Former public loo makes for engaging and beautiful location
Antlers Gallery, Bristol's brilliant, nomadic art programmers, have mounted some fine exhibitions in some interesting locations in their two-year career to date – a disused shop in Stroud, for example, and a museum in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, as well as a handful of Bristol venues.
But Antlers' latest venue, a defunct but beautifully-preserved public toilet in the centre of town, is perhaps their most intriguing temporary host to date.
Antlers' Winter Shop features artworks, multiples, artist-designed products and much more – you'll find everything from playing cards to T-shirts, at every price point from £1 to £500 – by a range of the eye-catching artists with whom the gallery works.
As ever with Antlers' shows, themes of folklore, storytelling and natural history are prominent. And this fine-looking show-cum-shop goes up this week, running until Christmas, in the Victorian Cloakroom at the junction of Park Row and Woodland Road. So, Antlers: why exhibit (if that's the right word here) in a former public loo?
"We've had our eye on this venue for a while," explains Antlers' curator Juliet Burke.
"It's such an intriguing building in a brilliant central location, and we knew we wanted to use it at some point but were just waiting for the right project.
"The Winter Shop seemed an ideal show to host there, as there is less focus on paintings on the walls and more on a range of smaller, artist-designed items that would sit really well in such a beautiful, authentic surrounding. And, of course, Christmas is a Victorian tradition!"
A bit of artistic licence is at play here. Juliet and co. have named the venue the Victorian Cloakroom even though it was built in 1904, just after the end of the Victorian era.
However, as Juliet points out, it was probably designed at the tail end of that era – giving the name some authenticity, as well as a nice ring to it.
Juliet and co. have arranged to use the building through its owners, Bristol City Council, who have allowed it to host a small handful of other art exhibitions and events over the past three years.
Juliet says: "The council has been very supportive of us using the building as they are keen for as many people as possible to see this architectural gem, which is usually closed to the public."
Since they formed in 2010, Antlers' peripatetic exhibitions have shown work by some very fine artists from Bristol and beyond – unusual, eye-catching and beautifully executed work in both 2D and 3D, typically exploring themes from natural history, narrative or folklore.
And the roster of artists showing work in their Winter Shop is typically attractive.
For example, the brilliant Bristol illustrator Tim Lane – creator of dark, gothic scenes with a hint of Hieronymus Bosch – has contributed some beautiful illustrations, more peaceful and pastoral than his typical fare perhaps, which will form part of a mystery new product.
Follow the gallery's Facebook page for updates on how that one is developing…
Elsewhere, you'll find prints and paintings by Rose Sanderson, an artist based at Jamaica Street Studios whose beautiful paintings of the natural world have been gaining international attention this year (and who, like Tim, has exhibited at the Royal West of England Academy's prestigious Autumn Exhibition).
Look out, too, for some beautiful creations by Alexander Korzer-Robinson, who makes sculptures by meticulously working through antique books, cutting around certain images while removing others. "Many of the books Alex uses are from the same era as the Cloakroom – so there is a nice link there!" Juliet observes.
And why does a defunct former public lavatory work so well as a place to host an exhibition of adventurous, atmospheric, thought-provoking art?
"When I first visited the space, I was struck both by the high-quality public toilets they provided back then – and by what amazing condition the interior is still in," Juliet recalls.
"All the original tiling and woodwork remains in great condition, and makes a fantastic backdrop to the contemporary art and design we are exhibiting.
"The majority of the walls are covered in original white porcelain tiling and it has a superb black and white titled floor.
"Basically, it is just a beautifully designed building – and, by extension, a great place to show well-executed design and artworks.
"Also, in terms of the work we show, Victoriana, history and tradition are important influences to many of the artists we represent. "
"We are really excited about using this historic setting, as our recent Bristol exhibitions have been in retail spaces – so it's great to get out of the high street and set ourselves up somewhere full of character."