So Long & Thanks for All the Lung Damage
In which I reminisce about my old studio that had no windows or ventilation
As of the time of writing, I have been in my new studio — a beautiful 496 sq. ft. concrete block with “super high ceilings, three big windows — for about two weeks. A few days from that time was spent repainting my old studio walls and floors to get my deposit back.
I had inhabited the old studio (let’s call it O.S. from this point on) since November 2018, one year and one month after arriving in London. I had a very difficult time finding a space to work in that was not my dorm room, and although I had to travel an hour and a bit from my house at the time, I loved it. After four and a half years, however, I had been itching to move to a bigger space.
O.S. was a 150 sq. ft. box with light grey floors, high ceilings and white walls. It had no windows or any visible ventilation points. It wasn’t a problem when I had no furniture and worked with oil paints and no solvents.
Increasingly, I had been running into my stuff, constantly playing a game of Tetris with all the crap I had accumulated over the years and the canvases I had taken a liking to painting on the floor (instead of upright on an easel, or tacked to the wall). Lately, I’ve been diluting my paint with a number of solvents, which would lead me to call it a day earlier than I’d like because of fumes-induced headaches and the lack of exposure to what little sunlight England gets.
All of these issues aren’t deal-breakers, of course, but I was ready to move on from O.S.
Because studio spaces in London are almost as hard to come by as flats, it felt like fate that the massive, beautiful studio across the road had yet to be occupied. It’s obviously more expensive than my torture dungeon, but I have so much space to move around. I can hear people from the street — which makes me feel less isolated than usual — and it’s never a surprise to see whether the sun had set or not.
So, even though I have to wad some toilet paper in my pocket to go to the communal bathroom, I do love it here. I’ve already settled in, I think, though I do need to get some more shelving or storage solutions so my stuff just isn’t on the floor (though there’s nothing wrong with that… because I have so much more floor space!).
Still, I’m sparing a thought for O.S., my old refuge. I’ll never forget getting locked out and having to travel to Brockley (to drop of the printer delivered at 10 p.m.) then to Wood Green (to borrow someone’s keys — even though we’d never met, and I just texted a number posted on the outside of the building, meant for deliveries) then back to Hackney Wick (to open O.S. and retrieve my belongings), then back to Brockley so I can pass out and cry… just in time for an early shift for my retail job on Regent Street the next day.
My current studio still feels unreal and like a luxury, especially now that I’m job hunting and have no current stable income. This is my version of “dress for the job you want”, I guess.
After an unfortunate series of disappointing jobs (my partner, Mark, says INFPs have the highest level of job dissatisfaction), I realised that what I really wanted to do in my life — which should have been obvious! — is to be an artist. I’ve been coming to terms with the very real possibility that to do that, here, I’d have to get a job. I have been employed on and off for the five and a half years I’ve lived here. Most of it has been jobs I don’t really want to do. Nothing new here; most people hate their jobs. However, I’m, like, zen at the prospect of doing stuff I’m a) good at, and b) has nothing to do with my life outside of said job.
Growing up in Manila and having lucked into the jobs I had there (all of which had arguably given me some sort of value~ or cultural capital~ or whatever you want to call it), I think ingrained some sort of need to kind of make jobs my life and my personality. I have been slowly unlearning this need to tie myself to a job and “what I do” and needing to feel fulfilled by a job. I don’t need to feel something deeply about pouring candles or selling jewellery. I just need it to pay for my rent.
I know it’s a very privileged thing to be realising this at the age of 34, but you learn things when you learn things, you know?
For now, I’ll keep trying — to get a job and to make art — and I’ll be trying with the sun in my face, fresh air (as fresh as London air can get), and the white noise of people outside my studio, living their lives and trying their best, too.
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