques-Emile Blanche, 'Ludgate Circus: Entrance to the City (November, Midday)' circa 1910

Jacques-Emile Blanche
Ludgate Circus: Entrance to the City (November, Midday) circa 1910
Oil on board
support: 1048 x 816 mm frame: 1255 x 1025 x 63 mm
Presented by Georges A. Mevil-Blanche 1947© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

Artists have traditionally lived a rather bohemian lifestyle, favouring a city’s grittier neighbourhoods with cheaper studios and living rents. However, with areas becoming ‘gentrified’ and rents on the increase can artists still make a living in cities?

At the end of the nineteenth century, The Pre-Raphaelites’ London bases were West-Central: Edward Burne-Jones and Sir John Everett Millais lived in Kensington, whilst in Chelsea’s Cheyne Walk were the houses of James Abbot McNeill Whistler and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Henri Gaudier-Brzeska rented a studio in Fulham, virtually penniless after arriving in London from France in 1911, and paying £26 per year for rent. Now rents in Cheyne Walk are among the highest in London, with luxury townhouses fetching up to £20,000 per week.

North London has also seen artists move in, and out. In the 1920s Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth (with Ben Nicholson joining her) lived in Parkhill Road in Belsize Park, and when their friend Piet Mondrian decided to move from Paris to London in 1938 ‘the group found him a studio’ on the same road (he later moved out during the Second World War after a bomb hit the house next door). Roland Penrose and Lee Miller lived just up the road in Downside Hill. Now the average price for a flat is £745,000 and average rent is £1000 per week for a two-bedroom house.

In the 90s the YBAs flocked to Shoreditch, after Damien Hirst’s 1988 Freeze exhibition was held at the Port of London Authority building in Surrey Docks. Where the creative zeitgeist went, galleries followed, since rents were low and derelict warehouses provided large open gallery spaces, such as White Cube Hoxton Square in 2000 and a host of independents on Vyner Street.

Now the East itself seems to have priced younger artists out, with a recent sale of a Vyner Street three-bedroom house for £2.6million, and galleries have headed back to the West End, with Fitzrovia siting new openings from big names, whilst smaller galleries and artist studios head south to Peckham and Bermondsey. White Cube Hoxton closes at the end of the year after the opening of their 5,400 metre square Bermondsey branch in 2011. 

It’s not limited to London though. David Bowie’s first new release in a decade harks back to his days in Berlin in the late Seventies, but Berlin today is also seeing protests against the rapid gentrification of areas such as Kreuzberg blaming the changes on the influx of ‘hipster tourists’ from across Europe, pushing up rents and prices.  

So where next? We ask: can artists still make a living in cities?

Comments

Depending on the stage an artists is as well as his success rate in terms of sales of his art, l would say artists can afford to make a living in cities. Rentals can be very expensive if you would have not reached a certain stage in your artistic career.

l think it is in most cities that major art events occur and as such it will be strategic for any successful artists to live in the city. Artists need to network and interact with curators, collectors and clients and being in right place and the right time can be very rewarding. Also the closeness to resources and materials.

l a Zimbabwean who is working and living in Cape Town, South Africa as a visual artist and there is a lot of artistic activities happening in the city - apart from exhibitions, there are talks, festivals and workshops. l have had discussions with fellow artists who stay in other parts of the country that are far away from cities and they have complained of lack of activities, inspiration and encouragement.