Artists by the factoryful: A sample: four from 165 Childers Street, Deptford where 70 artists are at work in 50 of the 500 studios managed in east London by Acme. Dalya Alberge reports

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SHIRAZEH HOUSHIARY's

Best-known work is probably the 22ft upside-down Christmas tree she showed at the Tate Gallery last year. 'Taking earth back to heaven', as she put it, and turning art on its head once again became a cause celebre. Brian Sewell, in the Evening Standard, called it 'silly and offensive'; Mike Ward in Today, wrote: 'daft though it sounds, I actually think it looks quite stunning'.

But it is not typical of the work that Houshiary produces in her massive studio ACME's Childers Street, one of the most airy around: high ceilinged, with its own raised gallery area. She sculpts downstairs, paints upstairs, though the divide is only practical: artistically, there is no division, 'they are all about light and dark,' she says.

Her latest paintings are black canvases overwritten in graphite with an Arabic chant to create delicately textured abstracts. 'It doesn't matter if you don't understand what's written. The important thing is to get a sense of the chant', she says. She works to music: Gregorian and Buddhist chant tapes are among her cassettes. Her sculptural works include large-scale boxes with either convex or concave honeycomb insides, worked out with the precision of an architect, she says, and made up by others.

Houshiary, born in Iran, came to Britain in 1973 to study - first at Hornsey and then at Chelsea, graduating in 1979. Within a few years, she had been snapped up by the Lisson Gallery, one of the three leading contemporary galleries in London. The cliches about artists from the Middle or Far East always having their work described as a meeting of East and West make her cringe. However, she does acknowledge, 'when cultures do fuse, it gives life. By contact, you grow'.

SARAH JONES

Works with photography but suggest that she is a photographer and she will not be pleased. 'I'm an artist who does photo-based work', she stresses. 'Otherwise people think you do sunsets and weddings.'

Her approach, she says, is closer to a painter and installation artist who works to a specific space. In her latest piece, for example, she has produced a series of life-size images of analysts' consulting-rooms - desolate, uninviting spaces with a lone chair, or a characterless room with little more than a box of tissues - that contrast starkly with the gaiety of people slipping and sliding down a waterslide.

Jones graduated ten years ago in fine art and dance from Goldsmith's College. In between exhibitions, she has supported herself with, amongst other things, teaching photography on an adult education course in Bethnal Green. She is about to go back to studying, as a part-time MA student.

She shares her 711-square-foot ACME studio with her artist-partner, Andrew James. The advantage of Childers Street, she says, is its long lease: she has spent hundreds of pounds on a dark room. 'With photography,' she explains, 'you need extractors, water supply, developing tanks. . .' A complicated pump system also had to be installed. The expense could not have been justified if she had to move on within a few years.

But finding the money for heating seems to be out of the question. Even in summer, her space could not be colder. How does she work - let alone survive - in winter? 'We go through a lot of gas canisters', she says. 'And we move around a lot'.

ELLIS O'CONNELL

Is a sculptor who makes elongated abstracts in metal and shaped canvas: their sweeping, curving lines create a seductive, organic feel. The influence of Brancusi, among others is there. Also, African masks and gourds, many of which are scattered around the room.

She has an expansive studio, some 1,308 square feet, with a suitable high ceiling. The downside is that her space has little day-light.

But much of her work is done elsewhere. Her major commissions are for public art works. Her latest is a bascule bridge in Bristol, over the river Frome, a commission she won in a competition last September staged by the Bristol Chamber of Commerce. She is collaborating with engineers at Ove Arup - designing it from scratch rather than being brought in at the last moment to add a bit of decoration.

Her design, in steel and cast-iron, will have counter-weights designed as trumpet-like shapes.

It could not, she says, have been done without an artist's eye: engineers, she adds, have no aesthgetic trtaining and would just have produced 'a big chunk of steel'.

She trained in Ireland (Crawford School of Art, Cork) and America (the University of Massachusetts, Boston), graduating in 197

ALAN MacDONLAD

Is a relatively rare thing in the art world - a young artist who venerates the Old Masters. With a passion. The sculptor who says that Rodin leaves him cold is not in a class of one. Lots of art students seem to regard museum-going as a bit of a chore, but MacDonald was catagorically never one of them. Wahen he visited the Prado in Madrid recently, he found that the Goyas, Valazquezs and Boschs 'blew him away'. The Old Masters' inspiration pervades much of his latest work.

So does dream imagery. His figurative work has a narrative that teases but defies explanation: a gentle landscape in which a woman sits on a stool from which a dismembered hand dangles. His ideas are derived from his dreams - day-dreams, though. As he explains, 'I was a day-dreamer at school. They used to tell me, 'you'd do so much better if you stopped day-dreaming'. I thought, here's a strength, so I applied myself to working from my imagination'.

Interestingly, he does not sketch first. 'If I'd got it all on paper, I wouldn't need to do it again,' he says. Instead, he paints straight onto canvas - with an image in his mind that allows for accident and improvisation.

MacDonald, who graduated from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee, in 1984, has shows planned at two London galleries (the Bruton Street Gallery and Long and Ryle).

He is not represented by any one dealer. However, when you've got talent, you can sell with or without one: with the public coming round during this season's 'open studios' event, MacDonald has sold four works in the past few days.

Last week a blank canvas was propped up on his easel: he was about to start painting. Others would have been satisfied to display it that way. (Photographs omitted)

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