Underbank Studios is a brand new community art space and hub located in the old town of Stockport on Little Underbank, the same street as Norah Store, SK1 and Rare Mags. The space is literally being built as we speak and it will become a hub for the community to learn all about arts and design.
They want the space to be a place where people can come together and enjoy art together. The first and second floor will be a shared work space for a variety of artists with some even choosing to have the Harry Potter seat under the stairs! The ground floor public facing space will be used a shop to sell the artwork of the artists as well as being a space to offer screen printing and risograph printing facilities. Bringing together all their shared experiences they will then open up the space to facilitate workshops and opportunities for people to learn new skills.
All in all it's really the dream, the ability to have something new and fresh in their home town and ultimately help the people of Stockport and beyond. As we say they are currently building this dream from the ground up, making their own furniture and partition walls but they need your help to make this a reality. They are aiming to raise £8'000 to complete all the essential electrical and building work to be able open up the space to the public. If you can support them in any way then click right here
The space is ran by 4 female artists-
Lily Windsor Walker
We literally chatted about everything from why they love Stockport so much to who they actually are. You can listen to our chat here or read along below!
What is Underbank Studios and what are you going to do with the space?
Luca - I guess we see Underbank as a community art space, a community hub! It has studio residents, some of which are local and a load of illustrators, we've got more design and print based people coming in with us because we only have a small space. We will have risograph and screen printing facilities, so a lot of of stuff is based around print and having fun really.
Evan - That's the most important thing!
Group - Yeah exactly!!!
Heather - We all love paper and print.
Lily - We are also going to have workshops downstairs too! Then we will sell all the things that the studio residents make so we can make a little bit of money.
Luca - That also makes us quite forward facing which is really important about this incarnation of Underbank Studios. We have all shared a studio space for a while but when this space became available we all thought lets take over the space and we really had to think quite quickly about what the downstairs would be. So workshops is obvious, we all have a real interest in that and know a lot of other artists who are interested in facilitating workshops. So it's just about utilising the contacts that we have already. The rest -like Heather said- is going to be studios with screen printing facilities and Roots Riso will be in here too...
Heather - WHOOP!
Luca - Getting a whoop in there! We will be operating on a not for profit basis, so when people are buying stuff and using the facilities the money will go straight back into the space to facilitate more stuff. We are looking at funding so we can pay people who come in and will facilitate those workshops.
Lily - We just want to carry on making!
Luca - Also because we are not for profit we can do what we want instead of being all about profits, we aren't making money off our residents we really just want to serve the community that are already here.
So I know you are already living the dream, but what's the big dream?
Heather - I'm already living the dream, this is everything I have dreamed about for the last few years. I studied print and have ran Roots Riso Print for a while and this is my dream really.
Luca - With blue sky thinking I guess down on the Underbanks there are loads of new stuff opening up everyday and it's really exciting. So if we are going big then we have to think about expanding and collaborating with more people and put ourselves at the centre of the Stockport's art quarter.
Lily - I think what we have got now is such a big dream already! This has been the aim really, but thinking bigger it is really exciting that we can be at the centre of new stuff in Stockport.
Group - WHHOOOOOAAAA HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAH STOCKPORT STOCKPORT!!
Lily - I'm not actually from Stockport, and even I love it.
Luca - What, where you from?
Lily - West Didsbury! I always used to come to Stockport to get funky socks from the market.
Becky - All of us have lived here at some point, I've been in Stockport all my life. There's just so much cool stuff here, historical stuff like The Plaza, the air raid shelters, St Mary's Church, the list goes on and on, they are all things that we have come to appreciate. Me, Luca and Heather studied here and got our degrees and absolutely loved our time here, through Stockport College and the University Centre were some of the best years of our lives and really sculpted us, that's why we love Stockport and have real pride. That's why we are here, Stockport needs Underbank Studios and the people at the College need it too and, yeah, Stockport! It gets a bad rep round here but it's at a point that it's changing.
Heather - Stockport is the underdog.
Becky - YEAHHH!! Years ago when Seven Miles Out opened up near the marketplace, Stockport proved it had the gusto to be a creative community art space. The people who got it off the ground are 'The Stockport Family', John and Rosemary Barrett.
Luca - They are what inspired us to do this. They run Foody Friday, they are responsible for all off Stockport Old Town's branding, so it's them plugging all the great local stuff. Way back when they had the vision for Seven Miles Out and it was open for a while when I was at Uni, they gave me my first studio space for free. The arts hub underneath had everything, exhibitions, poetry nights and we did so much there, it was a massive turning point for Stockport, they had the vision to build the community here instead of throwing money around. They had loads of difficulties because it wasn't 'cool' round here. They started up the teenage market, me and Becky sold our first professional works there and it was mint and we all built up from there. I know Stockport has a bad rep but there are so many cool people here. Sadly it had to close but then Foody Friday all started happening, they thought they had failed but what really happened was they showed people what can be done.
Heather - They would always help us and encourage us, even when we were like 16/17. It's given us all the confidence, like role models.
Becky - We can talk about Stockport forever.
Luca - We just wanted to have our piece of Stockport, we are just cats pissing on a street corner saying this is ours!!!! Essentially there has just been a lot of gentrification level stuff round here and we are excited to not do that, before all the landlords come in and buy it we can keep our own little piece of it. That's why we really need the help of the community because we are a not for profit and as much as we want to help them, we need their help to stick around. Also a big shout out to the Stockport College tutors! We wouldn't be here without them. When you leave Uni you sort of have nothing and so having a space to be creative is really important.
We have also just sorted out a sponsorship with the College where we are going to create an award called the Underbank Award.
Group - Whooooo, ahhhhhhhh!!
Luca - So we will go to the degree show and we will pick one graduate to become a resident of Underbank Studios and the College will cover the cost of that space for a year. The student then gets to continue their creative life and be surrounded by other like minded people, because the transition is really hard when you come to the open world.
Heather - We are all working class and from Stockport, so giving back to people in the same position as us is really important, that's the main thing for me really.
Can we look forward to any specific projects?
Heather - Poetry! We will be hosting a few poetry workshops with a lady called Lucy Sinclair, she used to host them at Seven Miles Out and me and Luca always went and loved them and she got in contact and wants to work with us.
Luca - We've already got quite a few creative friends who want to hold workshops here, Freya Wysocki is going to hold some tufting and rug workshops soon! We want to secure funding so we can get loads of stuff going on all the time.
Becky - That is the first project for us really, getting the whole programme of stuff together!
Heather - That's the beauty of the having the risograph printer here because we can work right around that.
Luca - It's the same with the screen printer too! Our next big project is getting our print room sorted so we can get about 3 artists working in there. The beauty of that space is that it can double up as a darkroom, so we can get some photographers in that can develop prints on a temporary basis. So we've got loads on the agenda really!
How can people get involved?
Heather - Anyone can get in touch with us and bring us ideas of workshops they would like to do! You can email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Becky - What? No...
Heather - HAHAH oh nooo!!
Luca - Like that is totally wrong hahahah.
Group - Bursts into laughter
Becky - Anyway, it's email@example.com and on Instagram @underbank_studios and the same at Facebook.
Luca - And please please please please please can you donate to us. We are trying to raise £8'000 for major electrical works that need completing in the building and we have lots of other expenses like a shutter and an alarm system. We are currently making our own furniture and our own partition walls, but we then need to deck out the print room and make our toilets useable. If we can't pay for all of this then the project might not happen so we really need all the support we can possibly get.
We are running a raffle alongside all of this with different levels of awards from £5, £10, £20 and £50 and then we have had friends who have donated some of their artwork which is super exciting.
We just want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has donated so far because without those people all of this wouldn't have been possible.
The 4 artists that currently make up Underbank Studios are all fantastic in their own right and we wanted to learn more about them, their individual practise and what they will really bring to their community.
So Lily, tell us about your practise in 30 seconds!
Lily - It's colourful, abstract, bold and full of patterns and I like to collaborate with clothing brands and I have most recently collaborated with a brand to make a jigsaw. It also involves a lot of botanicals and shapes but mostly it's all about colour, lots and lots of colour, I love how colours work together.
Evan - When I look at your stuff it looks like it's all about nature, what is it about nature that inspires you?
Lily - I don't know you know. Maybe because I see it everyday and you walk out the door and you can see all the amazing shapes of leaves and nature is so accessible. If I was to have a blank piece of paper I would automatically draw a leaf or a flower.
Evan - When was the transition to fashion?
Lily - I originally did surface pattern design at uni so it was mainly screen printing onto fabrics for interiors and fashion. After uni I started to collaborate with fashion brands, no interior designers yet but I hope to do that soon, get some wallpaper designed.
Evan - Henri Matisse or William Morris?
Lily - Always Matisse.
So Heather, now it's your turn, tell us about what you do!
Heather - I'm an illustrator and designer, I also have a big interest in graphic design and I'm trying to juggle both sides of those practises and bring them together and evolve it all into different shapes so it can transfer to different mediums, generally it's bold, bright and character based stuff.
Evan - You also run Roots Riso, tell us some more about that!
Heather - The reason Roots is called that is because I was looking into my own roots whilst on my own MA. I was looking mainly at doing publications, book binding, printmaking and distribution and then hosting workshops and showing people how to make their own zines. A lot of the roots -that word comes up a lot- of zines is about the distribution of important information about protests and minority culture. So Roots is all encompassing in the way it intends to talk to lower class people, I myself am working class and from Stockport and went to one workshop when I was a kid and it was amazing, but Stockport needs more of that. So that is how it all started as a way for me to offer that service and give back to the community by offering them workshops.
Evan - Have there been any favourite works that you've seen come through Roots Riso?
Heather - I love all of them, a lot of local artists have printed their work with us which is lovely to see, but I'd like to work with some non-artists moving forward. I did this project in Middlesbrough with Black Path Press, they were a really big inspiration to me because they used a risograph printer in a low income area and they had local people coming in and making books and telling stories, at the end they had a selection of books that were all about the community and it gave them a platform to be able to share.
Evan - You've also done a lot of murals and commissions, are there any of them that really enriched your practise?
Heather - I've done a selection of workshops and murals and workshops on mural making. I did a project for a place called Holmeside Coffee in Sunderland, they gave me a wall and let me loose and it was amazing because it was my first real taste of muraling.
So let's move on to Becky, the infamous Coke Zero guzzler, what is it about Coke Zero?
Becky - I'm addicted to it.
Evan - I don't see one right now?
Becky - It's downstairs, but I can't get it right now because I'm doing this. You can't see because my coat is in the way but there are two cans of Coke Zero waiting for me on my desk, I am literally addicted, I used to be addicted to full fat Coke but I weaned myself off that so we are progressing, from sugar to aspartame.
Luca - It's Becky's signature, you know when she's in a room.
Becky - At least it's not cigs, it's just Coke...Zero! i don't want to endorse the Coke company, but.
Evan - Typography or spray paint?
Becky - Oooooh, spray paint. That's my answer now. I'm obsessed with typography, it's what I studied for years, I've got so many books on it but over the last year I have fallen for spray paint. Generally I love making my own typography, it is so exciting but I prefer spray paint because of the way I can use it.
Evan - What's happened in the last year?
Becky - Because of lockdown my practise got halted, of course, and didn't have anywhere to work. My mate then asked me to help them on a mural using spray paint and there was a literal change in my artistic language and incorporated the things I've always used like collage, type and symbols, but spray paint has become the one.
Evan - How did it start with Withington Walls?
Becky - So I did a little spray paint near the Underbanks round here and then did one for a restaurant called Where The Light Gets In and after that I got involved with more street artists and just asked "can I be your mate and share all of your stuff" and then wiggled my way in and found them. So I put my hand in and got accepted, I was alongside some big Manchester street artists and felt totally out of my depth. From doing that I found out that I really like spray paint and that is that.
Luca - I actually love just hearing you guys all talk about your work, it makes me feel so privileged to be here doing this with 3 amazing people, I'm so lucky.
Last but not least is Luca, how would you describe your practise?
Luca - I am a compulsive drawer and just draw all the time with a selection of recurring motifs and it tends to be a lot to do with my mental health condition, my gender and feelings of how I see the world. There are lots of figures housed in shapes and I also use a lot of historical motifs. Maybe my whole practise is just a way for me to be able to understand the world or how I want the world to be. I'm really interested in transformative worlds and my images have a uniqueness that are different from the world we are actually in, it's a form of escapism but also just a compulsive interpretation of how things are. I'm also interested in interior spaces and how I can house things in spaces, they're mainly 2D but I like being in them.
I also have a big interest in theatre, but generally I say that I am a visual artist! I basically make a lot of images about how I feel.
Evan - When I look at it I see all abstraction but you know where you are.
Luca - Oooh lovely.
Evan - There is always a point of reference but it is surrounded by abstraction.
Luca - That is so true. It's hard because I don't look at something and say that's how I see stuff but I take a lot of influences from historical places and architecture, I think it's because I feel a certain way when I'm in those spaces and they influence the spaces that house my characters. Going at it from an abstract way I just seem to get lost so I always need that point of reference, so I always use these figures. There is always a human figure in there but people say they are very pensive or scrunched up, maybe that is just the way I'm feeling at that time. Heather says my work is all about feelings. It's so insular, I'm a navel gazer, but in the theatre that's when I can make it more experiential for an audience. I was really involved when I was younger but then got quite poorly and had to stop, thankfully now I've come full circle and I'm back.
Evan - You've worked on projects like Book Of Fairytales and What Happened To Agnes, tell us a little about them.
Luca - What Happened To Agnes was the debut show of the theatre company I co-founded with two others which is called Ulita. It's about a Malaysian girl who went missing in the 30's all based around a story from one of our founders grandmother's experiences. We are really interested with family and how quite standard family tales can be so interesting.
I created all the hand painted animated backdrops and designed and built the set and then learnt how to project map all of this, it was crazy to learn so much for that rather than just working on print. We have got more stuff coming with Ulita with our first full length musical called 'Sister" about siblings who live on the opposite side of the world from each other and I am creating a world for them, which is really exciting! One of the characters is really just me, he's a paper artist and I am creating a whole body of work as this character, so I feel like I'm slowly becoming him.
As we always do, we ask our guests for some recommendations and these guys really have a lot!
Becky - Firstly I want to mention Siop Shop, who do the best doughnuts in the world, the decor, the t-shirts, it gets hype and it really deserves it. There is also One Up Crew who are based in Berlin, they are a team of painters who travel around a paint some big murals. They have this group project where they paint the side of a train together. The train stops at a station for 3 minutes and they have to work together to paint the entire train in that amount of time. Totally criminals but so exciting.
Lily - Blue Eyed Panda in Manchester, I just love Chinese food and I'm very excited to go!
Luca - I'm just going to plug all the Stockport businesses basically, Rare Mags, Sk1, All Night Flight, Plant Shop, Good Rebel, Cherry Jam, Hillgate Cakery, Jewel On The Hill, Tiamos, Small Press Studio, Cracked Actor, Glass Spider, Wine Boy. We are just saying come to Stockport and support these small businesses!
Heather - Jewel On The Hill has been here forever and really needs the support and is such a nice guy to just go and have a chat with!
So one last time, tell everyone where they can see your stuff and how they can support you!
Luca - Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Becky - Instagram and Facebook is @underbank_studios https://www.instagram.com/underbank_studios/?hl=en
Luca - And please donate to us, the link is https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-launch-underbank-studios
Group - WHHHOOOOOOO TELL YOUR FRIENDS!
All in all these are the sorts of projects that need full commitment, from themselves and the general public. They made it clear how much they need community and community is going to need them, but without your support they won't be able to make this dream a reality, as we write this in mid April they are nearing half way to their goal, lets try and get them to the finish line!
Words and Interview by Evan Soule
Photography by Evan Soule and Laura Weaver