Feature: Artists' Open Houses in Brighton

Most people would find the prospect of entertaining several thousand people in their own home somewhat daunting.

But throughout May in Brighton, such are the visitor numbers for a typical address in the Artists’ Open House festival.

Citywide that adds up to around 230,000 guests. It is no wonder that home-loving artists from Hanover to Hove are currently redecorating and stocking up on teabags.

“It’s a tremendous amount of work,” says Jehane Boden-Spiers of The Yellow House, kt21 on the Kemptown trail, “But I like the way it transforms the space.”

She likes the fact open houses are “very social” and adds: “It’s a good opportunity for me to present my work in an environment where I’m in control.”

Boden-Spiers will showcase 15 artists in her home, a pattern repeated across Brighton as 243 venues play host to 1,300 artists. Most of those will be looking to make sales.

“Some people sell 80%. Some people sell nothing,” she tells me, the average home shifting 30 to 40% of its wares. Turnover for the whole event should be £1 million.

When it comes to art, the public clearly have an appetite for the personal touch. “It’s great for them. They get to see the stories behind the artworks,” says Boden-Spiers.

“It’s a chance for them to meet the artists,” she explains, adding that domestic settings help visitors imagine what any given piece would look like in their own home.

They have been showing art at The Yellow House for 12 years, but many artists use Open House festivals to learn about putting on a show, and dealing with the public.

Another experienced artist and host is Ralph Levy who lives in The Handmade House from an out-of-town trail in nearby village Ditchling.

But visitors to the former farmhouse can expect a setting every bit as remarkable as the art on display. Levy has spent five years restoring the building entirely by hand.

This has meant fabricating everything from curtain hooks to drawer handles, plus all furniture, making an estimated total of 300 bespoke objects.

His evident skills as a designer and a craftsman are largely self-taught. “It’s all from the back of a cornflake packet,” he says. “I trained as a ceramicist.”

Guests will also have the chance to sample home-cooked and largely home-grown food, or wander the length of a sculpture trail which took two weeks to cut through brambles in the overgrown 60-acre grounds.

The energetic New Zealander says of his unusual project: “It should be like a house, but a little bit more, like a modern day version of Charleston, but without the bed hopping.”

Nearby Charleston was once home to Virginia Woolf and friends and the community of artists, designers and makers in Ditchling still feel the bohemian effects.

But to some degree, that quality is offered by all open houses. From farmhouses in rural Sussex to terraces in the suburbs of Brighton, they all provide a chance to see artists in their element. And art too, lest anyone forget.

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