Kent artists in residence

Ste4ve Clark and engraver Nigel Hartfield at Chilstone

Ste4ve Clark and engraver Nigel Hartfield at Chilstone - Credit: Archant

July 29 marks the 125th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death and within this timeframe the concept of Artist in Residence has flourished, as we discover here in Kent

Vincent Van Gogh was born before his time. Dying before the turn of the 20th century, he missed out on seeing the role of ‘Artist in Residence’ blossom, creating a new wave of artistic talent and patronage.

This month (29 July) marks the 125th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death and within this timeframe the concept of Artist in Residence has flourished.

The notion of Artist in Residence existed in the 1880’s but truly took flight at the turn of the 20th century and a new surge in art appreciation.

The role was born from the idea of benefactors giving individual artists a new kind of romantic patronage. The general understanding for the existence of Artist in Residence programmes is “to invite artists, academicians, curators and all manner of creative people for a time and space away from their usual environment.”

However, the term ‘Artist in Residence’ can be ambiguous and has been shackled with a stereotype associated with unobtainable, aloof artists shut away from the public.

This is rarely the case; when an organisation has an Artist in Residence, this should tell the public that it embraces art and welcomes public interest.

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One reason that this stereotype remains is due to the differing Artist in Residence models used. In the 1960s artists began to withdraw temporarily from society to create their own ideal in seclusion, in contrast to another wave of residency model that tried to connect to the public. The idea of ‘seclusion’ could have compounded the rather stiff stereotype that still remains today.

There are many organisations that run Artist in Residence programmes but the role extends further afield than these structured programmes. There are artists and craftsmen who fit into the role without labelling themselves with it and those who are simply attached to an organisation without a programme structure guiding them.

The term also creates a double meaning; when taken literally ‘artist in residence’ can of course mean an artist who dwells within a place. In this literal sense of the term Van Gogh would himself have been an Artist in Residence after setting up his Studio of the South in Southern France called Yellow House. Created as an art colony, artists worked together and inspired each other.

In Van Gogh’s life he worked closely with Gauguin and both inspired the future of one another’s work. This communal artistic spirit has lived on and developed into highly successful initiatives across the globe.

Dalia Halpern-Matthews, Nucleus Arts

In Kent, Nucleus Arts embraces a similar artwork ethos. Set up to promote the arts in Medway and Kent, over its four sites in Chatham, Rochester and Maidstone, the organisation aims to prove that beautiful, original and unique works of art can be both attainable and affordable while at the same time providing low-cost studio space to enable artists to practice their art.

Nucleus Arts has more than 50 artists in residence within its organisation and Director Dalia Halpern-Matthews views each one who hires a studio space as an Artist in Residence, not simply because the artist is based there, but because each artist is encouraged to become part of their community.

Dalia says: “I think it is wrong to only hire studio space to graduates who have already been exhibited, for example.

“It’s more important to look at the quality of the work, see what their potential is and understand what they can give back to our community. It is important to us to give opportunities to as many people as possible”

When talking to some of the Artists in Residence at Nucleus Arts Centre in Chatham, even the artists themselves have conflicting views about the term.

Jon Gubbay, a professional artist for more than 17 years, doesn’t view himself as an Artist in Residence; instead he feels the term relates to someone working for another organisation. For example, Jon has been resident at a gallery in St Katherine’s Docks painting in their window.

Another artist, Christopher Sacre, agrees that the term means ‘working elsewhere’ and clarified “Here [Nucleus Arts Centre] is my work space. You normally get paid for being Artist in Residence, you are invited.”

However, Angie Berkley agrees she is an Artist in Residence at Nucleus Arts because she is “part of a community.” She adds: “There was a time when I thought it was about going somewhere else to learn and grow, but here we learn from each other.”

Leah Thorn, University of Kent

Artists who are officially working as Artists in Residence are in no doubt about their title, but what they do within the role varies dramatically. Leah Thorn is a spoken word poet who is Artist in Residence (awarded through the Leverhulme Trust) for the University of Kent, working in partnership with Canterbury Christ Church University. Leah is completing two bodies of artistic work as part of the residency, a film called ‘Watch’ which slowly reveals the centrality of memory to identify the impact of dementia on a father/daughter relationship, and also a project working with women in their sixties to try and subvert societies misconceptions about age and gender through poetry.

Leah’s line manager is Patricia Wilson, Professor of Primary and Community Care at the Kent Academy Primary Care Unit based at the University of Kent.

She tells me: “Leah’s film is extremely powerful, it has great impact. Showing the film at academic research meetings and ensuring the public have access to it helps bridges the gap between academia and the public.”

This is the first Artist in Residence role Patricia has been involved with and it is not an obvious role that springs to mind when thinking of primary and community care, but it is a new way of communicating.

Reaching new audiences shows that the role of Artist in Residence is one that is continually evolving.

Indeed Leah views her role as enabling her to “make relationships with institutions and the public by humanising through written word poetry.”

She adds: “People often don’t know what ‘Artist in Residence’ means. It can mean something very different to everyone, the role is so varied.

“For me, I now have structure to my working life; it gives me a rhythm and focus. It is so exciting to see things fall into place.”

Theresa Gadsby-Bourner, Canterbury Christ Church University

The same role at Canterbury Christ Church University is very different and is structured as part of the ongoing arts and culture programme.

Sally Abbott, who is Director of Arts and Culture at the University, says: “Creating opportunities for artists to spend time with staff, students and our public is an essential ingredient of that ambition.

“Understanding the vision and what motivates an artist to do what they do alongside the benefits to both the artist and the host organisation is absolutely critical in achieving a successful collaboration.”

One of the Artists in Residence is Theresa Gadsby-Bourner, who graduated last year and specialises in printmaking.

Her body of work focuses on the Saxon Shore Way, a 163-mile coastal footpath from Gravesend to Hastings, and she is creating a series of mono- prints based on this theme.

Theresa was chosen by the university to take up the residency and is stationed in the university studio alongside the students. The role has given her the chance to hone her skills. “It is an opportunity to develop my practice in a well-designed studio and to be part of an artistic hub and not be isolated,” she says.

“I feel it has also elevated me to a different status within myself. I am no longer a student, but a practicing artist, and it is great to have a year to find my professional level.”

For Theresa there is no confusion about the term Artist in Residence: “I like it! I like the fact that I do understand what it means. The role is very different depending on the business or organisation it is for. For me the term works, and it has gravitas.

“The perceived barrier to the arts is a problem in the art world in general not just with the term Artist in Residence. Social media and the internet make this situation better and the ‘exclusive’ stereotype linked to art is being broken down. It is up to us artists to make people feel comfortable.”

Nigel Hartfield, Chilstone, Langton Green

At Chilstone, near Tunbridge Wells, the company has been manufacturing what general manger Steve Clark describes as ‘garden art’ from reconstituted stone for more than 60 years, so would their craftsmen be seen as Artists in Residence?

At Chilstone there are 20 employees and when I visited craftsmen were busy making all sorts of creative outdoor art, from giant columns to support a veranda and balustrading through to decorative stone acorns, figurines and sundials.

Most are made in-house from fibreglass or rubber moulds, but Steve points out that it is not just about making moulded stone. “People often want bespoke pieces which means one of our craftsmen has to make that from scratch and create the original.”

Steve views freelance engraver Nigel Hartfield as an Artist in Residence because of the work he produces for them and because he is based on site. Nigel also views his work as artistic but would not describe himself quite in those terms.

“I do have commissions for family crests, bespoke engravings and memorials and the stone hand engraving is all based on my free-hand drawing, so it is a type of art,” he concedes.

The public can appreciate the art Nigel and the other craftsmen create at Chilstone by enjoying the 35 acres of gardens, woodland and lakeside walks open to the public within which the business is set.

As well as seeing examples of Chilstone’s garden art, you can even buy a daily fishing license and fish in the lake or bring your dog for a walk; a truly relaxing way to interact with the work of Artists in Residence.

Whether Vincent Van Gogh would have classed himself as an ‘Artist in Residence’, in whatever form, is unknown, but his fame and admiration has inspired generations of artists and this legacy does support many Artists in Residence today.

The Vincent Van Gogh Huis, in Zundert, Netherlands regularly presents artwork of the current selected Vincent Van Gogh Artist in Residence.

Even though the great man did not live to see how they have influenced the art world, he has in spirit been part of the movement all along.

One steadfast thread that does seem to run through many residencies is the belief that the artwork created should be shared with the public.

So with this in mind put an ‘Artists in Residence Day’ on your calendar and discover the original artwork being produced in Kent every day.


Nucleus Arts Centre Chatham, 272 High Street, Chatham ME4 4BP, 01634 812108

Nucleus Arts Maidstone Hub, 7-8 Granada House, Gabriel’s Hill, Maidstone ME15 6JR, 01634 812108

Nucleus Arts Creative Riverside Hub, 13 Military Road, Chatham ME4 4JG, 01634 812108

Nucleus Arts Rochester, 75 High Street, Rochester ME1 1LX, 01634 812108

Nick Evans and Peter Reeds from Nucleus Arts Centre formed the idea of working in collaboration painting one picture together. They encouraged other artists to pair up to create artwork and the culmination of this is an exhibition CollaborART showing at Nucleus Arts Centre 11-16 July.

Leah Thorn, Artist in Residence at University of Kent, The Registry, Canterbury CRT2 7NZ, 01227 764000 Leah is happy to show the film ‘Watch’ to community groups and is currently looking for women in their sixties to take part in her workshops. Contact her at: or

Theresa Gadsby-Bourner, Artist in Residence at Canterbury Christ Church University, North Holmes Road, Canterbury CT1 1QU, 01227 767700

Theresa has a show of her work planned at the end of summer. See examples of her work at or contact her at:

Chilstone, Victoria Park, Fordcombe Road, Langton Green TN3 0RD, 01892 740866. Open free to the public 9am-pm Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm Sat and 11am-5pm Sun. Dogs on leads welcome.