ARTIST and designer Stewart Russell has moved his studio from North Melbourne to Collingwood, taking up architect John Wardle's offer to move into the ground-floor space of his new office. ''We had been next to the Meat Market for 12 years. This area [Collingwood] seems to be flourishing with small artistic industries,'' says Russell, who has made his mark with Spacecraft, a textile-based homewares business.
Russell is a man of many talents, extending his creativity by working with architects, fashion designers and leading visual artists. ''I think it's ideal working in the same building as John [Wardle]. There are so many opportunities for collaboration,'' he says.
Wardle gutted the late 1940s red and cream brick building while retaining the steel-cased windows. Replacing an old lean-to shed along one side of the building is a new wing, constructed in concrete and steel, with a distinctive perforated steel ''curtain'' adorning the facade. Unlike most buildings with a street frontage, access to Wardle's studio, as well as the Spacecraft Studio, is via an adjacent laneway. While the laneway is fairly nondescript at present, there's a scheme to create one continuous steel planter bed, beautifying the laneway and providing a welcoming sense of arrival.
The Spacecraft Studio has been left relatively intact. Concrete floors and white rendered walls feature in the 300-square-metre space. Three eight-metre-long printing tables, layered with canvas and samples, occupy a significant part of the studio. Splattered paint creates its own patina on the floor. And the only formal office area is a computer perched on top of an old battered workbench, found on the Mornington Peninsula. ''We tend to work on our feet, whether we're stretching canvases or sending an email,'' says Russell, explaining the limited number of chairs in the studio. ''If we do sit down, it tends to be on one of these stools,'' he adds, pointing out Spacecraft's printed plywood designs.
As well as Russell's own large canvases, many of which end up in homes or hotels, there's work by artists such as Brook Andrew, including one of the extraordinary portraits from his ''Gun Metal Grey'' series. ''We wanted to keep the studio walls fairly plain to allow the art to be the focus,'' says Russell. One of the few decorative elements in the studio are the copper pipes. ''We had to wrap these up before the painters arrived. I didn't want to walk into the studio and see them painted.''
Although the studio doesn't have a separate office, Russell and his team sometimes use a meeting room in Wardle's office on the third floor. Featuring an angular birch ply ceiling, this meeting area is framed by the perforated steel curtain that features on the building's facade. ''It's quite magical in the morning when the morning light comes in,'' says Russell.
The complex also includes a generous outdoor deck, with built-in stage-like seats. While views of rusty sawtooth factory roofs are impressive, it's the flagpole that draws the eye. Russell has curated a number of flag exhibitions in his career, beginning with the London Printworks in 1997. This exhibition was called ''Pledge Allegiance to a Flag''. He also held an exhibition of flags for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney in 2002. ''We'll be showing four flags each year from both local and international artists. The flags will act as a beacon, as well as bring art and architecture together,'' says Russell, pointing out the flagpole attached to the building's facade.