Bright, bold and big-hearted; one Bristol arts collective is shaking up our shopping quarter says Emma Cullen
Walking through Bristol’s retail hub – I’m talking Broadmead and Cabot Circus – is sometimes a challenge; it takes grit, determination and impeccable weaving skills. Crowds throng and a visit to this shopping quarter sometimes feels like swimming in a current, especially in the run up to Christmas. Yet amidst this bevy of high-street shops is my own little haven, a delight that I want to share. It’s a sanctuary of calm; somewhere that always leaves me feeling inspired rather than drained. Whenever I dive into Co-LAB, I find instant relief in wandering through the independently designed clothes and past islands of art.
Co-LAB – something that started small and has now grown into a successful creative organisation – features the work of over 200 local artists, promoting a ‘shop local, shop social’ ethos, and is a vivid showcase for the wealth of talent we have in Bristol. I caught up with Sophie Bass – talented artist and manager of Co-LAB – to find out more about this bright, bold enterprise.
EC: It’s great to see such a strong independent in a really central Bristol location! Tell us a bit more about Co-LAB…
SB: It’s funny, isn’t it? As a fiercely independent store, we stick out like a sore thumb in the city centre and we love it! We’ve got so much more to offer than the mass-produced and obvious – everything here is made with love by independent artists and there is something so unique and special about that. By shopping here you are supporting individuals. We would perhaps be more suited to an area like Stokes Croft but actually it’s maybe more powerful to be such active representatives of the creative scene right here in the centre of the city that we all love so much.
What’s involved in running an arts collective like Co-LAB?
I spend a lot of time scouring the internet, visiting local art fairs and markets, attending exhibitions and just being involved in the scene. There’s so much talent in this city, it is really inspiring, and I’m constantly discovering more. I also really welcome people just getting in touch and sharing their work with me; that’s how a lot of our stockists came about. The Bristol art scene is like a family. It’s about sharing and inspiring one another, so in that respect I think we have a great impact. In a practical sense as well, we have a great financial impact on the scene and every time we pay our artists I really realise how much we benefit our community, as much as they benefit us.
Matt Manson’s geometric homeware stands out from the crowd
Speaking of benefitting the community, hasn’t Co-LAB also run internships for long-term unemployed people?
Yes, and as a past intern, I can say from experience that these work out amazingly well. After two years I’m now the shop manager, and the opportunity to work here really has changed my life and given me an innumerable amount of new skills. It can be challenging and risky but giving a chance to those who might not have had much previous experience or are less established is so beneficial, and not many places do so. If that person has real determination, a good work ethic and, above all, a deep-rooted care for the cause then they’ll doubtless excel. It’s about giving people a springboard into their chosen career path and equipping them with the necessary skills and confidence.
You’re also an artist – tell us a bit about what inspires you…
I did an illustration degree at Falmouth and now I work freelance as well at Co-LAB. I work in gouache, pen and collage mostly, with a lot of colour. I’d say that I work from a feminist standpoint exploring womanhood, sex, nature, music, mythology and symbolism. I’m inspired by African and Caribbean folk art, Indian miniatures and the tantric art of the Kama Sutra, ’80s dancehall vinyl and ’90s jungle mix-tape covers, Gauguin’s Tahitian phase, Frida Kahlo, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Orthodox Icons, Celestial Cartography… The list goes on.
What tips do you have for any budding designers and artists on how to get their work noticed?
Personally, I choose work that stands out and has something a bit different about it. It should excite me and feel like it was made with a lot of thought and love, but also have a professional finish. Branding yourself is really important too. All the little touches that go with the end product are vital; a sense of fun and style goes far. Always share your work and embrace feedback, both positive and negative. Research the shops or galleries you’re approaching; see what kind of style they are looking for in order to tailor what you show them.
Lucie Sheridan’s ‘Humongous Hare’
What do you most love about Bristol and its art scene?
I love how friendly and diverse it is. It’s so colourful. The connections between the music and the art scene are so strong, and they’re two of the most important things to me and why this city is so exciting. One of the things I love most is cycling from the Easton underpass down the Riverside Park into town – even on a grey day it always looks so bright due to the long stretch of ever-changing street art and all the big, beautiful trees.
With Christmas on the horizon, what can we expect to see at Co-LAB?
Last year we released the very first Co-LAB Christmas catalogue. It’s a gift guide with a difference – 50 pages of present ideas all made locally and independently. So expect number two coming out soon. We’ll also be releasing the fourth range of our Artist Series Clothing. For these ranges we work with our stockists to create limited runs of t-shirts. Our summer range was Paradise Island-themed and went down a storm – for our upcoming winter range we’re going to space with our Into The Cosmos theme. Expect big things, and a big party!
Co-Lab aims to promote local artists and designers
Featured Artists at Co-Lab
Name: Sad Ghost Club
Medium: Gouache and pen
You’ll love their stuff if you’re looking for… Thoughtful work that is at once beautiful and gentle but which highlights deeply important mental health issues.
Medium: Screen-printed clothing
You’ll love their work if you’re looking for… Truly Bristolian street-wear
Name: Matt Manson
Medium: Homeware and textiles
You’ll love their artwork if you’re looking for… Intricate geometric design to blow your mind
Name: Lucie Sheridan
Medium: Screen-print and homeware
You’ll love what they do if you’re looking for… Vibrant, bold and hilarious homeware.