James Powditch

Artists in residence

An Archibald would be nice, but what Sydney's artists really need is space.

Cover Story by Susan Wyndham
Domain, The Sydney Morning Herald April 28, 2005

> On the factory floor: Powditch the "building slave" Picture: Sahlan Hayes >

It's hard to be creative when you don't know where you'll be next month - and for many artists insecurity is a constant state.

Guyzo Gibson, who sculpts ancient tree stumps into art, has worked at Jones Bay Wharf and in a 300-square-metre warehouse at Alexandria. But now his sculptures are homeless because his landlord raised the rent. "I know at least 300 artists looking for studio space," he says.

Cheap, shared studios, the starting place for most artists, have receded from the city as wharves and warehouses have been gentrified. Blackwattle Bay Studios at Glebe disappeared and Eveleigh railway yards have been emptied for refurbishment. New spaces are open in inner suburbs such as Camperdown and Newtown, but at a price.

Artists, however, are improvisers. They move further from the city centre, squeeze into unlikely spaces and, in doing so, give Sydney style, soul and a sense of humour.

James Powditch, Marrickville

Powditch, whose painting, Greensleeves of Home, is a Wynne finalist this year, worked in a series of Newtown flats above shops until he bought a 1950s clothing factory in Marrickville.

Now his wooden constructions take shape in a sprawling workshop with original timber floors, beamed ceilings and cloth-cutting bench. A large portrait of film director Robert Connolly, his Archibald subject this year and last, presides over the sawdust, power tools and scraps of wood Powditch picks up at local junk shops such as Reverse Garbage. After setting out to be a filmmaker and failing art school ("I didn't do my essays"), he learnt to use tools while doing odd jobs for Ray Hughes, who was a dealer for his father, the painter Peter Powditch. Building sets evolved into creating his own work from recycled objects and he returned as an artist, via other dealers, to Hughes's warehouse gallery.

With his wife, Diane Adair, he bought the factory building in a light-industrial street four years ago and laboured for six months to convert it into their home, his studio and graphic design offices for Adair and several tenants. "We could not afford it if we'd had to pay someone to do all the work. So I'm the building slave."

The result is a striking mixture of raw surfaces, funky furnishings and art-covered walls. The living space is open - with a generous play area for their daughter - except for two bedrooms and a bathroom. Powditch built the kitchen bench for their last home ("being a set builder I make everything to move"). Among the furniture is a Parker couch bought at auction for $100 and a table Powditch made from four laminated doors, which comfortably seats 20 people.

His art has grown since he's had a big work space. One of his shows was entirely made of green Masonite he'd removed from the building. He stores a backlog of materials in his "auxiliary shed" in the backyard, where he also sets up a home cinema on warm nights. A corner of the studio has a cluster of chairs around a TV, where he watches old movies that infiltrate his work.

Give an artist space, it seems, and he only craves more. Powditch dreamed of expanding into the warehouse next door, but it has sold to a developer with plans to turn it into backpacker accommodation. There goes the neighbourhood.

(this is an extract only)

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