Being a Fire Monkey – Dave Allen

This months Hotwalls Studios featured artist is actually a small group of artists that together make up Fire Monkey Arts Collective. This week member Dave Allen describes in his own words what its like to be a part of the Hotwalls Studios community…
I was good enough at art to study it for my first degree, and good enough to become an art teacher but never good enough to make it as a professional artist. Teaching took me on a fascinating career over 35 years, always in the arts but not always painting & drawing which is where I started. After retiring I found time to go back to it, but there’s not much space at home to make a mess, and after it’s finished what do you do with the paintings? I often gave them away.
I live in Old Portsmouth and one day last summer on a walk round the new Hotwalls Studios I stopped in at the Fire Monkeys in studio 1 and chatted with Carrie who knew me from playing music locally. She told me about the Fire Monkeys, which unlike the other studios is a small collective of  artists and makers, and mentioned that from time-to-time a vacancy occurs – as it happened this was just one of those times. Was it just luck or was it fate?

She knew nothing of my background in art teaching and was probably a bit surprised when I expressed an interest, but the outcome was that I took was accepted as a member, started working in the studio and what’s more, had a place to show my work. I’m approaching the end of my first year now and the whole experience has been delightful.
I work there on Fridays, mostly painting in acrylic on canvas. Usually I make an early start with a bacon sandwich and coffee in the lovely Canteen, either reading the paper or on warm mornings, sitting outside looking across the Solent towards the Isle of Wight. That view, which I have loved all my life, is one of the sources for my work, although people tend to see it as abstract. When I first started with the Fire Monkeys, I was painting very neat, ‘hard-edged’ images, but I’m finding that working regularly is loosening things up. My recent work is rather more like a process of staining the canvas and building up one layer of colour on another. People tend to think it’s a great relaxation and I’m pretty convinced it enriches my life and enhances my sense of well-being, although it can be a nightmare when things aren’t working – and that does happen. It’s a serious business making art!

I’m quite sure that I’m influenced by the work around me in the Fire Monkeys studio. There is a considerable variety which I see as a strength – mainly but not exclusively, painting. We keep in touch with each other through contemporary media in addition to our public Web and Facebook sites. In 2018, we’ve tried two new approaches which seem to be working very well – each month we feature one member across the window – I loved my turn in March – and we change the collective exhibitions every three months, including a launch party in our beautiful surroundings.
When we’re working in the studio it’s always open to visitors; sometimes passers-by seem a little uncertain about coming in but everyone is welcome. I enjoy conversations about what I’m trying to do. I’m the old bloke in Fire Monkeys, indeed I’m the old bloke across all the Hotwalls Studios. I’ve worked away from Portsmouth at times, but always had an address in Southsea or Old Portsmouth and I’m very proud to be part of this wonderful initiative which is enriching the cultural life of Portsmouth. Long may it last – and the Fire Monkeys with it.

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