A creative space can often be as important as what the artist creates.
If you were to walk into Pablo Picasso’s creative space, his home studio, you would find yourself surrounded by the remnants of a life very well lived. While the artist spent large amounts of his life traveling the globe in search of inspiration, it was in his final home that he was most profoundly himself. La Californie, nestled snugly in the azure dream that is Cannes, was stuffed full of Picasso’s works and findings, all collected over the course of his prolific career. Rooms towered high with the memories of his former life in Paris; splotches of paint found themselves on every home surface possible. While the artist did have a designated studio, his work spilled into the surrounding rooms and spaces, transforming the home into a sort of living gallery.
In the mishmash of Picasso’s creative space, you could expect to find anything from a sculpture of a pregnant goat to a collection of plates made in honor of the artist’s dog. If inspiration is anywhere to be found, then it was in the walls and rooms of La Californie. And by the looks of the sheer quantity of art in the home, it was catching like a fever.
Pablo Picasso in his workshop in Antibes in 1946. Photograph: RDA/Getty Image
When you picture an artist in her creative space, you will probably conjure up images of a frenzy of flying paint, malformed artworks and rejected ideas. More often than not, studios are thought to be a hive of activity so brimming with creativity that, were an average Joe to casually stroll in, all of the magic in the room might miraculously disappear — too bad for the inquisitive but uninspired!
While the idea of the studio as a sort of sacred space rings true, artists rarely follow a set of rules when designing their own creative hubs — what works for one person might not cut it for someone else. Finding the balance between perfection and frenetic mess, however, is a very tricky thing to master.
Over the course of history, one thing seems clear: the artist willing to up sticks and move wherever the wind might carry her is the artist who endures. While some of the most successful artists have been associated with specific places or buildings, different eras in their lifetimes can often be plotted to the various places in which they lived. Where the artist creates can often be as important as what she creates at the end of it all.
The studio is like an extension of the artist’s body and mind, collating any number of new ideas and projects.
Zoom in on Berlin today. The German capital is buzzing with creative talent, its liberal approach to life making the city a breeding ground for artists and intellectuals from around the world. While the way of life is very much local, you would be hard pressed to find a more international city. On every street corner, cultural influences from across the globe interact and amalgamate. Wind through Berlin’s gray streets and industrial buildings, and you might find yourself in the studio of Olafur Eliasson, the artist and entrepreneur known for his large-scale sculptures and installations. With roots in both Denmark and Iceland, Eliasson is very much in tune with the natural environment, and over the course of his career, he has been repeatedly noted for his effortless command of elemental materials.
Photo courtesy of olafureliasson.net/studio
How does an artist like this end up basing his creative space in the very industrial, utilitarian Berlin? It was in his blood, apparently. Having moved from Denmark to Iceland, Eliasson was used to settling into new places from an early age. Despite being professionally based in Berlin, he continues to journey back to his two homes, bringing creative inspiration from their rugged landscapes into the minimalist studio he has created for himself. The mammoth workshop — Studio Olafur Eliasson — now employs 90 specialists across the fields of architecture, design, engineering and craftwork. Berlin, that melting pot of creative and innovative energy, seemed like the only place where a studio as unique and sprawling as Eliasson’s could really fit in.
Eliasson’s studio seems more like a laboratory than anything else. Huge walls are dotted with photographs and images, and sprawling workspaces are covered in canvases and loose sketches — works in progress for some of the studio’s many artists. The haphazard way in which potentially priceless works are scattered about the creative space might fill some workers with anxiety, but for Eliasson and his team, it is the only way to truly get to the heart of an idea.
When it comes to creativity, only the best ideas survive.
In Eliasson’s case, as in most artists’ experiences, the studio is like an extension of the artist’s body and mind, collating any number of new ideas and projects. Much like the millions of thoughts we have each day, many of the art pieces are left to fester and eventually die out completely. When it comes to creativity, only the best ideas survive.
The idea of Berlin has seeped its way into Eliasson’s studio. Just as Picasso’s La Californie was filled with the warmth and sleepiness of its Cannes location, Studio Olafur Eliasson contains Berlin’s clean creativity and is very much a blank canvas for new ideas. In the space, Eliasson can make his innermost ideas tangible. If you could look inside his head, this might just be what you would find.
Not all creatives use their studios in the same way, either. Artist Sophie Calle is renowned for the out-of-the-box style with which she approaches her work, considering the concept of a studio with a fluid mind-set. A number of Calle’s projects have involved her following members of the public in their cities, incorporating her projects into “real life” and reaching out to other creatives for their input; the creative space in which she works is as much on the street as it is in her Paris-adjacent studio, and for this reason there is a great deal of flexibility to her work.
Her creative space is the world around her and reflects the lives and minds of those who inhabit it.
While she does often work from a “closed” space, Calle is free to take her work with her wherever she goes and this is why the finished pieces have such universal appeal. Her creative space is the world around her and reflects the lives and minds of those who inhabit it. When Calle does take to her studio, she is surrounded by ephemeral objects of seemingly random choice, but to the artist, they are each meaningful, representing the people and places she has known throughout her life. Calle’s studio, much like her work, is expansive and globalized, but if you peer beneath the surface, you find something very personal indeed.
Sophie Calle in her Paris studio. Photograph: Alastair Miller
The studio might be as responsible for great art as the artists themselves. A space without borders or judgment, it is one of the only places where creative minds can truly be themselves and respond to the world around them. It is when they unleash their work on the wider world that it will either fail or fly; in the studio, as in their minds, everything is a success.