Not-for-profit arts organisation Studio Voltaire reopens this week after an extensive overhaul. Architecture studio Matheson Whiteley has redeveloped the permanent space in Clapham, south London, which will provide affordable studios for 75 artists, as well as facilities including communal workspaces and reconfigured public areas such as a garden, a café, and artist-designed loos. A solo show by American artist William Scott will inaugurate the space. 

Toilets as a permanent installation at Studio Voltaire

pink tiled bathroom wall
Joanne Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan, The Institute For The Magical Effect Of Actually Giving A Shit (a note to our future self), 2021. A Studio Voltaire commission. Image courtesy of the Artists and The Modern Institute, Toby Webster Ltd

Artist duo Joanne Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan intertwine functionality with design in Studio Voltaire’s toilets. A permanent installation, The Institute For The Magical Effect Of Actually Giving A Shit (a note to our future self), puts an unexpected twist on a conventionally utilitarian space, with three toilets embellished with playful figurative motifs in hand-glazed ceramic tiles.

‘The motifs are very much drawn from the visual languages that we have already established within our practice,’ says O’Sullivan. ‘We have often described how we deploy these motifs as a kind of grammar, in the sense that we can deploy them in different forms and configurations depending on the situation they find themselves in. The idea of figuration, and in particular the face, is a key motif in the practice and one that we wanted to use in this commission. We have an ongoing interest in how an artwork might have its own agency, might question or speak back to the viewer, as it were. Confronting a face staring back at you is a very succinct way to initiate such a relationship.’

The commission came to pass after the duo first exhibited work with Studio Voltaire in 2003 as part of a group show; when discussions for the redevelopment process began, they were a natural choice to contribute a permanent installation. ‘There’s always a possibility of absurdity, or perhaps just silliness, embedded in our working relationship with Studio Voltaire, and the conversation between us generated this idea of us doing something with the toilets,’ adds Tatham. ‘It started as a joke, except then a week later Joe [Scotland, Studio Voltaire’s director] emailed to say that perhaps this was something we could try and make happen.’

The bold design details and vivid hues rethink the possibilities inherent in a purely functional space, with the vibrant installation embracing both bright colours and graphic design codes. ‘The idea of using hand- dipped ceramic tiles was a decision we came to fairly early in the project,’ says O’Sullivan. ‘It was then a very interesting and involved process, working with [heritage ceramics company] Craven Dunnill Jackfield, testing glazes to see what was possible in terms of colour and finish. And the tiles themselves also set particular limitations on the possibilities of composition.’

Redesigned garden makes a welcoming entrance

tiled garden fountain
Anthea Hamilton, The Garden, 2021, a Studio Voltaire commission. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo Benedict Johnson

A new public garden designed by artist and long-term local resident Anthea Hamilton marks a new entrance to the site. Hamilton’s garden design – her first permanent work – unites textures and techniques in a modern marriage of Victorian architecture and geometric 1970s design. Details such as crazy paving and pebble mosaics add a comfortable domesticity to the welcoming space. Hamilton worked with Nicholas Byrne on an asymmetric gate design that draws the curves of an onion motif in a metal loop, making a sculptural foil for the angular forms of the tiled fountain. Seating and a pergola crafted from organic and tactile materials create a soothing public space to be enjoyed by both the artists and the immediate neighbourhood.

Redesign by Matheson Whiteley architects

bed in a white room
Residency studio. Photography: French + Tye

London-based architectural studio Matheson Whiteley has created greater facilities for artists with the transformation, the biggest in the site’s 27-year history, which utilises sustainable construction methods. The increased capacity supports both artists and the local community with onsite facilities including an artists’ kitchen, a workshop, a project studio and two residency studios. The space also encompasses the House of Voltaire, the first permanent shop selling artworks and homewares from artists and designers, as well as a café.

Inaugural show by William Scott

art of a fmaily
William Scott, Untitled, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Creative Growth

The new Studio Voltaire space opens with a solo exhibition by William Scott, his first outside the US. Scott explores his native San Francisco in works that consider the nature of communities through the lens of his own personal history. Colourful and vivid images of notable figures, from pop stars to political leaders, form a utopian retelling of a fair society. The exhibition, the result of a partnership with Creative Growth Art Center, a California-based nonprofit serving artists with disabilities, will be held until 2 January 2022. §