Stockbridge in Edinburgh has a reputation for being a ‘posh’ residential area and an attractive destination, especially at the weekends.
Visitors’ itineraries often combine a trip here with other places along the Water of Leith Walkway such as Dean Village. According to the 2023 Skinny Guide to Edinburgh, its ‘scenic streets are a manna for influencers’ and full of ‘bougie shops’, brunch spots, as well as an ‘astounding number of charity shops’.
This is a superficial view of Stockbridge and one which leaves out its long reputation, from Sir Henry Raeburn onwards, as an area for artists. One of the few remnants of artistic Stockbridge is Patriothall. Founded in 1984 and refurbished in 2004, it’s a stalwart of the Wasps network of art studios found across Scotland.
I suspect that thousands pass by it every week without knowing it's there.
Stockbridge at the weekend tends to be busy, with the narrow pavements overloaded. The market draws hundreds every Sunday. Luckily, Stockbridge is also full of quiet spots, such as the nooks around St Bernard’s Well. Patriothall is another, tucked away in a courtyard between Hamilton Place and the boutique-laden St Stephen Street. Entrance is via a wide but unprepossessing pend.
Even as you reach the courtyard you are uncertain where you’re heading. Your eyes are caught by the housing development with its neat balconies, supported by ornamental metal brackets. You have to turn a further corner to find your goal: a tall red-bricked structure tucked away.
Your way into the building is through a vivid orange door. This former factory is a reminder that the area was once industrial as well as artistic. For example, the area around Glanville Place and Bakers Place off Kerr Street was the site of the large Stockbridge Mills. These aspects of Stockbridge are often overlooked in contemporary accounts which focus on its leafy elegance and ‘villagey’ feel.
The gallery itself is functional and spacious, but not pristine or clinical. Its roughness gives it character, as do the white tiles that cover much of the interior. At the back, large panes of glass on a door allow you to see through into a sitting-out area. There's a feeling of nature trying to get in, with branches snuggling up against the glass.
Patriothall is typical of the way that such industrial spaces have been creatively repurposed, with the arts leading the way in this. The cavernous rooms provide an odd feel. On the quiet Sunday afternoon when I visited, even whispers echoed through the rooms, while a bike being clattered by another visitor sounded menacingly loud.
Even the ceiling is of interest. In one corner, there is a circular design which draws the eye. Did an artist paint this or is it a legacy of industrial activity? You leave none the wiser.
Currently on show is an exhibition entitled Wanderings, which explores contemporary imagined space and features the work of three artists: Julie-Ann Simpson, Lynsey MacKenzie and Rowan Paton.
Their work comprises distinct but complementary styles. Visually arresting with vibrant colours, they contrast markedly with the very quiet and simple setting.
Julie-Ann Simpson’s ‘Lost Hours’ seems almost childlike at first viewing but repays closer inspection, revealing layers of intricacy and subtlety. It looks like a depiction of a wintry dreamworld, with the thoughts of the character at the centre transmitted by smoke through the ether.
Lynsey MacKenzie’s series of abstract landscapes is effective in transmitting the unsettled feelings that you often get while wandering along a stream, or in a woodland – a sense of uncertainty and being geographically and psychologically lost. The theme of Wanderings was well reflected in her oil paintings.
Rowan Paton's main contribution is a series of eye-catching, small acrylic and collage prints. Striking and playful, with a cake obsession running through them.
Paton was on hand to welcome visitors. She related that the studios are used by a wide variety of artists, some of them well-known names. While she currently uses her own studio at home, she sees great value in a place such as Patriothall. With the artists based there using a variety of art forms and techniques, there is great scope for collaboration and the exchange of advice.
It is, she says, ‘a space for artistic dialogue’ – something which those who work on their own miss out on.
Another attraction for her of Patriothall is the gallery space itself. The large windows allow light to cascade in, providing an ideal environment to look at art as well as create it.
Patriothall is currently home to over 50 artists, and has an annual programme of exhibitions. However, its hidden character means the exhibitions here probably need more promotion, including in the local area.
Stockbridge’s artistic tradition needs to be re-emphasised. At present its status as an ‘Insta’ hotspot threatens to drown this out.—Charlie Ellis
Wanderings is at Patriothall Gallery, Wasps, EH3 5AY until 23 September 2023. Open 10am–4pm, Monday to Friday; 11am–4pm, Saturday/Sunday.