"Open" Studio: A Rant

Okay, so I may be slightly deranged about my privacy. And you may find this hard to believe, coming from someone posting pictures of her work-in-progress on the interwebs. But it's true: my privacy in the studio is really, really important to me. Not only do I keep many valuable possessions in that room (hundreds of dollars worth of paint and brushes, iPod, stereo, laptop, etc.) but also all of my paintings. It's a space for doing what is often difficult, personal work, work that leaves you vulnerable while you are doing it. You need time, space and safety to get honest with yourself, and be willing to fail. These are not group activities. I have never understood artist collectives. I am a despot, and my studio is the fiefdom over which I rule with an iron hand. Except.

My current studio, which on first glance appears to be a lovely, large space with a whole wall of windows, has a serious flaw. Now, I almost didn't rent this studio in the first place because in addition to the front door, which locks, it has 2 other doors which connect it to the adjoining studios. Apparently, they are fire doors, and in the event of a fire we would walk through a long line of studios to the fire escape. These doors do not lock, and are not even real doors, but cheapskate landlord pieces of plywood that don't even latch properly. But I was so desperate for a space to start working again back in February that I decided I could live with it, and nailed a bunch of sound-muffling blankets over the doors to help keep down the noise (the walls are paper-thin) and send the message to my neighbors that I did not regard those doors as actual portals into be walked through.


But occasionally I would find evidence that one door had been opened in my absence. Perhaps I had leaned a painting against it, and would find in the morning that it had been moved against a wall. I started leaving a can against the bottom of the door, so I would be able to tell if it had been opened. And periodically, it would indeed be shoved to one side.

The Tell-tale Can

Well, after much paranoid fantasizing, last week I finally knocked on the studio next door, and learned that, in fact, people are in and out of my studio when I'm not there. To get to the goddamned fuse box.

I did notice the fuse box when I took the studio, but stupidly didn't consider the implications of what would happen when fuses blew, and other denizens of the building needed to flip the breaker. Well, now I know. If I'm there, they knock on my door. And when I'm not, they traipse through the side door and help themselves. And let me tell you, in my building, fuses blow all the time. The building isn't wired very well apparently, and the landlord doesn't provide heat or lighting. So everyone has jerry-rigged their own lighting set-ups, plus electric heaters now that it's cold again here in Portland. And the damn fuses are snapping away like little alligators. (Really, the whole electricity situation has me paranoid about a studio fire.)

My Nemesis

Strangely, the very night before I discovered that it was open season in my studio, I had a really terrible dream that I was working away there, and all of a sudden people started pouring through the fire door and then began dismantling the wall, and moving my stuff around, and setting up ranks of folding chairs for some kind of public event. I protested, flabbergasted, and vainly, in the way of all bad dreams. "No, no," they said, "didn't they tell you? You're studio isn't private, don't be ridiculous. We hold all our board meetings in here." And the very next day I learned about the fuse box situation. Am I psychic? Or just deeply, darkly paranoid?

There's kind of nothing I can do about it. My lease is through the end of February and I don't really think that this constitutes grounds for breaking it. I can live with it, because the people in my building seem like pretty nice people, in the way of most Portlanders, and I don't think they would steal anything, or leer inappropriately at my defenseless paintings. But mostly because I can't not have a place to work. But don't think I'm happy about it.