The area my studio is located in, Kelham Island, is a rapidly changing place. When I got to Sheffield in 1990 it was a decayed landscape; half derelict factories, some still housing light industry, set among the wasteland of it’s industrial past. Nobody lived there, after sundown it’s main visitors were the kerb crawlers and their targets, and the drug addicts seeking a space were they could be undisturbed and (relatively) safe. It wasn’t radically different in 2012 when I joined Kelham Island Arts Collective. There were some new build flats, a trendy cafe and a posh restaurant had replaced one of the greasy spoons, but it was still possible to take low rent spaces in one of the many crumbling factories, an ideal (and perhaps typical) location for artists.
Fast forward 7 years and though the surface looks the same behind the facades much has changed. A plethora of housing development has meant a large resident population, and there is a strong sense of community emerging. Much of the development pays at least lip service to the visual identity of the area’s history. New businesses emerging these days are micro-breweries, craft bakeries and the like, and sympathetic zoning by the local authority means less pressure for change of use, protecting the existing light industries. Day and night the Island is much more vibrant, pubs, cafes, restaurants and wine bars abound, and post sundown the visitors much more wholesome (if no quieter). Indeed, the area has recently won an Urban Renewal Award. Let’s be clear – this is not gentrification. No one lived here, there has been no clearance, either of industry or residents. As an artist it’s a great place to be, and in painting Nightlife, I pay homage to the intelligent redevelopment of brownfield sites.