Artists First

Untitled, Joan Clews Self Portrait, Peter Sutton Mask 1, Kevin Hogan

About Us

Artists First is a group of 16 disabled visual artists with learning difficulties based in Bristol.
We have been working together since 1988; we are used to running our own studios and have organised, or have been part of many exhibitions, residencies and open studio events.

Artists First includes artists who met while attending Social Services' Day Centres and artists who have lived in long stay residential hospitals. We believe that as a group we can support each other and that we can do powerful work together, things that we could not do alone.

Since 2005 we have been based in a studio in Southmead, near where most of us live. We are make new work for exhibitions so people can see who we are and what we do.

We've recently begun work on one of our biggest projects yet as part of our 25th anniversary year.

To watch a short film introducing Artists First, go to

Exhibitions and News

Artists First Celebrating 25 years
Past, Present and Future
Artists First has a amazing archive of artworks and we all have great stories to tell of how art has helped us and why we like working as a group.

We've begun work on sorting out our archive and recording our stories. We'll make films and photograph more of our work and add it all to a new website. All this is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Our Heritage project, will be led by the artists and will research the history of Artists First. Over the next year we will meet old friends, remember past artists, create an archive, make films, run workshops for young people and produce an Artists First book.

Joan Clews - Faces in a crowd

Artists First exhibit in Southmead Hospital Artists First are thrilled and proud to be exhibiting over 30 paintings in the new Southmead Hospital building as part of the Fresh Arts programme to enhance NHS environments.

Ann Pugh In February, Artists First where part of a celebration day for our dear friend and long term supporter, Ann Pugh. Ann died in February 2015. Ann became an Artist First trustee in 2005 but we knew her long before that. She became our Chair, she worked with us and supported us. Ann loved our art, she filmed us, she was important to every one of us, she was there for us. Ann was our friend. Being part of that day meant a lot to all of us. Seeing Ann's wonderful, sensitive and beautiful films, joining with so many friends and colleges and sharing stories and memories of Ann was fantastic, hundreds of people came.

Each one of us made new art to show and share for the day, including portraits of Ann, because the best way we have of remembering people is through our art. We've started experimenting, taking risks, working big, all the things Ann loved. Ann helped us get the Heritage Lottery Fund money that means we can tell the story of Artists First's last 25 years and help us start the next and because of Ann we'll tell that story through portraiture, through art because that's who we are, Artists First.

National Portrait Gallery visit In November of last year along with award winning artist James Lake, photographer Kamina Walton, Ann's partner and daughter Frank and Ruby, Artists First went to the National Portrait Gallery in London.

We went there because of Ann. This trip was Ann's idea, it was something we'd all talked about, something for all of us to go on, to have a great day, to be inspired, to have fun. Ever since then we have be making portraits of all kinds, often large scale, inspired by many of the people we have been remembering as part of the Past, Present, Future project. This was one of the best days Artists First have ever had and it was all thanks to the generous donations of family and friends made in memory of Ann Pugh. Thank you to everyone.

New members In March and April this year Artists First ran a series of four open workshops for potential new members. The first two workshops, on new ways of making portraits, were led by disabled artist James Lake, and the second two by coordinators, Louise and Andy on mono printing.

The workshops were designed by Artists First artists to enable the people taking part to feel part of the workshop no matter their skill level, the session included artists talking about the history of Artists First and what it means to be a member of the group. They also explained how a supported studio works, how to build up a portfolio and how you share your work through exhibitions and linking with the wider arts community, basically how you get to be seen as ‘Artists First’. Thanks to Wills Charitable Trust for supporting these workshops.


Click here to view information on past exhibitions.

Who We Are and How to Contact Us


Steve Canby, Brenda Carr, Carol Chilcott, Joan Clews, Brenda Cook, Brian Davis, Stacey Fish, Kevin Hogan, Tina Kelly, Sarah McGreevy, Nicholas Selway, Kathy Stewart and Peter Sutton

Artists First Coordination

Andy Harris and Louise Planton

Artists First Trustees

Michael Prior, Marion Steiner, Pauline Heslop and Felicity Inkpen

Click here for more information about our trustees.

Our Studio

In January 2010, Artists First moved into studio space in The Bristol Centre for Music and the Arts, Stanton Road (off Pen Park Road), Southmead, Bristol BS10 5SJ.

Artists First Contact Details

Artists First
13 Friendship Road

Tel: 0117 9775077 or 07890 524226
Text: 07821165608


‘Artists First Celebrating 25 years’ Heritage Project is being supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund.

Thanks also to The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, The Foyle Foundation, Bristol City Council Single Project Fund and Grassroots funding via The Quartet Community Foundation, The Lark Trust, The Speilman Charitable Trust and The Wills Charitable Trust for recent funding support.

Artists First is also supported by donations and the sale of work.

Firebird Firebird Firebird
Lying on Patchwork, Liz Lane

All paintings © Artists First
Photographs courtesy of David Gilliland and Amanda Harman.
Website courtesy of Ben Spencer and Redweather Productions.

Artists First is a Registered Charity: 1128115
Artists First is a Limited Company: 6015649