Interview with Mercury Prize nominated Sunderland band Field Music’s David Brewis.

I’m absolutely BUZZING with this interview – as someone who was once a bit of an indie kid, back in the day (before that I had an emo phase, before that a goth phase, before that a chav phase….); think Stonelove at Digital and Bulletproof at The Academy, obsessed with boys in skinny jeans and big hair, going to gigs every week, firmly in love with the North East music scene and listening constantly to bands like Mercury Prize nominated Sunderland band Field Music. I think about that period of my life, with such nostalgia!

I LOVE Sunderland band Field Music. Listening to them makes me think of a time in my life, that I was really super happy and was having a lot of fun! It is great to see how they’ve gone from strength to strength, continuing to release music, such a valuable asset to the music scene and I just love their twitter account.

Field Music – photography credit: Andy Martin

I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working with Field Music a bit recently. I’ve been supporting Paint The Town In Sound, Sunderland Culture’s online exhibition exploring the timeless relationship between art and music and the direct links forged between musicians and artists. The exhibition is curated in collaboration with Field Music, takes their own collaborations as a starting point to explore wider themes. The artworks in Paint the Town in Sound, are drawn from the Arts Council Collection and offer a fascinating insight into the musical heritage of our region providing a route to examine our own cultural identity and its relationship to class, politics and place. You can visit the exhibition here and experience the virtual walk through here.

Paint The Town In Sound exhibition

Like the little hustler that I am, I took the opportunity of working with and connecting with Field Music and nabbed a weee Culture Vulture interview with Field Music member David Brewis. They’ve got a new album coming out and a tour in the works….we chat live music in a pod COVID world, their new album, Paint the Town in Sound, art and other musicians to check out….

Well hello David, let’s do this, let’s start with an intro!

I’m David Brewis. My brother Peter and I have been making records as Field Music since 2004 from our own studio in Sunderland. I’ve also made a much of records on my own as School of Language.

How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t listened to it?

I tend to avoid doing that but essentially, it’s weird pop music which doesn’t sound much like contemporary pop music but also doesn’t sound much like the pop music of any other era either.

Field Music – Photography credit: Chris Owens

Tell my fellow Culture Vultures about your journey into music? Why music?

The idea of playing music took hold of us when we were 10/11 and that was it. Mostly we were just pinching things from our parents’ record collection – Led Zeppelin, Free, Fleetwood Mac. We started playing covers in pubs in 1994 which was a great way to really learn. And we were “peer educators” helping to run the music workshops for Dave Murray’s youth project at the Bunker in Sunderland around the same time. It was there that we met Barry Hyde (later of The Futureheads), who was clearly really talented but also, because of his dad, had a knowledge of music beyond what we knew, – Captain Beefheart, The Velvet Underground, Wire, John Coltrane. It became a kind of trade – we showed Barry how to be in a band and he showed us how to listen to music! If anything, we became even more obsessive about music then and even more determined to make something unique.

We had applied for the very first round of National Lottery arts funding in 1997 to help set up a short-term community recording studio and after that, it felt essential to have our own studio space. That – and the fact that we could never really explain to anyone what we were trying to do – is how we ended up self-producing music right from the very beginning.

Field Music. Photography Credit: Andy Martin

You’re releasing a new album soon….tell us more! What was it inspired by?

The next Field Music album is called Flat White Moon and it’s due out in April. A lot of it was inspired by our mam passing away in 2018. I think we both felt we needed to write about it and about her and our memories of her; but we weren’t really ready until now. Our last album, Making A New World, which came out last year turned out to be a good way to use the creative parts of our brain without getting stuck in the mental fug we were in when we wrote it, because that was all based on stories and research related to the first world war. We didn’t have to deal with ourselves and I don’t think we could have at that time. The new record isn’t overly gloomy though – we were keen to make music, which was freeing and fun to play, after a couple of albums which were quite tricky to play live.

Field Music new album

And you’re touring later in the year…..are you excited to be on the road playing to actual people in real life?

Excited and anxious, but I think that’s how the audience will feel as well. Whenever live music starts happening again, I think it’s going to be a very emotional, cathartic experience all round.

Absolutely agree – speaking of live music, can you tell us about your favourite gig or festival you’ve ever played?

We played a lot of festivals in 2016 and quite a few of them were not a lot of fun. Winning over ambling crowds of people drinking Pimms is not really our forte – our music is too knotty and our sense of humour is too dry to work in that situation. But then the last festival of that summer was in the big tent at Green Man Festival. I’m not sure what I was expecting but we came out and the tent was packed and the atmosphere was really special. It was wonderful.

I truly hope so. On the plus side, the people who run and book small independent venues are some of the most resourceful, creative and bloody-minded people I know. They will find a way to make things work. But small-scale live music has never been a money-spinner so if there are restrictions on gatherings for another whole year or more, it’ll be extremely difficult for small venues to survive. As with everything else, we’re dependent on how the health crisis is handled first and after that on how businesses are supported. Also, because the whole industry is basically run by freelancers, who’ve been among the least-well-supported financially through all this, there’s an awful chance we’ll have lost thousands of skilled people who’ve been forced to find work in other sectors.

Field Music. Photography credit: Andy Martin

What do you think of the music scene in Sunderland/North East? And any suggestions of folx to check out/ones to watch?

Honestly, I find it difficult to keep up. And I’m now old enough where I don’t feel guilty about it! It has been pleasing to see how active Independent have been in putting on shows that aren’t just lads in bands (though Roxy Girls are an outstanding band made up of lads). It has been interesting and exciting to do a little bit of studio work with Sunderland Young Musicians Project, who seem to have a whole production line of talented, outrageously-young songwriters, some of whom are already getting out there in a serious way like Faye Fantarrow and some of whom, like Ami McGuinness, Lottie Willis and Eve Cole, are just a step or two away from that too. There’s greatness to be mined if young people have the opportunity and the support.

Field Music. Photography credit: Chris Owens

Absolutely agree! Tell us about Paint the Town In Sound online exhibition?

When Jonathan from Sunderland Museum first got in touch with us to act as guest curators, the brief was pretty open. We knew that the majority of the works in the exhibition had to come from the Arts Council Collection but that was about it! So, we started poring through ACC catalogues and decided to use the exhibition as a way to look at how music, art and identity feed into each other and that ended up touching on fandom, pop iconography, sleeve art and punk as a community movement. We were very fortunate, to have Jonathan guiding us through the process and being so accommodating to our ideas.

Field Music. Photography credit: Andy Martin

Why should folx check out the exhibition and what can they expect?

The hope is that if you go to the exhibition you’ll see some reflection of yourself in there. We all use pop culture as a way to self-identify and while we can’t represent EVERY pop tribe, we hope it’ll show a bit of how that self-identification happens and why it’s so interesting and important. I’m over the moon that we have some great work from NE-based artists – the likes of Narbi Price, Laura Lancaster and Graeme Hopper in there – alongside Peter Blake and Anthea Hamilton. I think people will find the items from the Bunker archive really interesting – handwritten letters, posters and newsletters from the first flourish of punk organising in Sunderland. And I personally really enjoyed putting together the display of NE-linked record sleeves and researching the artists and designers who created them – it’s like an alternative history of music and design. And it took AGES.

Field Music. Photography credit: Andy Martin

What I love about the exhibition is that it really showcases how music and art can blend together and create something quite magical….. how has art affected your music? What type of art are you into?

One of the things that became really apparent in compiling the sleeve art display is that the styles of art and design used always say something about the artist, even if it’s the artist deliberately trying to steer you away from a particular interpretation of their music. So with us, the art we tend to like and tend to use is a lot like our music – we want it to be comprehensible without a lot of explanation but we want it to hold details and references which you’ll hopefully discover the more time you spend with it. We often want it to have an element of humour or self-deprecation. We like things which cast a bit of wry eye at luxury and commerce and we like to subvert symbolism. I also like things where it feels like the artist is struggling a bit to communicate something just out of reach. And conversely, with both visual art and music, I tend to glaze over a bit if it feels like making it or conceiving it was too easy.

Field Music new album

One of the things, I love about being The Culture Vulture, is that I have the privilege of going behind the scenes and getting my mits on things before everyone else (which is mad because it’s just Horts from Gateshead!) – you had that experience a bit seeing the Arts Council Collection stuff? What was that like?

Sadly, because everything was done under some level of covid restrictions we didn’t get to see anything for real before the installation. We were entirely dependent on the ACC catalogues. Which did mean, for instance, that we didn’t release quite how risqué Anthea Hamilton’s Leg Chair was until it was in situ!

What else are you working on? Anything else you want to share?

In between the frustrations of homeschooling, we’re having to spend a lot of time thinking about how we promote a record when we can’t go out and play; it’s difficult to rehearse and we can’t go anywhere. I never thought I’d be the kind of person who used the phrase “visual content” but here we are. We’ve also been working on songs for a commission for next year which has involved some fascinating historical research. More on that soon!

Very exciting! Thank you so much David!

Field Music. Photography credit: Chris Owens

Keep an eye out on Field Music social media for the album drop on 23rd April.

To view Paint The Town In Sound visit HERE.

To experience the virtual walk through of Paint The Town In Sound visit HERE.

And finally, keep an eye out for Paint The Town In Sound Podcast series, as it will be launching soon!

Coming soon – Field Music PtTiS Podcast series

Interview with visual artist Bethan Maddocks – paper rainforests, creative anarchy & being a nosy parker.

I’m so excited to share this Culture Vulture interview with you all – this interview is with brilliant, Newcastle based visual artist, Bethan Maddocks.

Bethan was actually one of the first artists, I became fascinated with before the Culture Vulture was even a sparkle of an idea in my eye. She’s a multi-disciplinary artist that works with different types of materials – in fact, I’m pretty sure, if you look up multi-disciplinary artist, you’ll see a picture of Bethan smiling back at you. I found it so inspiring when I was first starting out, to see a fellow creative, confidently working across lots of different types of projects and refusing to sit neatly into a box – Bethan to me was an artist that represented creative possibility, opportunity and the beauty of constantly evolving and growing through projects and collaborating with people.

Her work, projects and sculptures bring to life people’s stories and her own ideas, into technically brilliant, unique visual interpretations. They are often socially engaged too – which in present times, is not only crucially important, it also shows that art has a really powerful role to play, reinterpreting and reframing thoughts, ideas, history and can often enable audiences to see and consider things in a different way.  

Bethan was one of the first artists, that I noted co-creating art with communities in such an inclusive, warm, participatory way and I witnessed, the joy of folx seeing their contributions become a final professional artwork or sculpture! Participatory arts in the community, in my opinion, outside of the art world, isn’t really understood and massively undervalued. Bethan was my first real exposure to not only the positive impact of a participatory arts project but also, that the art work created can end up displayed at a professional exhibition or light art event.

I’ve always been a little star struck by Bethan too, a little bit in awe of her. If you know me – you know, I’m not detail focused, I’m not precise, I’m creatively chaotic and methodical process just isn’t a natural thing for me. Bethan’s work is often so delicate, so precise, made from paper, all about the small touches and detail – she probably represents my polar opposite type of creative! I admire her technical brilliance so much – she creates type of work that I look at in total awe, as she’s so highly skilled, accomplished and brilliant.

So this artist interview has been on my “NEED to interview” list pretty much, since I started out as Culture Vulture. And across the years, our paths have crossed many times and I’ve been lucky enough to support a few projects she’s worked on over the years. She’s an absolute North East gem and a really lovely, kind, open human.

Over to you Bethan!

Visual artist Bethan Maddocks

Hello Bethan, can you introduce yourself and tell my fellow Culture Vultures a bit about your practice? 

Hello! I’m a visual artist; I work with light, paper, fabric and found objects to make large sculptures and installations that audiences can touch, explore or add to. The last few years I’ve become really interested in paper-based work so currently I make lots of intricate paper-cuts.

I often work with archives, communities and organisations to collect stories and make socially engaged, political or site-specific artwork.

Bethan Maddock’s piece – From Junipers Branches Grow

I ask every artist I interview this question; can you tell us about your journey into the creative industries? 

Ever since I was little, my twin sister Catriona and I, were always scavenging things for ‘projects’; bottle tops or bits of scrap metal from outside the tiny blacksmiths in our village. Haberdasheries and DIY stores were our treasure troves. I’m grateful that I’ve always been encouraged in playing, exploring and creating since I was a little kid; probably one of the reasons that workshops and community sharing are such a core part of my practice nowadays.

I studied art at college, then Northumbria University and also at a Finnish University for an Erasmus Exchange. After graduating I volunteered on every creative project I could find, till I started getting small projects myself – I think it was easier for recent graduates in the last years of the Labour government as there was more support for young artists and a greater all-round appreciation and understanding of the arts from those in power.

Bethan Maddocks – Floraphone – Photocredit: Colin Rose

Huge congratulations on being awarded the Dover Prize – so excited for you! Can you tell us about the Dover Prize?

I was really lucky (and completely blown away!) to win The Dover Prize in 2019. It’s an amazing £10,000 bursary awarded every two years to a UK-based artist. Its aim is to help artists develop their practice and  comes with the gorgeous ethos to ‘provide the artist with time to think, research, reflect and experiment with new ideas’.

As an artist you’re always applying for things, seeking ways to make your work fit a commission proposal; what’s brilliant about the Dover Prize is that it’s centered around the artist’s own work- the initial application form asks useful questions about your practice and your aims – things I found helpful to reflect on.

In February 2019 I was shortlisted from over 100 applicants and invited for an interview where I got to meet the judges and discuss my work and practice in person. The judges were great, and again asked really helpful questions about my aspirations and inspirations (I even somehow managed to talk about meeting my favourite artist Louise Bourgeois as a wide-eyed 20 year old. I’d like to think Louise was looking down, helping me to win -a sort of artist fairy-godmother!).

The Dover Prize 2021 is now open (deadline February 14th!) and I’d hugely encourage any artist to have a punt at it – it’s been incredible support for the last 2 years. You can apply HERE.

Bethan Maddocks

Can you tell me a bit about what you’ve done with the award these last 2 years?

The Dover Award originates in Darlington; having grown up in County Durham it felt great to focus my practice on a part of the world where I began my journey as an artist. I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the history of the area and trying to connect its historic backstory with contemporary politics. Darlington’s schools, libraries and social infrastructures were massively developed by several powerful Quaker families in the 18th century, so I connected with the local Quaker chapter to learn about their ethos of listening, equality and stewardship to help ground some research. Sitting in silence with a group full of kind strangers, waiting for ‘ministry’ is quite something!

I also used the bursary to help fund a residency to the incredible Studio Garonne in Southern France, where I collaborated with designer Remi Bec to make a series of paper and light sculptures and drawings and I also embarked on a research project to Canada to meet some brilliant paper artists such as Crissy Arseneau, Rachel Ashe and  Brangwynne Purcell. I’ve made lots of experiments combining my papercutting work with machine cut elements, and I’m hoping to translate some papercuts into metal this year.

Bethan Maddocks – Book of Shadows

Can you tell me a bit about your relationship with Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland?

I’ve worked with Woodhorn Museum on and off for the last few years often creating large installations in their huge, ex-mining industry buildings. A lot of my work is about exploring hidden stories, and Woodhorn has a great ethos for uncovering Northumberland’s lesser-known stories – so we’ve collaborated together on some really fun projects.

The Programming team often invites me in, to create installations based on brilliant random ideas they’ve had for exhibitions such as ancient forests, homing pigeons and orchid growing!

Even in 2020 they managed to commission a new project for myself and Unfolding Theatre (as well as the ever-brilliant Ruth Johnson, Nick John Williams and Jill Bennison). The Quest of Missing Questions was Woodhorn’s invitation to its audience for its re-opening after the first lockdown. The commission personally was a bit of a life saver, showing me that good organisations can (and should!) support freelancers even in tough times and in doing so create lovely rich collaborations.

Woodhorn Museum

Here, here! You’ve worked with them a few times in the past? Tell me about one of those projects? 

One of my favourite pieces was The Fallen Forest that explored the prehistoric carboniferous forests that existed here 250 million years ago, which formed the coal so key to our region’s economic and socialist development. I spent several months researching fossil records, becoming my own pretend geologist. I did a residency over in Borneo and managed to connect the kind of foliage that you find in modern Asian rainforests with similar foliage from these ancient rainforests. I created giant ferns and cycads and huge 5 metre tall papercut trees- each paper-tree’s surface referencing the bark patternations that you find recorded in fossils.

It was open for 9 months and the audience could attend workshops to make small paper artworks to add to the forest, so that it grew, expanded and then collapsed; mirroring the ancient forests growth and demise.

I love projects like that; I get to obsess and learn so much about random things. I’m always dreaming that one day I’ll go to a (very specific!) pub quiz and know all the answers from all the avid research I do (it has not happened yet!)

Bethan Maddocks – Fallen Forest

A lot of your work involves engaging with communities and community contributions – why are community contributions important to your practice? Why are opportunities to contribute to creative projects important?  

I’m a huge champion of creativity for so many reasons – it’s the great unifier; when you get a group of people making artwork alongside each other there will always be brilliant, eye opening, heart expanding conversations. There’s some magic that happens when people use their hands to make; it sort of frees up their thinking and people reconnect with their inner child.

I love working with other people as it’s always a helpful side-step for my thinking, I can have the best laid plans for what I want to create for an exhibition, and then a conversation or even a throwaway comment from someone, plants these delicious seeds, and sends me in ways I’d never of thought of. It’s an honour to work alongside people from such diverse backgrounds – there’s always so much to learn from other people.

Bethan Maddocks – NHS Celebration Artwork

You often create sculptures/artwork to scale – what is your favourite thing about that type of work? Do you enjoy watching folx take it in?  

When I go to exhibitions, it’s alwayslarge-scale sculptures and installations that I love to see and experience the most; that sense of becoming aware of your own scale – a little like standing at the top of a massive mountain and feeling so tiny in this all-encompassing landscape.

I also love making loud noises in quiet acoustic buildings, touching stuff that maybe you shouldn’t, opening drawers, prodding around, and I want to make artwork that encourages that, where you can be a playful nosy parker! I made an installation a couple of years ago, where there were hundreds of sandcastles inside a tent, all decorated with cocktail umbrellas. We opened the tent and loads of kids came in, all wanting to smash them down but thinking they ‘weren’t allowed’. Watching the first kid (my nephew- ever a proud Auntie!) go and kick one down and then all the other children running forward to join in; it was just absolutely gleeful to see all that work disappearing in joyful, anarchic seconds. I want to create moments like that.

Bethan Maddocks – Everything There Ever Was

What is your role at BALTIC? Have you been involved in any of their online creative work during lock down? 

I’ve worked freelance for the Learning Team at Baltic for about 12 years; they took a punt on me as a relatively inexperienced but eager workshop facilitator just after I graduated and I’ve been working there ad-hoc ever since. I love the range of groups that we get to work alongside and the Learning team’s encouragement to try out new stuff, take over spaces and explore the exhibitions. They were also brilliant at the beginning of 2020 madness (we’ve got to champion the good ones!), paying all freelancers for sessions they couldn’t deliver, and helping support us to do online workshops. I’ve made quite a few online videos since, and it’s a learning curve, but I spent a lot of my childhood apparently critiquing Neil Buchanan for his crafting on Art Attack, so perhaps it was meant to be. You can watch them here and here and here

Bethan Maddocks – Floraphone

How has lock down/pandemic affected you as an artist/freelancer?  

Well it hasn’t been easy for anyone has it (except perhaps for political donators and disaster capitalists…)!? I had a week in March where I had 7 exhibitions and two years of work cancelled which wasn’t particularly fun. It has been difficult being self-employed and I hope the brilliant work that people have done in raising awareness of the vulnerability of self-employed and zero hour contract workers has helped the public to appreciate cultural and hospitality workers better.

On the flip side, I’ve had more time in my studio at 36 Lime Street, which is just a dreamland to work in, a building full of lots of talented, diverse makers in the heart of the Ouseburn – my windows open right onto the river so I get to work to the sound of the water and the ducks and swans flapping about.

I’ve  also loved watching things like #ArtistSupportPledge, Beccy Owen’s Pop up Choirs, Mutual aid support groups and Artists’ Union England’s solidarity fund come together. The arts are a mixed bunch of brilliant, creative, bloomin’ hard working people, and even in all this weirdness, they’ve given me lots of moments of joy and celebration.

Bethan Maddocks in her 36 Lime Street Studio

That made me so teary, I’m so proud to be in this sector with wonderful folx like you! Do you have anything to say about artists being described as “unviable”  ?  

I mean it is ridiculous isn’t it!? Weapons manufacturing, the aviation industry and fossil fuel use aren’t exactly viable, if we want to have a happy, existing planet, and yet governments never seem to pull them up…

I think there are things in the arts that aren’t particularly viable – like reserving huge amounts of funds for top management and the running and upkeep of buildings rather than fair living wages for all employees, and I hope that this can change.

And look at everything that we’ve ever sent into space to be found by future/other civilisations, or any time capsules that we’ve buried in the ground and they are full of the arts – music, literature, artwork, Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man carved on the side etc. Our society is defined by its culture past and present – make that unviable and you have a pretty grey world.

Bethan Maddocks – Frost of Forgetfulness

An answer like that is exactly why I bliddy love you Bethan! I personally believe creative opportunities for all are more important now, than ever – as a process for folx to make sense of what’s happening, feel connected to others, express themselves…… any thoughts? 

Definitely; it’s what’s kept us all sane hasn’t it! As unsatisfying as culture being mostly online can be it’s also opened the doors for some brilliant new ways of engagement and accessibility- I think of all those people with mobility issues, with young kids, with low self-confidence who in the past haven’t have been able to engage in the arts physically, who were effectively blocked from going over the threshold and now they can join in. They can settle their kids, pour a glass of wine and go online and join in on a bookmaking course, or watch a piece of live theatre, or go to a gig on their couch. We’ve got to celebrate that. And when things become more open again, we’ve got to make sure that we keep people with us, that this new accessibility doesn’t stop with a vaccine, but changes the landscape. We’ve got to make this the best learning that we can.

Bethan Maddocks – NHS Celebration artwork

Can you tell us a highlight of 2020? 

I’ve missed live music; there’s not much better than having a dance at a gig with your mates, so I had a particularly brilliant birthday, in amongst this strange year. County Durham based arts organisation Jack Drum Arts, were organising doorstep gigs with musicians and storytellers coming to perform for small groups during the summer holidays. My Mum surreptitiously organised for the legends that are Baghdaddies to come and play in her garden for me and my twin sister on our birthday. We had our own tiny festival- sousaphones, trumpets, drumkits popping out of the flower beds, mojitos in our hands as we “wiggled our bums, our big fat bums…”. That was pretty heady.

Bethan Maddocks – Book of Shadows

Sounds glorious! So, what’s next for you? Can you tell us about a project you’ve got coming up? 

I have an exhibition ‘Finders Seekers’ that has just ‘opened’ at Greenfield arts (although currently no-one can visit it!). It was a lush commission to create artwork around ideas of possibility, changing perspectives and inquiry.

The exhibition is made up of a series of paper installations of trees, mushrooms and lichen combined with objects such as ropes, ladders and magnifying glasses – tools of investigation and elevation.   I spent most of Christmas hand-painting and cutting 300 paper oak leaves to thread onto a ladder!

I wanted to create a fun, celebratory, optimistic exhibition; artworks interconnected like an ecosystem, where the viewer enters a childlike world, a paper-made forest full of metaphor, imagination and elevation.

Where can we keep in touch with you and check out your work?

I’m currently reworking on my website with the brilliant Branded by Naomi and I’m hoping to have a snazzy new launch of it early this year www.bethanmaddocks.com. Or if you want to find photos, drawings, papercutting videos and the occasional lycra-clad leg kick you can find me on Instagram bethan_maddocks.

Bethan Maddocks – Christmas Carol Lit & Phil

Thank you Bethan! Interviews like this make me feel so certain that I’m in the right sector, working and collaborating with glorious humans and that the power and potential of art, is that it can change the world and make such a difference in people’s lives.

That’s all for now Culture Vultures……until next time!

Interview with writer, director, actor, content creator & fave human – Eilish Stout-Cairns, ahead of her theatre directorial debut TONIGHT!

I’ve been looking forward to this interview for AGES as it is with one of my favourite pals in the entire world, but first some context! Today, Monday 25th January, is the premiere of the theatre performance The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust.  This production is free to watch and will premiere tonight at 7pm– streamed live over on Gosforth Civic Theatre Facebook page.

This theatre show tells the remarkable true story of two eccentric, opera loving lasses from Sunderland who achieved truly extraordinary things! The sisters, who lived to travel the world to listen to their favourite opera performers sing, used this passion as a cover, to secretly work to bring Jews out of Nazi Europe. In total, the Sunderland sisters, Ida and Louise, saved the lives of 29 Jews during the Holocaust and this theatre show tells that courageous story. Extraordinary lasses who did extraordinary things!

Graphic advertising The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust

This production is part of Brundibár Arts Festival; the first annual Festival in the UK dedicated to the Music and Arts of the Holocaust. I’ve supported Brundibár Arts Festival for the last few years – it’s a super important and special festival; it seeks to find new ways to positively document the astonishing achievements of artists under adversity, and to keep their stories alive through music and the arts. They will be back (hopefully) with an in-person festival in 2022!

I’m so excited to watch The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust tonight and not just because it is part of Brundibár Arts Festival or because it is amazing two amazing North East women, I’m super excited because it is Culture Vulture pal Eilish Stout-Cairns directorial debut! YAS! Eilish is such a glorious and talented creative chameleon and one to watch with a bright future ahead.

I recently caught up with Eilish for this lush interview – we chatted Cook sisters, mental health, social media, Melva and online trolls….over to you Eilish!

Eilish Stout-Cairns head shot on a beach

Can you introduce yourself for my readers? 

My name is Eilish Stout-Cairns and I’m a 24 year old actor and creative freelancer from the North East.

Well hello Eilish! Can you describe what you do?

Goodness, second question and it’s already a tough one! I act, I work as a content creator for two online companies- with that I also video produce, I work as a facilitator for young people, I just wrote my first show last month and I guess now here I am directing The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust. It’s a big mixed bag!

Picture of Eilish Stout-Cairns performing

Questions like that also send me into an existential crisis! How did you get into creative industries?

As far back as I can remember I wanted to act. I loved being on stage, even if one of my earlier roles in life was ‘Window Number Two’ in a Youth Theatre production of PeterPan- I made that window my own! I jest. But I truly can’t imagine doing anything else.

I left sixth form at 18 and went on to work in makeup, all the while still auditioning- without having a clue what I was doing, then I went on and trained at Project A at the Theatre Royal when I was 20, since then I’ve been in the professional industry.  

Eilish leading a workshop as Feggis in a school

People don’t really understand the fact that us creative freelancers – do A LOT. Multiple projects, jobs, businesses, freelance shenanigans. I think your portfolio of work sums that up……can you briefly describe the melting pot of wonderful things you do? 

Wow, Okay!  Being an actor was always my main job, even if, at the start, that didn’t necessarily make me that much money. So, then I had to put my eggs in other baskets. I trained to become a spray tanner in April 2019, bought the kit and I am now a Silver Level Professional Mobile Spray Tanner! But of course, that was also freelance, I then because a facilitator for theatre, drama and creative learning company Mortal Fools and started working with them on some of their projects for young people such as: Future Ready, a project they do with Collingwood School in Morpeth. I then started to work for them as a youth theatre practitioner and still am to this day.

Back in June last year, I applied to be a content creator for an online company Latest Deals, they hired me and 4 weeks later, so did their sister company- Latest Free Stuff, with them I make short videos, I do Facebook Lives, run competitions etc. It’s a bit like QVC but in a more modern way!

Eilish in character

What is the Brundibár Arts Festival? What’s been your involvement in it?

The Brundibár Arts Festival is the first annual Festival in the UK dedicated to the Music and Arts of the Holocaust. And that topic is something that personally I never learnt much about. I didn’t know about the music associated with the Holocaust and we should, as it’s such an amazing way to keep individuals’ stories alive.

I was part of the Festival last year as an actor in the performance- The Last Cyclist, and this year, myself and Northumberland Theatre Company had an idea- we approached the festival and here I am directing this year’s show!

Brundibár Arts Festival is important because, it shows us some of the great works of art that emerged from such horrific circumstances.  We should be educated on these things; the art we see in the festival is often a lesser known story and we’re truly giving it an important platform and telling human stories of creative courage.

Eilish performing at Gosforth Civic Theatre – The Last Cyclist – Brundibár Arts Festival 2020

Tell me about this year’s production – The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust?

The production is all about The Cook Sisters; two ordinary lasses from Sunderland who achieved extraordinary things. And that’s not me calling them ordinary- they called themselves that. It’s such a gorgeous local story about two young women who saved the lives of 29 Jews, that a lot of people may not know about.

Why is it important to shine a light on lesser-known courageous stories of women like this?

Because often, when you think of wars or fighting or courage, you may think of a male dominated picture. And that’s not the case. For years. We learnt from male dominated history books and it’s time that that was changed.

When I was at school, I can’t remember learning about one woman who wasn’t a wife of a man. Apart from maybe Cleopatra and we glossed over her. – The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust isn’t a story of royalty, it’s about two ORDINARY lasses who were young and passionate, and the things they achieved are worth knowing and celebrating.  These women saved lives.

What do you hope people take away from The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust?

I want people to sit, enjoy it and to allow themselves feel – then to go away and learn more about the sisters.

Why should people tune in later today at 7pm to see the production? 

If you don’t know the real story of Ida and Louise Cook- you need to watch it! You’ll wanna learn. And even if you do know their story, still watch it- feel proud that you know this story and that you’re a part of it. The performance is littered with music, opera and it’s uplifting. There’s something for everyone.

I’m so excited to tune in later to see your directorial debut! Right so tell me about your role at Mortal Fools?

I started working with Mortal Fools back in 2017 with their first production of Melva and then toured a new version in 2019/20. And now it has been made into Melva Mapletree & the Quest for Barnabas Boggle, an interactive, online storytelling game and one-stop resource to support children’s everyday worries and anxiety

Then I started working as a facilitator for them in January 2020 working with various schools, running the younger Youth Theatre sessions and participating in their audio theatre experience When The World Is Loud back in August. They can’t get rid of me!

Team Melva during 2017 show run in Prudhoe

Tell me about Melva and your involvement? And the big Q, who is Feggis?

Melva is a show for children (and their parents/carers) and it’s all about mental health! Worries are “worrits” in the show and Melva is dealing with a lot of them and it is giving her  anxiety. Melva approaches these subjects in a light-hearted, accessible and child friendly way and it invites young people to talk openly about their own worries and thinking about how they might manage them. Melva also shows that grown-ups get these worries too- and that that’s okay!

Feggis! Yes, one of my roles in Melva (There’s 6 in total- 4 in one scene!) is Feggis the talking, fainting goat. Feggis went to goat school and that’s why they can talk but not write. Feggis helps Melva be calm and chill out- showing her how to breathe! Feggis is an audience favourite and pretty adorable.

Eilish as Feggis during a Melva workshop at a North East school

Melva Mapletree & the Quest for Barnabas Boggle, Mortal Fools’ interactive, online storytelling game launches to schools TODAY! What was your involvement in the game?

I’ve played it and it’s fun! It did leave me going- Is that really my voice?! And seeing this character, I’ve worked on for three years in animation is so weird, but in a wonderful way! We had quite heavy involvement in the game development, from the very beginning with some of our initial ideas being brought in to the final project, It was lovely for it to be done this way and was so collaborative! The Melva cast are so rooted in the characters and the story, so having a say in this next chapter felt vital.

Graphic depicting Melva game

And you managed to find time in 2020 to write a Christmas show?  Tell us more!

Eeeek, This was big! I wrote my very first show the back end of last year- The Elf Who Saved Santa. It all stemmed from a casual chat with Northumberland Theatre Company about a silly Christmas idea I had, to which they said- write it! And I did!

The show centres around Bubblegum, a little elf with a big heart who tries really hard but might not actually be great at what she does- apart from music! It tells the story of Santa feeling lonely, jumpy, grumpy and lost because of everything that was happening in the world and COVID-19- so Bubblegum tries to show him that the Christmas spirit still exists. It touches on some mental health topics too and it shows that even the people we least expect can feel sad sometimes.

Eilish as Bubblegum

What was it like being able to bring something magical (and very contemporary) to families at such a challenging time?

We got some brilliant feedback, which was so rewarding with it being my first show! It was filmed and put online; not getting that initial audience reaction like you get in a live show, just left me unknowing and worried that people wouldn’t like it! But it was well received with some people even saying it helped their children understand adults’ emotions better.

I think it gave everyone some much needed relief at this odd time. I think it’s important that there was something out there to help families have conversations about their emotions at the moment. Life is weird and none of us REALLY know what we’re doing- so talking about it can offer a bit of relief. I’m pleased I was able to help some people do that.

Eilish performing Christmas 2020

You’re a gigging actor, theatre practitioner, writer and now Director – what’s the impact been of COVID to you personally? Has it made you “pivot” at all? 

COVID-19 definitely made me re-think some things. I had two tours cancelled and multiple shows- like many others! I was fortunate enough to be working online for the Mortal Fools Youth Theatre when this first started- so that kept me busy. I’m not going to lie to you though, I’m sick of the sight of Zoom! I can’t wait to never use it again!

Because of COVID- I applied for the content creator job- something I probably would never had had time for, as prior to the pandemic I was working at the O2 Academy Newcastle and the Airport. (Both of which I’ve now been made redundant from) So now I spend Monday-Friday (usually) filming, editing, being on social media and it’s taught me so much! I’ve done multiple social media courses, I’ve became a Mental Health First Aider, I even did an Excel course! I guess having all this time made me want to better my skills. I’m now pretty capable in editing and have done a few fellow actors showreels, I’ve learnt how to use greenscreens and done a lot more VoiceOver work. It’s made me adapt and grow the skills that I maybe didn’t use so much.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been given the jobs that I have had during this time. But I’ve also worked my arse off for them and created my own work- I ain’t waiting for anyone else, I’ve gotta make work for me!

Eilish as Feggis performing in Melva with actress Katie Powell (Melva)

What do you think the theatre landscape will look like beyond COVID?

Well, this is a question and a half! I think streamed performances will be common, and to be honest I don’t really know about the wider landscape. I’d like to think there’d be more appreciation for theatre, and for artists. Because people have gone so long without them. Maybe people won’t be on their phone during a performance anymore or look down on our jobs and stop saying “yeah but what’s your real job? or “what else do you do to support that?”.

2020 has oddly been the first year I’ve been able to support myself financially solely by being a creative! From a professional perspective, I think casting directors are being more lenient with self-tapes and imperfect zoom backgrounds. If I was being sickly positive, I’d say this has forced us to use our brains in a different way, a new way of accessing and making theatre- and that’s not a bad thing. That being said, I cannot bloody wait to be sat front row in an auditorium again!

One hope personally in 2021? 

I want to achieve a better work/life balance. 2020 was an odd year and I don’t think I took enough time for me, when realistically that’s all I had to do. I’ve set boundaries and I’m hoping to stick to them, 2020 has taught me that ultimately family and friend comes first. They are the people who matter. There’s no point being consumed in work if you’re not happy with yourself at the end of the day. I want to get that happiness back! I also want to do music more; I play ukulele and guitar and I was gifted a piano early last year- I don’t play or sing half as much as I used to and I miss that.

Eilish playing her Uke

Work life balance….what is that!? You work on social media like me…..social media is a brilliant place but also TOXIC AF. How do you manage trolls? Any advice to aspiring content creators in this area?

Oh my goodness! Learn and accept that people can be stupid and are bored right now so have time to type silly comments! I’ve had hate because I ordered a medium meal at McDonalds instead of a large! Or that I wore the same top 2 days in a row! (Most of the hate came from middle aged white men).

I usually laugh at it, but sometimes- especially if it’s a wide viewed video- the hate can come thick and fast. I did a 60 second video on Doritos once and I never knew people could get so angry about those chilli heatwave triangles of deliciousness!

MY advice is to sit in the sadness for a minute, then try to brush it off- ultimately those people don’t know YOU and you wouldn’t want them too. It’s worth noting that whenever I’ve had those comments- there’s always a stranger or 5 sticking up for me, which is so beautiful.

Wider career advice wise, LEARN EVERYTHING! If you can film, edit, voice record, do admin, graphic design, know the best times to upload on different platforms and understand algorithms- even just basic on all of that- that’s AMAZING! You can never have enough skills; social media is ever-changing and it’s changing fast! The quicker you can adapt and keep up- the better. But also, don’t beat yourself up about it. There’s enough people trying to do that for you! Keep that chin up and be you, unapologetically!

Eilish laughing

Any other new projects/happenings on the horizon for Eilish in 2021?

Aside from Heroines! Melva is coming back! We’re filming the show (oops, am I allowed to say that?!) and I couldn’t be more excited. I also have my first Adult Panto tour booked in for this year March-July (fingers crossed) where I’m playing two characters- I’m starting to see a multi-character theme here. I’m beyond excited for the show and we’re playing in some gorgeous venues like the Darlington Hippodrome! I’m still writing, as and when, and who knows, those thoughts could become another show! There are a few things pending which I know I’m DEFINITELY not allowed to talk about- so, if you’re interested- WATCH THIS SPACE!

Eilish performing in Melva 2019

Ohhh we will Eilish….. we will be watching. (Sounds a little bit creepy…..). Make sure to watch the premiere of The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust later today at 7pm.  This production is free to watch and streamed live over on Gosforth Civic Theatre Facebook page and is part of Brundibár Arts Festival.

Graphic promoting The Cook Sisters performance TONIGHT

Interview with artist Josie Brookes – bringing a lot of joy and colour into the world one glorious illustration at a time.

As we move closer to the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, I thought i’d round out the year, with an artist interview with a creative that has brought me a lot of joy and colour across 2020, an artist that has been responsible for spreading a lot of joy into folx lives across a year like no other and worked on some joy filled creative projects.

Josie Brookes’ work is just pure joy! I first met Josie Brookes in my role at Gateshead Council on the Culture Team. Josie’s illustrations are the sort that just make you smile – full of colour, personality and something rather comforting with a hint of nostalgia. She makes the type of work, that you brings light into a room and if you hung it on your wall, you couldn’t ever imagine feeling sad in that room ever again.

Artist Josie Brookes

She’s is a freelance Illustrator, animator and art facilitator based in Newcastle upon Tyne, North East England. Her illustration work showcases illustration in its broadest context – illustration can be so much more than drawing, especially when you throw collage and bold patterns into the mix.

I’ve wanted to interview Josie for Vulture, for years – but seeing her resilience across 2020, the wonderful creative and community projects she’s been involved in and contributed to – well it spurred me on to make it happen!

You can check out Josie’s work to purchase HERE and read about her projects HERE.

Josie Brookes

So over to you Josie….

Well hello, can you introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures?

Hello! I’m Josie, a North East Creative, an Illustrator/visual maker and creative facilitator living in my home city of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Tell me a bit about your journey into the creative industries – where did it all begin?

When I returned home from doing my BA in Graphic Design at Brighton University, I worked part-time at The Newcastle Arts Centre and then a-n – The Artists Information Company, whilst building up my work as a freelance Illustrator and facilitator, working on commissions and projects, largely with a community focus, around the region. In the earlier days, I also ran a business called ‘Prod’ with my husband Tom Madge selling patterned screen-printed belts and jewellery, but eventually my illustration and project work sort of took over and I was lucky enough to be able to invest in my freelance practice full time.

Thinking back, my first paid job as an illustrator was doing the horoscope Illustrations for The Crack magazine (after a stint of work experience whilst at Uni). I’ve always found the North East to be a very supportive place to work in, with a great sense of camaraderie in the creative community here.

Josie Brookes – Moonface

You are the true definition of a multi-disciplinary artist – illustrator, animator, collage, maker – but most well-known (IMO) for your illustration, how did you develop your illustration style?

I think my illustration style has evolved with me. At the core, my work focuses on character and colour. Most of the time I represent things from my own perspective rather than in a realistic way. I like to experiment with processes. The way it’s made – be it using pen, collage, print or digital techniques – can vary, and overlap, but always has those common themes.

Josie Brookes – Kindness

We were reunited on Art Crush (without ever meeting or talking – very 2020 of us!) working on the project! I was thrilled to see your name and the illustrations are of the “art personalities” are just perfect! Can you tell me in your words what Art Crush is?

Art Crush is a fun app designed to explore the Arts Council Collection (the UK’s most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art, with more than 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists), in a less conventional way, and to learn a little bit about your artistic persuasions! Developed using a similar interface to apps such as Tinder, Art Crush enables folks to quickly and easily swipe through artworks to discover what art they like, create their own collection and discover their ‘art personality’.

Josie Brookes – Art Crush illustrations (App created by BLOOM)

What was your involvement in Art Crush and how did you come up with the concept of the visuals?

Sunderland Culture approached me to come up with the visuals for the Art Crush Art personalities, because they were looking for someone who they thought could have fun experimenting with these slightly abstract concepts and I had recently done an online talk about my work and showed some Horoscope illustrations I had made, which they likened the challenge to.

I got a description of each of the art personalities and started working up ideas and draft characters to feedback on. It was a lovely working process with them and luckily, there wasn’t much tweaking to do. My concept was that each character was ‘encased’ by their personality, around their head, with patterns, colour choices and little details providing an extra nod to their traits.

Josie Brookes – The Dreamer – Art Crush

Why should people download Art Crush and have a go?

It’s such a fun app and a great concept. It’s like Tinder but for Art. So, if you’ve been married as long as I have, you might never have used something like this (Tinder – the dating app) before! You swipe right and get to see lots of art from the Arts Council Collection, then once you have 15 matches you get to discover your Art Personality.

Now time for the big question – what was your Arts Personality?

Mine was Truth Seeker. I was secretly hoping for Boundary Breaker, but there you go! Although, you can do it as many times as you like, and it may change depending on your mood. I’ve done it a few times now and keep getting Truth Seeker, so feel like that’s my destiny!

Now onto a project I’ve watched from a far and loved……can you tell us about Monkfish Productions’ A Little Bit of Good in the World project? What is it? How’d you get involved?

I saw the project call out on the Tyne and Wear Cultural Freelancers facebook feed and immediately loved the concept of the idea. After such a prolonged period of turmoil for everyone in the creative industry (and everyone in general) a project which focused on bringing a little bit of good in world was headily appealing. I went through the interview process and thankfully was asked to be involved. The project is about exploring ‘how lots of small creative bits of good can be connected to facilitate something bigger’. Monkfish have been working with Projects4Change so it has included workshops with their young people and I have gotten to work with fellow artist Melanie Kyles, who has been making a beautiful embroidery piece for the project too.

Josie Brookes – A Little Bit of Good in The World

Can you share a project highlight so far? How can folx get involved with the remainder of the project?

There’s so many! Getting to do some ‘in real life’ workshops with the Projects4Change youth group, my first and only ones, since March. Also the online ‘Drink and Draw’ evening we had on Zoom, and getting to produce some self-initiated artwork… so basically the whole lot!

There are a series of online creative activities on the Monkfish Productions’ blog that I helped to create with Amy Lord; it would be great for people to get involved with those.

You sell lots of cards, prints and are available for commissions..where do you seek inspiration for that work? Do you create work with the intention of selling it, or do you have fun making/illustrating something and then think.oh I might add a print of that to my shop? How can folx purchase from you?

I’m more in the having fun then thinking oh that would make a nice print camp. At the start of Lockdown, in a moment of organisation (panic) I got a lot of prints made up and set up my online shop properly. There’s nothing like a pandemic to get you to do those things you’re always meaning to but normally never get round to. People can shop for my prints/originals and greetings cards on my online shop.

Josie Brookes

You did the illustration for Culture Vulture favourite, stand-up comedian Kate Fox and their tour Where There’s Muck, There’s Bras”, a show celebrating Northern women and their contributions, commissioned for Great Exhibition of the North 2018. I just loved the show branding can you tell me about your involvement in the project and what you thought of the show? What was it like being a lush creative woman, working on a project about celebrating and championing women!?

Thank you. I love Kate and it is always a pleasure to create work for her. We worked on a project together around 6 years ago with Helix Arts and YHNE and have stayed in touch since. The branding for her ‘WTMTB’ show, and then tour, was a dream. I learned so much from drawing up all the Strong Northern women that feature in the show. It was really emotional watching the show and realising just how much these women and their achievements have been written out of or glossed over in history. I feel privileged to have been a tiny part of the process of highlighting their Awesomeness. It was also empowering to work on a on an all-Northern all-woman led project. I am very proud of where I come from, so always appreciate opportunities to champion people from the North.

Josie Brookes – Where There’s Muck There’s Bras

Can you tell me a bit about your involvement with the band Warm Digits?

Myself and my husband Tom, were asked to make the lead single video ‘View from Nowhere’ for Warm Digits new album (released in February this year) and we decided to make it using stop motion animation. We visited Emma pollock the guest vocalist on the track up in Glasgow to record her performance. It was an intense and massively fun project to do together, and we are really happy with the result. Unfortunately, Lockdown 1 put the launch gig at The Cluny, Newcastle on hold, but it’s something to look forward to in 2021.

Josie Brookes – Warm Digits

And your link with Newcastle based Chalk; an organization that creates cultural, immersive experiences for the whole family?

I’m honoured to be an associate artist for Chalk. I really appreciate, all the hard work they do to provide fun and interesting family-focused events in the region (which I have enjoyed as a parent with my kids), so I was thrilled when they first asked me if I would be involved with their events. I have live animated through two of their gigs, for bands Archipelago and Stealing Sheep, and also run children’s animation workshop. I also recently did an online Chalk workshop as part of the Summer Streets Festival exploring ‘What does Music look like?’ and I really look forward to being involved in more exciting events in the near future. Chalk are always coming up with something different.

Josie Brookes – Live animating Stealing Sheep

You were the artist and residence at Northern Festival of Illustrationwhat was that like? Tell me about your residency?

This was such a great experience for me as an Illustrator; there aren’t that many Illustration specific residency opportunities out there and The Pop Up studio residency was a fantastic way to break from my usual routine of projects and invest some time in pure self-initiated experimenting. I had the chance to connect with the creative scene in Teesside through the Northern School of Art and Empty Shop. I met new people and had the chance to share the space with fellow resident artist Laura Fitton. I ran group workshops, put on a fun Drink and Draw and enjoyed the chance to explore the Teesside area more.

Josie Brookes – The Pop Up Studio Residency

Whats your 2020 highlight been?

I’d have to say my creative highlight this year would be releasing the Warm Digits music video. It was such a nice way to combine these different facets of my practice in one – using print, collage, mark making and animation, all together. It was also a happy time getting to collaborate with my husband Tom.

Josie Brookes – Warm Digits

Can you share something new youre working on/coming up?

I am currently working on a collection of new print and collage-based work inspired by the Warm Digit’s project, that was going to be exhibited at Northern Print in September this year; it has had to be postponed until next year. I’m also working with Monkfish on one of their other great projects ‘Going the Social Distance’ which is based online and working with young people around creativity and well-being.

I’m also really excited to start working on Claire Newton’s (Creatively Conscious) new project ‘Creativity Island’ with her and writer Danielle Slade. It is all about connection, creativity and well-being in motherhood, which are subjects that I am very passionate about!

Josie Brookes – Squidgy Heart

Any artists/creative folx that are inspiring you right now, that you suggest I should check out?

I have been really enjoying Instagram. It feels like a great platform for spotting people that you I love the work of. I’d recommend checking out the feeds of Lisa Congdon, Jayde Perkin, Elisoa Henderson-Figueroa, Peopleiveloved, thejoyeclectic, Sarah Bagshaw designs, moragmyerscough, local illustrator pal Laura Sheldon and my friends at Flea Circus who always give me shopping urges and helping me to ‘shop small’ as much as possible.

How can folx keep in touch with you?

Instagram, Facebook or send me a message on my website www.josiebrookes.com

Josie Brookes – Chalk – Stealing Sheep

Well thank you Josie – wonderful to catch up with an artist that has smashed 2020 out the park whilst bringing joy to so many folx too. Please check out Josie’s online shop, keep an eye out for her future projects into 2021 and check out those Instagram suggestions – they are goodies!

All my love Culture Vultures – more interviews on the way!

Interview with visual textile artist Anya Paintsil – we chat representation (or lack of), punch-needle and questioning “fine art”.

Today I’m interviewing another Insta artist find….this one really stopped me in my tracks! Anya Paintsil is a brilliant artist find – I stumbled across her work through The Social Distance Art Project (seriously folx – that is the gift that just keeps on digitally giving – check it out!) and instantly fell in love. It is like nothing that I’ve personally seen recently and the tied in themes of race, feminism and personal expression, just feel so timely.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – me and jack

Anya Painsil is a recent art graduate from Manchester Met, making her way into the arts work and I just know she’s going to have a bright future. Anya’s pieces use methods of rug hooking, embroidery and afro hairstyling to create textile pieces that seek to elevate art and craft practices that have been historically devalued because of their associations with marginalised groups. Anya’s work frequently focuses on the significance of race and identity outside of urban areas, feminism, autobiographical story-telling and fantasy.

I reached out to Anya this Summer for a Culture Vulture interview for many reasons; firstly, her art work is beaut, I love the style and it interested me! It is the type of work, that even though, I stumbled on her work during mindlessly scrolling, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and book marked it. Secondly, she is using a textile medium that arguably is not something that many artists use – it’s quite a traditional medium, but this feels like such a fresh way of using it. I like folx who are doing something quite different and Anya’s work, is just that, very Anya!

So it is my privilege to share our little interview and please check out Anya’s work and show her lots of her support, she is MEGA!

Artist Anya Paintsil leaning against a shop window.

Anya Paintsil

So hi Anya! Can you introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures?

My name is Anya Paintsil; I’m a Welsh-Ghanaian artist living in Manchester.

How would describe your practice?

I’d describe myself as a textile or fibre artist; I work with various rug hooking methods to create wall-based textile pieces.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil Mair at Cylch Meithrin

Can you share with us, your journey into the arts?

I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life; from being a small child creative practice has always been something of a compulsion for me and I would spend hours every day drawing and painting. I didn’t enjoy studying art at school or school at all really, and dropped out of sixth form college and worked, travelled and moved around a lot.

When I was 23 I decided I wanted to work towards a career in graphic design or illustration so I went on a portfolio course in Glasgow, where I was living at the time – I got into MMU (Manchester Met) to study illustration and animation but similarly with my school experiences I didn’t really enjoy working to briefs or not being able to make work entirely in the way I envisioned so I swapped to study fine art after my first year. I just finished my BA and began working with my gallery earlier this year.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – Your Mum Eats Like a Camel

Can you tell us about some of the themes you explore in your work?

My work is largely autobiographical – I explore personal relationships, trauma, and memory, as well as exploring race and identity.

What would you like audiences to take away from your work?

I like to create objects that have a sort of presence.

My work does largely deal with race and identity from my own mixed race African/Welsh perspective – a perspective I have rarely seen represented. I like to explore complex elements of depicting black women and black bodies and hair.

My main aims in my practice are to make viewers consider what can and can’t be included in the category of fine art as well as which makers can be considered “artists”. I do this through my utilisation of craft practices that have historically been relegated to the decorative or dismissed from the high art canon due to associations with utility. I work with afro hairstyling techniques and materials as a way of honouring my heritage as a black woman, and a way to bring wider attention to the significance of hairstyling and hair in itself for women of the African diaspora.

As well as wanting to work with materials I am skilled at manipulating, I want to showcase these skills I learnt outside of an arts education context to in some way convey that literally anything that requires skill and creativity can be elevated to an object that can exist within a gallery setting; this is a way of challenging ideas that real art can only be made by certain people under certain circumstances.

Example of Anya’s work

Anya Paintsil – thirty six inch in six thirteen

Talk us through the process of making one of your textile pieces? How long does it take?

Usually between a week or a month.

I draw or paint nearly every day, in a semi-automatic fashion, I usually pick back through old drawings to come up with ideas for my textiles – I then usually do a more “resolved feeling” version of the initial drawing and then just try to translate into textile form, the design usually changes over the course of making the piece – I always work free hand on to the hessian.

You often use punch needle as a process in your work, why?

It is such a cathartic process.

Labour and the evidence of labour are quite central to my practice. I really appreciate and enjoy how easily I can manipulate my tools in punch needling; I find working by hand gives me far more freedom and allows me to make quick decisions while I work.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – Self Portrait

Can you share with us a highlight of your career so far?

I suppose, in itself, I’m still proper delighted and quite shocked that making work has actually become a career. Being discovered by my gallerist, Ed Cross, on Instagram was wild and unexpected but has been completely life changing. Ed Cross Fine Art is a gallery in London, that works with emerging and established artists across and beyond the African diaspora.

But I’d have to say my highlight so far was learning, that I had been selected to show work at the London instalment of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House in 8 – 10 October.

How have you been spending lock down?

Grieving with my family. In April my Grandma died from COVID. I come from a tight knit family, my Grandma was our matriarch and the centre of our world. Losing her and being unable to be with her or say goodbye due to the circumstances of the pandemic has been so painful and devastating to us all.

My mum was going through cancer treatment when the pandemic began, and I myself am clinically vulnerable so this whole situation has been a total nightmare and the hardest time of my life.

I’m so sorry to hear that and sending you so much virtual love! Do you sell any of your work? Take commissions?

My work is sold through my gallerist, Ed Cross Fine Art. I take selected commissions.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsl – ni yn unig

What are you working on right now? Any projects?

I’m finishing up a couple of new pieces to show at the 1-54 in October, and a couple of other things that are soon to be announced – keep an eye on my social media for more!

Can you share with us a few artists that are inspiring you right now or suggestions of artists I need to check out?

You should check out….

Cas Namoda – a painter and performance artist born in Mozambique, exploring the intricacies of social dynamics and mixed cultural and racial identity in her work. She captures scenes of everyday life, from mundane moments to life-changing events and paints a vibrant and nuanced portrait of post-colonial Mozambique within an increasingly globalised world.

Tiffanie Delune – a visual artist and painter, born in Paris, inspired by the cut outs of Matisse and African textiles; she works with acrylic, oil, pastels, charcoal, graphite, pencils, papers, fabrics, wool, nets, women’s tights, shells and leaves, on stretched large canvas, rolls of canvas and smaller pieces of paper. Her work combines a brilliant command of design and colour with a fearless commitment to exploring her personal history and celebrating sexuality, monogamy, femininity, motherhood, rebirth, agency and freedom. 

Adebunmi Gbadebo – a visual artist, from New Jersey, who creates sculptures, paintings, prints, and paper using human hair sourced from people of the African diaspora. Rejecting traditional art materials, Gbadebo sees hair as a means to centre her people and their histories as central to the narratives in her work.

You’re at the beginning of your creative career which is exciting – whilst the creative and cultural industries are thinking about reopening, evolving and rebuilding – what change would you personally like to see in our sector?

I would like to see

  1. more women,
  2. more people of colour,
  3. more “normal” people,
  4. more accessible language.

Well high five to that – I’d like to see less gatekeeping! This has been a wonderful interview – how can folx stay connected with you?

My Instagram is @anyapaintsil and you can find my work for sale on artsy right HERE.  

You can see my work IN PERSON on October the 10th at the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House – you can get your tickets from HERE.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – feeling powerful with my red nails

What a great interview and thank you for introducing me to three new artists Anya – every artist, I interview, engage with or hang with, I ask them to suggest three-five artists on Insta or in general that I need to check out and let me tell you, it’s been SO bliddy amazing to jump outside of my comfort bubble – I’ve discovered SO many new artists. Brilliant for my curious brain, not so brilliant for my to-do list! (hehe!)

Please check out Anya’s work and please consider buying from artists and creatives this Autumn (going into festive season!) Artists need your support more than ever, so put yerrrr monies where you mouth is! Even if it’s just a card or small print!

Until next time Culture Vultures!

(#AD) The Hancock Gallery – a beaut Newcastle commercial gallery – a MUST visit and a gem!

Culture Vulture visit to The Hancock Gallery

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I recently, had the pleasure of being invited along to The Hancock Gallery in central Newcastle a few weeks ago, to take in their figurative exhibition ‘Between  Distance and Desire’ featuring headline artist Mark Demsteader, Billy Childish, Ron Hicks, Milt Kobayashi, John Smyth, Chris Gambrell and many more.

If you haven’t heard of or aren’t aware of The Hancock Gallery, well you need to add it to your *must* visit list – it is a beaut commercial gallery space in a converted terrace Georgian House on Jesmond Road West in central Newcastle. It is nestled right next door to Newcastle University’s Robinson Library. Their opening times are Thursday – Saturday 10am-5pm and they sometimes host events in connection to their exhibition programme; their exhibition programme tends to change approx. twice a year. They are a fully COVID-19 secure venue and adhering to all social distancing measures. Ahead of your visit, I would check out their website, just in case anything has changed (i.e. a local lockdown or change in opening times). All the art displayed in the gallery space is for sale and they also offer the Own Art scheme, enabling you to purchase work via a flexible payment plan.

The Hancock Gallery – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I was first invited to visit a year or so ago when The Hancock Gallery first opened and it was quickly added to my fave galleries to visit in Newcastle list. The exhibition then, was headlined by Alexander Millar with his wonderful industrial working and football loving Gadgie portraits and other collections of his work. I’ve always been a big fan of Alex’s work so as you can imagine, that was a dream exhibition to view. During that visit, I experienced a warm, friendly welcome, very knowledgeable, relaxed gallery staff and a beaut open, light space which was just a delight to inhabit whilst taking in the exhibition.

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Moving on to my most recent visit, well I was excited about this visit to The Hancock Gallery for four reasons – 1. This was my FIRST gallery visit since lockdown. So, I had pre-Eurovision excitement level butterflies (what can I say? I’m a big Eurovision fan!). I was so excited to get back into a gallery space and take in some art. 2. The exhibition featured artists that I knew but had never seen their work in real life, like Mark Demsteader AND 3. It featured artists that were new to me, like Ron Hicks.  It is fair to say, I was hyped and spent my pre-visit, reading up on the different artists and checking out their Instagram. 4. This exhibition was a figurative one (i.e. depicting figures)! Whilst, I’m much more abstract and conceptual in my art preference, through lock down, I’ve found myself drawn to hyper realistic art of people….. maybe I’m craving human connection in a socially distanced world or may be my taste has broadened, either way, I was looking forward to this exhibition.

The Hancock Gallery Manager Chris – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

For this visit, I had a socially distanced gallery tour (check me out!) with Chris, the Hancock Gallery Manager who took me around the two floors and allowed me to ask him all the questions under the sun – which was brilliant for someone like me who is ever curious. I started my visit with getting some hand sanitizer from one of their hand washing stations and getting comfortable. We launched into conversation about the provocation “Is paint dead?” – like with many things, art goes in trends and things come in and out of fashion. Painting and work using paint, has for the last decade been considered a bit old fashioned…….moreover a few years ago, if you told me, that I was going to see a figurative exhibition of paintings, the images that come to my mind are indeed conventional and a bit……. well dull and not to my taste. The exhibition ‘Between Distance and Desire’ is so much more than that- it was so vibrant, beautiful and for me, really proved that paint is back *in* and how artists use paint SO differently. I was really blown away, how different artists approach figurative work and hats off to Chris and his selection of artists for this group exhibition, because it really worked.

The Hancock Gallery – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

As we moved into the main space, Chris told me more about his role, his ambition for The Hancock Gallery and we also debated the North East arts scene. Chris explained that he is responsible for the curation of the work and selecting artists to exhibition in the gallery space and managing those relationships whilst having the ambition for the gallery to present Internationally renowned artists in the North. As the Culture Vulture, I’m all about championing Northerness and Northern artists but actually, I can get too focused in on that bubble and completely forget about the International art scene, so I really relish having a gallery like The Hancock Gallery  in Newcastle to remind me of the bigger wide world out there; introducing me to new artists and reminding me to dip into the International scene!

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Chris and I started my tour of the exhibition ‘Between Distance and Desire’ by naturally starting with the work of headline artist Mark Demsteader. Like with many artists, Mark’s creative journey to become one of the top figurative painters in the UK, was not conventional. Born into the 60s, whilst passionate about art and gaining two foundation courses to enable him to pursue a creative career, due to lack of opportunity he ended up working in the family whole sale butchery business, before eventually in the 1990s taking a school art technician, where he worked for just over a decade. During this period, he kept building his portfolio, but during a time when figurative work was not of interest to many galleries or the art market, he made little progress but kept chasing that dream; eventually he got his lucky break and was selected to exhibit at a Greenwich gallery alongside other artists and sold several pieces. From that moment, he’s never looked back and is a very successful commercial artist today!

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I first became aware of Mark’s work, when he was drawing his Emma Watson (actress) collection – she initially approached him for a commission and he asked if he could paint and draw her. This eventually turned into a beautiful collection of work which I remember being in the press in 2011. Beyond that, I’ve been aware of Mark’s work as it’s popped up in other exhibitions or in the news. It was wonderful to take in a showing of his work right here in Newcastle.

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Mark’s pieces often feature women with 90s fashion model proportions; the work was beautiful to see up close and to me, it depicts a conventional and idealised version of femininity. Chris talked through the work and I was interested to find out that Mark often paints with his hands, a knife, uses sand-paper alongside “painting by accident” using different layers to build elements of the work. Mark’s pieces seem so precise and neat, so I was surprised to hear this. It was also interesting to learn that Mark has a rotation of 6 models, he uses for his work AND that he thinks about what work might sell, before painting; his best sellers are his figurative works of women, so of course, it makes sense that this is what he paints most of. I found his work really special, atmospheric, beautiful with a hint of comforting sadness – I can’t really describe what I felt was sad about them; may be the facial expressions of each woman connected to the weird sadness I am feeling at the moment in my life, but I felt connected to them. My favourite pieces were the yellow ones – love bold yellow!

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

We then moved upstairs to take in the rest of Mark’s work AND the other artists exhibiting. First up was Billy Childish. Billy is a painter, author, poet, photographer, film maker, singer and guitarist. Since the late 1970s, Billy has been prolific in creating music, writing and visual art. I’ve always considered Billy to be an unapologetic rebel and free spirit, therefore my interest has often been in him as a person, as opposed to his work. He is just one of those glorious humans that creativity and uniqueness flows through their veins and pulsates into everything they touch and do.

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

In this exhibition, Billy’s work was a beautiful and brilliant contrast to Mark’s; it really highlighted how broad “figurative art” actually is. His work was colourful, playful, unapologetically Billy and nods to the fact, he’s known as being a “pop culture outlier”. I wasn’t surprised to hear from Hancock Gallery Manager Chris, that Billy has often rejects the mainstream art scene and yet, finds himself drawn back in time and time again due to his popularity and folx curiosity. Chris also told me, that Billy Childish used to be involved with Tracey Emin – that info I treated like art world gossip and I’m hoping it, may help me in a pub quiz in the future!

The Hancock Gallery’s Chris – Billy Childish’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Next up was Bristol based artist Chris Gambrell and his work – his pieces were stunning, colourful and crayon seemed to be the material used. His work caught my eye as soon as I walked into this room – I loved the colour, the angles, the layers, their unfinished nature and just a hint of *diva* in them. Hancock Gallery Manager Chris shared with me, that Chris had a background in fashion illustration and you can really tell – his work is SO fashion and that is what makes it special!

The Hancock Gallery – Chris Gambrell’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Then we moved on to a new artist discovery for me and a personal favourite from the whole exhibition, American artist Ron Hicks. Ron is a brilliant black artist and his recent work often depicts people of colour in his work – “Static series” (not on view at The Hancock Gallery) represents his feelings about being racially profiled and black representation. Ron is a fascinating artist to read about and to look back at his back catalogue of work – as you will see he used to paint rather traditional and romantic depictions of people, before really flipping his style into something more impressionist and much more to my personal taste. I could certainly see a Hicks hanging up in my house and his work, reminds me a little bit of my fave muralist Dan Cimmermann which is probably why I love it so much!

The Hancock Gallery – Ron Hicks’ work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I next took in John Smyth and Milt Kobayashi pieces! Scottish artist John was another new artist for me! His beautiful figurative paintings at The Hancock Gallery, use decorative patterns to make them feel a bit more abstract. They felt so Instagrammable and perfect for a particular styling of interiors. American artist Milt, was also a new artist discovery (honestly, what a morning, full of new artists!) and I LOVED their work; it’s sophisticated, ethereal, sometimes playful and brought a big smile to my face.

The Hancock Gallery – John Smyth’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

My tour with Hancock Gallery Manager Chris came to a close with me finding out about what the next exhibition is and potential future exhibiting artists – I was sworn to secrecy not to tell, so my lips are sealed but I’m MEGA excited for it and thrilled it’s happening in Newcastle. I’m sure I will be posting all about it on Vulture, so keep your eyes peeled!

The Hancock Gallery’s Chris – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Post tour, I went back round the whole gallery space taking my time, taking it all in on my own and doing Instagram Lives (you may have seen them if you follow me on Insta – @theculturevulturene). I made a wish list of pieces I’d love to buy – I’ve collected so many pieces of art and I can’t wait to fill my forever home with it all. I also spent some time in The Hancock Gallery Art market which is a beautiful space full of cards and art books to purchase – my two favourite things. Art books are such a weakness of mine and they had an amazing book for sale all about womxn artists – which of course was my vibe. They have the most amazing comfy seating in this area, so I chilled whilst checking out a book or two.

The Hancock Gallery (Image Credit Coffee Design)

On the way out, I stumbled onto Elizabeth Power’s work (not officially part of the exhibition but on sale) and it was textbook Culture Vulture – so much so, she’s hopefully the subject of a future Culture Vulture interview.

I left The Hancock Gallery with a huge smile on my face- I had a wonderful time. Social distancing was very well managed whilst feeling really welcoming and it was a lush experience. You can find out more about the gallery, the artists exhibiting there and have a deeks at their online exhibition via the website. Their opening times are Thursday – Saturday 10am-5pm; so, go on and plan a visit to The Hancock Gallery soon and keep an eye out on their socials for future exhibitions and future events.

And thank you The Hancock Gallery and Chris for such a lovely time!

Until next time Culture Vultures.

The Hancock Gallery – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Interview with Liv Hunt – artist, activist, proud freelancer & puppet master!

Liv Hunt – Culture Vulture Artist Interview

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

One of the biggest blessings of 2020, is that whilst the year hasn’t played out as anticipated (understatement alert!), I’ve had the privilege of working on lots of brilliant and unexpected projects. One such project was #Gateshead10x10 – as someone born and bred in Gateshead, it’s always exciting to work on something in my own community, on home turf and especially a project like this, that really has such brilliant aspirations.

Creative community project 10 x 10 Creative Gateshead launched in August to connect and inspire Gateshead people during the pandemic, through activities devised by Gateshead artists. 10 x 10 Creative Gateshead involved the creation of two booklets, one for adults and one for young people and families; each with 10 creative activities created for the people of Gateshead. The activities include a wide range of art forms from mindful writing, to puppet making, to origami, to Gateshead celebrating creative prompts and can be used indoors or outdoors, alone or as a group.

Gateshead based community organisation Dingy Butterflies has been heading up the project and across August, hundreds of activity booklets were distributed across the Gateshead community. Each booklet features 10 activities created by Gateshead artists, developed in collaboration with 10 Gateshead community and creative organisations. These physical packs are targeted at people who have limited or no access to the internet; Gateshead has a high proportion of residents without internet access and low levels of digital literacy.

In addition to the hundreds of physical packs being distributed across the community, there are digital versions of both 10 x 10 Creative Gateshead booklets available for ANYONE download now from www.dingybutterflies.org/10×10-creative-gateshead/ – follow the link to check out the booklets and have a go at something creative. All materials for the activities are inexpensive and easy to find in shops or you will find them around the home.

10 x 10 Creative Gateshead has also provided paid work for 15 Gateshead artists/freelancers during a challenging time for the cultural sector, in which paid freelance work has been decimated (how lush is that!?) It has been such a beaut project to work on and meeting so many artists (some I knew and others I didn’t) was ace! So al a Culture Vulture – I thought I’d reach out to one of the #Gateshead10x10 artists for a Culture Vulture interview to find out more. So for this interview, I went after a goodie and an artist, I’ve wanted to interview for a LONG TIME!

So step right up – Liv Hunt – artist, theatre maker, puppeteer, lovely human and freelance champion……let’s GO!

Liv Hunt – photo credit : Michelle Bayley

Well helloooooooooo – for my Culture Vultures, can you tell me who you are, what you doyou’re your practice?

Hello, I’m Liv Hunt.

I’m a theatre-maker, facilitator and activist working in participatory arts. My practice is centred around telling, sharing and imagining stories and to do that I use different mediums such as music, puppetry and sensory theatre. I began my career delivering theatre projects in care homes, schools and community centres working with people from varied backgrounds and abilities in partnership with Equal Arts charity for older people. I then began developing my practice with arts organisations, delivering on freelance contracts to produce theatre. 

I am also the community engagement coordinator for Alphabetti Theatre where I designed and coordinated participatory projects Walter (2018) in collaboration with The Discovery Museum and Write Something Junior (2019) in collaboration with 6 primary schools across the North East. My role is to ensure that everyone has access to the theatre and to develop Alphabetti’s networks within the community. My approach is quite hands-on. I get out and talk to people and, in the process, have formed strong relationships with organisations, groups & individuals.

In 2019, I formed Woven Nest Theatre with Poppy Crawshaw. Our aim is to create theatrical experiences with, for and by older and neuro-diverse audiences. Our first company project was to create a piece of multi-sensory theatre for people with advanced dementia who are bed-bound. I am driven by arts for social change and champion for inclusivity and accessibility in theatre.

Tell us about your journey into creative industries?

I wasn’t initially going to be in the creative industries. I liked drama at school but I wasn’t really sure what I would do with it. When you’re at school you’re not taught all the jobs that are in the arts. So, I thought studying drama would make me an actor, a director or a teacher. I had no idea about participatory arts or how the arts work with communities and the possible jobs tied in with that. A friend told me about a drama course at Northumbria University called Applied Theatre – I had no idea what applied theatre was but when I started looking into it, it grabbed my attention. I knew I wanted to learn more about it, so, I enrolled. Towards the end of the course I became interested in working with older people with dementia, which framed the first 3 years of my career in the creative industries.

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

Tell me more about your experience in theatre and puppetry?

My experience with theatre and puppetry is through a participatory arts perspective, the work is centred around the communities and people I work with. In my early career I was developing theatre in care homes, community centres and schools. In 2017, I was commissioned to work on a project with St Marks Care Home and Battle Hill Primary to develop a piece of theatre, celebrating the Gateshead born Dodd Sisters who founded The Little Theatre, Gateshead. The project was to produce a retelling of The Pitman’s Pay written by Ruth Dodds, to be performed at The Little Theatre.

I have been a drama worker for Live Youth Theatre for the past 4 years where I have directed youth theatre shows with young people aged 13 – 25. In 2019, I started working with Unfolding Theatre to develop a Christmas show with Edberts House over 12-weeks. The Edberts Express was then performed at St Mary’s Church. I am an associate drama worker with Open Clasp Theatre Company where I have delivered drama workshops exploring issues related to women.

I’m currently developing a theatrical film with my company, Woven Nest Theatre. The film is called Mariana’s Song and is about a woman who is in love with the sea. We are just in the pilot phase of this project. It has been created for older people with advanced dementia who are bed-bound and incorporates sensory stimulation, lighting and sound.

Prior to lockdown we were developing a touring puppetry show specific for care homes. We were developing a tea trolley theatre complete with tea-pot puppets, original music and sensory surprises. We were commissioned by Sunderland Culture to develop the piece with a Sunderland care home but sadly due to COVID it was postponed. When we get the chance and it’s safe to do so, we’ll be dusting off our teapots again!

Wow….what an accomplished portfolio! Puppetry is something that absolutely fascinates me….can you tell me a little more about your puppetry experience?

I’ve always really loved watching puppets and puppetry shows. I became interested in using puppetry within my own practice after I did a course at Northern Stage with Tom Walton. He taught us how to make really simple puppets using materials found at home. I loved the way you could make a puppet out of an old newspaper and some masking tape. I was doing a lot of work in care homes with older people at that time and decided to try it out in there. We built a simple newspaper puppet as a group which they really enjoyed (it involves a lot of repetitive actions such as crunching and rolling the newspaper.) I then brought the puppet to life and moved it around in the space.

I was amazed at the reaction that this had. The older people were calling for the puppet to come towards them and when I came over with it they would smile, laugh, stoke and talk to the puppet as if it was a living breathing thing. I don’t think they really saw the puppet as though it was real, but they were able to take it for what it was in that moment and connect with the emotion that the puppet was portraying. So, if I was portraying sadness, they would comfort it and if I was portraying happiness they would laugh and smile with the puppet. That’s what I love about puppetry –they can portray emotions in a really pure form.

What is the puppet scene like in the North East?

The puppetry scene is good and growing in the North East. We are really lucky to have a growing number of puppetry companies in the region and of course Moving Parts – Newcastle Puppetry Festival which was held at Alphabetti Theatre last year. The festival showcases fantastic puppetry from companies all over the world so what you see there is really diverse. I love going and just soaking up all the different kinds of puppets. Moving Parts have also brought lots of training opportunities to the region which has meant that more artists, such as myself, are starting to use puppetry as part of their practice. So, what we’re starting to see is a ripple effect of more freelancers starting to use puppetry in performance and also participatory arts which stems from these training opportunities.

Tell me about a recent project you’ve worked on?

Last year, I co-founded my company, Woven Nest Theatre with Poppy Crawshaw. We are a company that produces theatrical experiences for neuro-diverse audiences, specifically older people with advanced dementia. We were just about to start our first company project, with a care home in Sunderland when Covid-19 started so everything had to be cancelled and put on pause. The project was to develop a theatre show in collaboration with the elderly residents there at their bedsides using elements of puppetry, lighting and sound.

In June, we were funded by Northumbria University to do a research project, looking at ways in which we can provide a theatrical sensory experience, digitally. It has been great – we have had space to collect our thoughts, plan and start filming snippets of our story. The entire experience has been really eye opening. I would never have dreamed of doing a digital project but now I genuinely believe using digital media is better suited to the project than the original idea on pause.

I think this time is really interesting for artists, we’re having to adapt our work in a really interesting way. We are not able to work like we used to, but by having this new barrier, it’s starting to unleash new artistic possibilities which is producing some really exciting work.

Can you tell me about a recent theatre production you’ve contributed to?

I was commissioned by Alphabetti Theatre and Fulfilling Lives charity for people who experience homelessness, substance misuse, ill mental health and offending. I worked with a group of experts by experience and their support workers over a 2-month period to develop a piece which would later be performed at the Fulfilling Lives Annual Forum. The piece was centred around commemorating the lives of the experts by experience who had passed away in the previous year, which had been particularly high and so the group was experiencing a high level of trauma. We developed a series of short pieces, taking inspiration from creative writing, spoken work and contemporary performance, which we then crafted into a script. The piece was performed to a backdrop of an outline of a human which was gradually filled in as the piece unfolded. The aim was to show that people who had died weren’t just numbers on a page but people with complex and rich lives that deserved to be celebrated. The group performed the piece themselves and then we took part in a Q&A with the forum.

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

Can you tell me about your experience as a freelancer so far?

Generally, I love being a freelancer. I love how versatile and surprising the work is and all the lush people you work with along the way. I like the thrill of starting new projects and don’t get me wrong writing funding applications is a nightmare but when you finally get funding it’s like you’ve won the lottery. That being said, I definitely find it stressful sometimes. It’s a lot, constantly. And the idea of job security sounds dreamy.

What has your lockdown experience been like?

During the lockdown I found it really hard at first. All the jobs I was working on/about to work on got cancelled and you watch everything you’ve built topple down in front of you. As freelancers we’re so use dto keeping the cogs turning, day in day out, so to have everything come to a really sharp stop with no sight of starting again was really jarring. After I got over the initial shock, I decided to use the time to take a well-earned break to recharge, plan, reflect and read. I used the first half of lockdown to basically check back in with myself after years of going full steam ahead. I started doing art just for the sake of it, which I hadn’t actually done in a really long time. Then for the second half of lockdown I started to turn the cogs again, but I definitely felt the benefit of giving myself time to breath. It’s made me think that every freelancer needs a 1 month paid recharge holiday (if only!) I started picking up more freelance work and volunteer positions. One of those was being on the Freelance Task Force.

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

Ohh tell us more about The Freelance Taskforce?

The Freelance Taskforce was an initiative started by Fuel Theatre. There are over 150 freelancers from across the UK on the taskforce. And I was really lucky to have Karen Traynor and Sian Armstrong on there repping the North East with me. We formed the NE Freelance Taskforce – we have a twitter page where we post regular information out and we going to be announcing some exciting updates soon so check us out!

If you could change one thing about being freelance, what would it be?

I’m a big fan of the initiatives that pay freelancers just to be freelancers. This isn’t centred on a product or a particular project you have to work on. You can use this money however way you want obviously within reason. I think that’s a brilliant idea and would solve a lot of problems. We spend so much time looking and searching and frantically running from job to job we don’t allow ourselves time to stop and think, reflect and check in with ourselves. I think if there were more initiatives that paid freelancers to do that, more people would.

PREACH – love the sound of that! So, tell me about your role/work on #Gateshead10x10?

I was commissioned by Dingy Butterflies to create two activity packs, one for families and one for adults. The idea was that the activity packs were for people who are having to spend time indoors due to self-isolating but were unable to access online activities. The pandemic has really shown the digital divide. For some, the arts have become more accessible. Suddenly, you can watch brilliant theatre for an affordable price and in the comfort of your own home. Fab! But, for those who do not have access to a computer or internet it has been tricky to find stuff to keep the kids and themselves entertained. This project aimed to provide the community in Bensham, Gateshead with activity packs complete with instructions and materials. I was one of 11 brilliant artists who worked on the project. The artists were diverse in art form; creative writers, visual artists, illustrators, bee conservationists and theatre-makers. It was my first time making an activity pack or a booklet and I absolutely loved it!

Each #Gateshead10x10 artist was partnered up with a Best of Bensham Collaborative member organisation – which organisation were you partnered with and how did you work together?

I was partnered up with The Comfrey Project in Gateshead, a charity delivering a programme of activities in gardening, languages and arts for refugees and asylum seekers. As you come in you get a glimpse of the beautiful gardens they have there where they grow their own fruit, vegetables and flowers for the bees. I always feel 100% calmer after a visit to The Comfrey Project.

I started volunteering there around June time, and straight away I felt really at home. Over the summer I have been delivering some socially distanced activities with families visiting the centre. When we met to discuss the Dingy Butterflies project we talked through the needs of the group and ideas around activities. One of the main things that I needed to think about was how to make this accessible for people who have English as a second language. I went away and began developing the ideas and playing around with puppetry techniques that relied on easy-access materials and simple but effective steps. The packs have gone out now and I’ll be keeping up to date with how they get on. Hopefully at the end when they have created some puppetry magic we are going to have a sharing of what everyone has made.

Can you tell us about the #Gateshead10x10 two activities you developed?

For the family pack, I have done a how-to-guide on making a shadow puppet theatre out of an old cardboard box. This is really easy to make, uses materials found round the house and is good entertainment for the entire family! Once you have made and decorated your shadow puppet theatre you can then start developing your story. When I trialled this activity out on my niece we used her favourite story-book for inspiration but you can use your imagination to come up with a story as well. Once you have your story and the characters in your story you can start making your shadow puppets using black card and kebab sticks. Finally, all you need to do is put a lamp in the right position, turn the lights off and begin your theatre show.

The pack designed for adults shows them how to make tin foil puppets. This is a little bit trickier but the result is a defined puppet which looks great and has good movement. Tin foil is a brilliant material to use as you can get really good definition on the faces. One you have sculpted the tin foil into the right shape you then layer on baking paper with glue. The result makes the puppets almost look like there made out of wood. I then encourage them to start exploring with their puppets and record a short story using their puppets as the main character.

Creativity is a huge part of #Gateshead10x10 – Why is creativity important to you? How do you think it can help others?

Creativity is one of the brilliant things that makes us human. I think it plays a huge role in how we process ourselves and the world around us. I rely heavily on creativity to get me through and I think without creativity life would be really really really boring. I see it as something that we all have inside us, some people may use it more than others, but it’s still there.

When I work in communities a lot of people tell me that they are not creative, and that the arts isn’t for them. But with a little unpicking we realise that they lead very creative lives, so somewhere along the line there has been a disconnect between the creativity in people’s everyday lives and creativity as a concept. I think we have got confused in thinking creativity is only for some people and not for others. Labelling some as creative and others academic and so on. I think that’s a huge mistake as it’s robbing people of the opportunity to express their inner creativity.

What are you working on right now?

I have just been commissioned by Helix Arts & Gateshead Arts Team to run a pilot project with unpaid carers. This project has been a long time in the making, so I am absolutely buzzing to finally get it off the ground! I’m going to be working with them over 8 – 10 weeks to develop a piece of forum theatre which will then be showcased to a closed audience. That’s all I can give away at the minute but I’ll be sharing out more info soon.

Do you have any advice for future freelancers AND/OR folks wanting to enter into creative industries?

Ahh there’s tonnes…. Here are just 5

1.            Find your tribe, the people who have your back and are going to support you. We are really lucky in the North East there seems to be a really good ‘ladder-down’ mentality.

2.            Being a freelancer is hard graft, make sure you give yourself time to rest so you don’t burn out.

3.            If you can, continue to find training opportunities. I believe we should never stop learning. Whilst working as a freelancer I have continued to train in performance, puppetry, movement, voice, playwrighting. Some have directly benefited my career and others have been good for me creatively.

4.            It’s ok to ask about pay, please please do, and make sure you know your own value. I did a lot of work for free at the beginning which is fine to some extent. Sometimes I still do bits for free. My general rule is that if I feel like I’m getting experience out of it that I ever wise wouldn’t have then it’s ok. But know what your limits are – these are just mine.

5.            Shy bairns get nowt. This saying has helped me in so many ways. If you want to work with someone, send them an email. People are generally nice and want to help you. 

Great advice….you’re a gem! Anything else you want to tell us about?

I’m setting up a network for participatory artists – #ParticipatoryArtsSocial. It’s a space to come together and share, reflect, listen, learn, rant and support one another. We meet fortnightly and if you want to join the mailing list please email me on oliviahunt11@outlook.com. I put regular updates via my twitter @LivHunt_11

Well thanks Liv! See – I told you it was a goodie of an interview! Very excited about Liv’s upcoming projects and happenings!

If you get a chance – please check out #Gateshead10x10 activity booklets and why not have a go at the activities! I’ve love to see how you get on and see your creativity!

Interview with Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw – creative, designer, interiors & 3D visualiser….

I’ve got some corking Culture Vulture artist interviews coming up – it’s such a privilege to be able to reach out to connect with and champion creatives. It also gives me hope during this strange old world/Black Mirror episode we find ourselves in that there a wonderful talented creative people out there, smashing it. I find it really motivational on a personal level, but at a time, when freelancers have but really hit HARD by the pandemic, I’m feel it’s even more important for me to champion folks when I can and use my platform to profile and amplify!

So here we go with another wonderful Culture Vulture interview – this time with Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw (@watchsophiedraw on Insta).  Sophie has a wonderful Insta feed, sells lush prints and creative products alongside a whoppingly brilliant design portfolio.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Well hello Sophie – long-time admirer right here! For my fellow Culture Vultures, introduce yourself!?

Hi there! I’m Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw; I am a 27 year old cis woman from the North East, living in Newcastle.  I am an all-round creative and illustrator with a background in Interior Design.

How would describe your creative practice?

Watch Sophie Draw is a funnel for my self-expression. I have all these interests (some people say too many) like architecture, art history, travel and culture, psychology, minimalism and living sustainably – they all influence my work.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Have you always felt drawn into the creative industries or described yourself as creative?

Absolutely! I grew up around creative minded people like my grandad who I hail as my ultimate hero; it was always a path I was going to pursue. The biggest question was what direction I would take?

I really had no clue on what to specialise in at University and ultimately it was my lecturer’s enthusiasm during my interview that made me want to study Interior Design. Outside of my studies and developing within the industry, I have always loved the arts scene – my friends often refer to somewhere a bit arty as “very sophie”… which could be taken either way.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

You’ve had roles like “interior designer” and “3D visualiser” – tell us about those roles? What on earth is a 3D visualiser?  Are you still doing it freelance?

I was really fortunate after graduating to be offered my first role working for Ikea as an Interior Designer. I had three fun, chaotic and flourishing years designing room sets for Ikea Gateshead and commuting to London working on a brand new store, with some of the most creative people I have ever met from all over the world. I really do owe a lot to the team from Gateshead and specialists I worked with in London; they made me the designer I am today.

The best way to demonstrate my role as a 3D Visualiser, is if you look at an interior design magazine and really look closely at the “photographs” of bathrooms, 90% of them will be CGI. That’s what I did. It is now something I can never unsee; the talent and skill that goes into these images is beyond crazy. It was the most challenging role of my career.

Just last year I ventured into the corporate and leisure side of Interior Design and thought finally “this is it” but in all honesty I hated it. I really struggled to align my values with the industry and found it to be, as much as this word is overused, toxic. I quit instantly and started doing some casual freelance work to pay my bills, but it was never going to be a long term plan as I had fallen out of love with design. That was until I decided to use my time of unemployment to finish all my personal art projects and that led me to ‘Watch Sophie Draw’.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

How does your brain manage the focus, precision of technical drawing for your interior design and then the freedom to be creative and illustrate within other areas of your practice? To me, that seems opposing and contradictory – (I’m creative; the least precise person in the world and as delicate as a fat elephant)….

You are right! They are completely contradictory. I hated technical drawing when I was learning but somehow now it’s like my own personal ASMR. I used it daily for one of my roles and it is so natural to me now that the days I wanted to throw my computer out the window are long gone. It actually relaxes me now.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Oh gosh – love ASMR – obsessed and addicted. Tell me about your illustration work and how that came about?

I never set out to start illustrating, my main aim was to finish all my unfinished art projects as a way of therapy when I was in a really uncertain position after quitting my job and feeling really burnt out. I started flying through old sketchbooks, experimenting with new mediums and then my sister donated an old tablet to me and I started dipping into digital illustration. It wasn’t until lock down, that I really sat and found my groove.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Tell me about your graphic design style? You seem to have a love affair *like me* with colour!

I think my graphic design style is really driven by my interior influences. I love mid-century design and my ideas are often just me designing for myself. Which often means a lot of colour and bold lines.

You’ve illustrated iconic buildings and places in the North East – what do you love about the North East?

I love the people, the culture and the architectural history. I love how it’s so diverse and you can meet people from so many walks of life. Mostly I love the creative buzz and how, as a community, the north east always comes together to support small businesses and the arts.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

In your spare time what is your creative pleasure or indulgence? I.e. something creative that you do just for yourself?

I have an overwhelming amount of old interior magazines and I try to repurpose them into collages. It often breaks down my creative block, but it is also just a really relaxing activity. I have a few of my pieces framed around my home. They often are very punchy and bold like my illustrations.

I do love collaging as an activity – very soul soothing! Where do you seek inspiration from?

I am really fascinated by old matchbox graphics, particularly those from Japan.  I did a little sketchbook study during lock down and I am constantly going back and forth to it for ideas. The graphics are fun, bold and colourful yet still simple; I try to mirror that in my own designs.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Tell us about a highlight of your career so far?

This is probably the unexpected answer, but it would be leaving the corporate world. I am so much happier now having found something that I can really express myself doing and being part of a great community of creatives in the north east.

It’s a more common highlight than you’d think…. So, how have you been spending lock down?

I really developed my style and identity as an illustrator, I decided to dive head first into my illustration to cope with being locked up in a tiny flat all day. It really was a bridge between me and self-care, in a time where I was concerned about a decline in my mental health. Between illustrating, watching Tik Toks and my daily walks, I decided to teach myself hooping – lets just say I almost broke the tv and a few windows practicing some basic techniques.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Do you sell any of your work? Take commissions?  

I do, I’m currently selling prints on Etsy and Redbubble and I am always open to commissions. You can catch me on my Insta @watchsophiedraw or on my website.

What are you working on right now? Any projects?

My local illustrations were really popular, so I am working on a few more and I have some commissions brewing inspired by our north east mining history. So there is a lot of exciting things to come.

Can you share with me a few artists that are inspiring you right now or suggestions of artists I need to check out?

I think everyone in Newcastle already knows of Nolasean, I am obsessed with her work and it definitely inspires me especially when I’m collaging. Another is a friend of mine Curious Smark, her embroidery work is beautiful and totally reflective of her fun personality.

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nolasean

What’s next for you? Any projects or creative happenings in the pipeline?

I’m hoping to host a few stalls at local markets this year, to really get out and meet the community. If all works out my first one should be in November, fingers crossed! I am also in talks to get some of my north east illustrations stocked by a local business, which would be amazing.

How can we stay connected with you?

You can follow me on Facebook or Instagram @watchsophiedraw

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

All sounds very exciting – loving hearing an empowering story of a creative finding their voice and honing their practice during lock down. Check Sophie’s work out and I guarantee you will fall in love with it like I did!

Big love fellow Culture Vultures!

Interview with artist Raphael Dada – we chat talent, doodles, the importance of language & entering into the creative industry as a black artist….

I’ve been super excited about this Culture Vulture artist interview for ages – another Instagram find through The Social Distance Art Project – artist Raphael Dada- @artbyadrafa on Instagram. I discovered Raphael’s work before George Floyd’s murder and the social justice and civil rights movement that followed and continues to the present (keep it going!). Raphael’s work explores the ‘black experience’, racial identity and his experience as a Nigerian-British diaspora artist growing up in the UK……

I loved Raphael’s work before, but now…well it’s like looking at it with a whole new lense and important reflective provocations exist in each piece of work. So please go and check it out.

This is a beaut interview – one of my faves for a while.

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Raphael Dada

Hiyer, Raphael – for my fellow Culture Vultures and readers – can you tell me who you are and how would you describe your varied practice?

My name is Raphael Dada and I am a 20-year-old Nigerian- British, multidisciplinary artist. Over the years my practice has taken many forms, ranging from videography, screen print, spoken word, installations and many more. But the one consistent motif about my practice is that through my various means of expression, what I try to do is tell stories about the black cultural experience that mainstream media or the education system will not tell you.

Most of my work is based around my own personal experiences growing up as a young black British artist in the UK. Even though a lot of my work is very personal, there are numerous entrance points, so the viewer can relate and empathise, as I do appropriate and reference aspects of black popular culture frequently in my work.

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Artist Raphael Dada

I really love you work – beautiful, interesting and very important. Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

My journey into the creative industry was a weird one because when I was growing up, I never expected to enter the creative industry or make money off my art and collaborations with other artists. When I was young, I just knew I liked drawing and I liked colours, and when GCSEs came I was like: “Yeah, why not? It will be funny and it is one of the only subjects I actually like,” and I basically had the same reasoning when it came to A-Levels.

Then it came to applying to university and I almost didn’t choose art because there were so many different variations of the course, depending on where you wanted to go. I eventually decided on Fine Art at Leeds Arts, and even at Uni I wanted to get into the fashion industry, so I started my own clothing line in first year. As I started creating art work on subjects that I felt more passionate about, as well as working and networking with more artists, I decided the creative industry is where I belong. My clothing line is still active, and we have some new clothes dropping soon, but the creative industry will always have my heART.

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Raphael Dada

You’ve just finished Leeds University  – How was your experience studying at Leeds?

I can’t even lie and say my experience in Leeds was amazing, because if I’m being honest, it was tough most of the time. Having to adjust from living in such a diverse and multicultural town, then becoming the only black boy on the largest course at the university; it was very difficult. I experienced microaggressions on the daily and was racially abused a few times. Even got stopped by the receptionists a couple times because they didn’t believe I attended the Uni. It was tough.

But I didn’t let any of that get me down, I was able to channel all that anger and put it into my art, making art that was charged with emotion and passion. It worked for me almost like a coping mechanism, and it is because of this that my art is so important and personal to me. However, it wasn’t all bad; the Uni has really good facilities, allowing me to push my practice and continually experiment with new mediums. In my time at Leeds, I was able to meet some amazing people and like-minded creatives, and form relationships I can see myself having for life.

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Raphael Dada

Thinking about the positives, do you have a favourite moment during your study you’d like to share?

My favourite moment in Leeds without a doubt would have to be our ACS ‘2020’ Exhibition in February of this year. As president of our university’s African Caribbean Society, I was given the opportunity to oversee the running of an exhibition which included the work over 30 different artists- all from various different cultural backgrounds. This was a big deal, as our Uni is a white dominated institution, so to be able to see the work of so many different ethnic artists on display was a beautiful occasion. We also got the chance to collaborate with the Student Union, and the event was even sponsored by a local brewery. While the show was on we had over 1000 members of the general public come view it, and it was just such a great experience that gave so many artists the coverage they deserve, something that they wouldn’t normally get in the conventional gallery setting.

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Raphael Dada

That is truly brilliant – well done. How did it feel passing your course during lock down and not having a final year exhibition?

It was weird completing my degree during lockdown, because just like the rest of the world I never expected it. It took me and most third years nationwide by shock because our final module was a curation module, and you can’t really curate a show when the whole country is on lockdown.

The final degree show is what we were working towards for three years, and to have it all scrapped and turned into a digital submission was really strange and hard to get my head around. In protest I almost wasn’t going to submit, because I thought the whole idea was stupid, but looking back I am glad I did, and that the degree is over. Ideally, I would have wanted a degree show, but there are just some things you just do not have any control over, and hopefully we will have the opportunity to exhibit again soon.

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Raphael Dada

Absolutely and I hope I get to see it! (Invite me!) You work across a lot of mediums – do you think you’ll hone in and settle into one or two – or (like me) do you refuse to be pinned down?

I don’t actually know because sometimes I go through phases when I will only use pen, or only use pencil, or only screen print. I think the medium that I use always depends on my mood, or which the one I believe will best get the job done and convey my message the most effectively. I like having options.

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Raphael Dada

I’m a huge fan of your Dada Doodles –how do you select your subjects?

Ahh thank you! Dada Doodles is just a little thing I have had going for a while, they are just quick sketches I do in between major projects, or when I have taken a break from art for a bit, something light to get me back into drawing. They’re called Dada Doodles because when I was at Uni my friends used to say I was paying “9 grand to go doodle,” so I actually started doodling. But more times my subjects are kind of random and just things I like, ranging from music, TV shows and cartoons, or sometimes I can just see something and be like, “that looks like it would be fun to draw”, so I just draw it.

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Raphael Dada

Africa and African culture features in some of your work – can you talk about the personal link and why it’s important to you?

African culture, more specifically Nigerian culture is something that will always feature in my work. I was born in Nigeria and moved here when I was 5, so to me I always have to pay homage to my roots; it’s the country that made me, and it plays such a big role in my identity. And I feel like this is something that every black person should do, they should make a conscious effort to get in touch with their cultural heritage and roots. In the words of Burna Boy’s mum “Every black person should please remember that you were Africans before you were anything else”.

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Raphael Dada

Your practice and work is hooked into black cultural experience and identity…..what has your experience as a black artist been so far?

As mentioned earlier, entering into the creative industry as a black artist at first, was not easy at all. I was faced with numerous obstacles, and it was just hard getting started, because as a black artist, as much as we try and deny it, due to institutional bias, we will always be two steps behind our white counterparts, so we have to continuously prove ourselves by working twice as hard just to get noticed.

And I think I got to understand this quite early as my sixth form was quite white dominated in comparison to my secondary school, so once I understood how the game worked, I was able to use that to my advantage. In a way I kind of like the challenge as well; it is what keeps me going, because I know if I do eventually make it big, it would be a well-earned W for the culture.

Raphael Dada

In your about me section on your website you say “I also explore how language has been used both historically and in contemporary society in relation to the black experience and culturally the impact this has not just on me as a black British artist, but on my generation as a whole.” – can you talk me a little bit through that and what you mean?

As well as art, English Literature has always been one of my passions growing up, and till this day. I have always been fascinated by words and the use of language, and the power we give words when used in certain context. On their own words hold no weight nor power, but it is how we use them that determine their effect. For example when we see the word “blacks” it is not a racist word, the New Zealand rugby team are referred to as the All Blacks, simply due to the fact their kit is all black, but if we are to flip it and change the situation, let say a white lady says something like “all blacks are murderers”, then the word becomes racist, because it has been charged with animosity towards a racial group and its being used derogatorily to generalise and stereotype black people .

And this is something I find so interesting, especially when exploring racial matters, and how language has evolved over the year due to factors such as education, colloquialism and migration. No word is inherently offensive, it all depends on context. Even the word nigger (or nigga, however you want to spell it), it comes from the Amharic word Negus, which refers to Ethiopian royalty or emperor. But when colonialists come to Africa they didn’t like the idea of black royalty and excellence, so they took a word which was used to glorify black people to dehumanise a whole race, and due to centuries of subjugation and racism, the true meaning of the word has been lost. And I just find it crazy how a word that was twisted to subjugate a whole race, still holds so much weight and power over us today.

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Raphael Dada

Can you tell me about one of your recent projects?

Since I finished Uni I have not really taken on any large projects, I have just been chilling to be honest- it just been a lot of small commissions here and there, nothing big. But as mentioned earlier, I have been working on some new items for my clothing line, which are set to drop middle of July, fingers crossed.

Same for me…I keep reminding myself that it’s ok to not start a new project right now as….well…there’s a global pandemic and all! I know you take commissions – what type of commissions do you tend to take? How do people engage you for a commission?

All my commissions are all different if I am being honest, I have never received any two similar commissions; they are all personal and catered to the individual. And the thing is about being disciplined in most mediums, I don’t limit myself in the type of commissions I take in, if you can describe it, more times I will be able to draw it. I take most of my commissions through Instagram, if someone wants anything they can just drop me a DM (@artbyadrafa on Instagram), or through my phone number, which is on my website.

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Raphael Dada

You often collaborate with other creatives and artists – how do you choose who you collaborate with or how do you connect with collaborators? Can you tell me about some of your recent collaborations?

I can’t give you a straight-forward answer to that because all my collaborations have all come around so differently; sometimes people approach me, or I could be scrolling through Instagram and see someone’s work I like and be like “Yeahhhh I wanna work with you, your work is dope.” Or I could have an idea or project in mind that I want to execute, but the work load is just too much, or  physically don’t have the ability to do it, so I create a meticulous plan for the project, and what I want to do, then message people who I believe could be best fitted in helping me actualise this idea.

For example, before lockdown, a project I was working on was a photography series called ‘Black Baroque’, where I was recreating Baroque paintings but replacing the white aristocrats in the paintings with black models. But even before I started I knew this was going to be a big task at hand, because I would need help with photography, set design, costume and much more, all which are alien to me, so I pitched the idea with a couple of my friends who studied fashion photography and they were all aboard and agreed to work with me.

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Raphael Dada

Can you share with me three black artists that I MUST check out immediately and why?

If we are talking black artists, I am going to have to plug the work of some of my friends because these guys talented for real. They are all black creatives I met in Leeds and have had the honour of working with at some point.

Instagram: @artizham

Zhama Jumbo is all round talented guy- name it he can do it. Animation, illustration, graphics; anything, that’s my guy. He has such a distinct art style that no matter what he does or what medium he takes on, you will always be able to tell it was him, and I have had the pleasure of working with him a couple times. We have a collab we are working on soon, so make sure you follow his page so you don’t miss the drop.

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Instagram: @artizham

Instagram: @KapturedbyBennyK

Benny is a freelance photographer and stylist based in Leeds and Derby. She has worked and collaborated with clothing brands, make-up artists and social media influencers, she has a lot of experience under her belt with a rapidly growing following on Instagram. She has also just started a styling page as well @Stylehauss, so please follow that as well.

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Instagram: @KapturedbyBennyK

Instagram: @Gullygolden

A Leeds and Bristol based documentarian. Out of everyone I would say I have worked with Gully the most- she has such a distinct way of capturing life and moments, nothing like I have ever seen before, and what makes her so different in comparison to other documentarians I know, I have only ever seen her shoot in 35mm, and she has an aesthetic I don’t think anyone else could imitate if they tried.

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Instagram: @Gullygolden

Three amazing creatives right there to follow and each very different. Back to your work…can you tell about something you’ve got planned for 2020? A future project?

I had a few events and exhibitions that I was meant to be debuting some prints at, but because of corona, I don’t know when these will be happening. For the mean time, I am just chilling with no major projects on its way, mainly focusing on my clothing for a bit (make sure you give us a follow, Instagram @rddesigns99

Anything else you’d like to tell me about?

I think I have gone on for ages, so I don’t really have anything left to say but I will leave on this note: Black Lives STILL Matter. This is a movement not a moment, and we will keep going until we put an end to centuries of institutional bias and racism, not just in the UK but globally.

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Absolutely agreed and thank you Raphael Dada and for being so honest!

You can catch Raphael over on his website, his art/personal Insta and his clothing Insta.

Please check out his work. He’s going to be massive – I just know it!

And as Raphael reminds us – we (and I say that in relation to white people as a whole – myself included) need to keep doing the anti-racist work needed, challenging and questioning everything especially as the world begins to reopen and spin again – it must not go back to “normal”.

All my love The Culture Vulture. xxx

 

An interview with The Social Distance Art Project Team – a response to cancelled 2020 degree shows for artists & audiences

The Social Distance Art Project popped up on my radar towards the beginning of lock down – and what a wonderful gift to lock down me it was! I have discovered and connected with SO many wonderful artists through it.

The Social Distance Art Project started as a response to the reality, that for many students studying Arts related degrees, their final year physical degree shows or degree related “creative sharings” were off the cards and for the majority cancelled. This was truly heart breaking – for many artists, the degree show is THE thing you’ve been working towards for your whole degree and for some, it is their first opportunity to exhibit. These shows are important to their creative career, as a means of showcasing their work, profiling themselves as artists and a moment of achievement! I still meet artists my age (mid 30s) and many still talk about the positive experience and value their final year degree show brought them!

From this challenging and shitty situation, the wonderful TSDAP was born and the team (5 Northern lasses – BOOM!) set up their website to champion artists providing a collective digital space to feature themselves so that folks like me can discover their work. AND as a platform for Universities and students to tell the world about the reinvented digital versions of the degree show and connected events!

Out of the gutting nature of cancelling these final year degree shows and sharings, I think they is an upside…..the TSDAP has shown the potential of taking elements of a degree show online, uniting audiences and artists in this way and being more accessible. Whilst I’m a regular attendee of North East University degree shows – through the TSDAP, I’ve been able to engage and attend things across the whole country and chat to artists Nationally – that wouldn’t have happened before! I hope that Universities consider keeping a digital strand forever!

Another positive, for me, is that the artists and their work are presented within The TSDAP by name and not split up by medium. This has meant, that instead of just seeking out the stuff I normally like, I’ve been taking in such a wide variety of work. Honestly, if you have a spare hour, instead of mindlessly scrolling on social media, go to the Directory and just click through each artist. It’s my favourite thing to do right now!

As I’ve loved the TSDAP so much, I of course, reached out to the team behind it to tell them and to thank them – I invited them to take part in a little Culture Vulture interview so here we are doing just that!

Take it away TSDAP team!

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Well hello The Social Distance Art Project team….. can you all introduce yourselves!?

Julia – There are five fine art graduates involved in the project! The founders were Natasha Alexander, Alex Appleby and Jasmine McKnight (York St John University). Julia Pomeroy (Leeds Arts University) and Emma Trevor (Newcastle University) joined us a little later on as things really started to pick up!

As a proud Northerner and passionate support of womxn in creative industries, I’m buzzing that a womxn led Northern team created this!  Can you each give me a flavour of your journey into the creative industries?

Natasha – I’m originally from Sunderland; I wouldn’t say that working in the creative industries is pushed as a possible career much in the area. I’ve had a lot of “so your degree is just drawing pretty pictures, right?” and a lot of questions about how I will earn a living. I got into the arts because I didn’t have the best time throughout my time in Education and when I decided to go to University, I really just wanted to do something that I loved. As it is, studying a fine art degree has opened up so many doors I never even knew existed. I have no regrets.

Alex – Upon looking at my university choices, I originally planned to study Psychology, a more ‘academic’ choice; but through exploring the possibility of studying Fine Art I knew that this was the right choice for me. Throughout my studies many opportunities and avenues have opened up, and I cannot wait to see where my further studies at MA will take me.

Jasmine – I pursued a creative degree as art is something that is just a necessity to me; there was never anything else that I wanted to do. My degree has allowed me to explore my identity as an artist in a way that I couldn’t have done on my own; now I’m ready to carry on with my artistic career by continuing my practice while pursuing a job in design.

Julia – My degree has given me the confidence to maintain a strong momentum with my practice’s direction (oil painting at the moment) and how to take on the artworld as a freelancing artist. This combination and just being determined that my artwork can have an impact is what’s driving me in this career decision and completing my Fine Art BA at Leeds Arts University this year. I’m ready to see what the creative industries think.

Emma – There was never a question in my mind that I wanted to study fine art at university. For me, the creative process has always acted as a mental escape and studying in order to build my practical skills as well as engage in critical reflection of my work has allowed me to turn a hobby into a viable career path. My long-term goal is to become a forensic art therapist, using my experience to help inmates reclaim their identities and hopefully make a positive impact when it comes to recidivism in the UK.

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A piece by Team TSDAP Natasha

Honestly, if we were in person – I’d love to unpick all of that more over a gin! I’m so excited for you all at the beginning of your careers! So, let’s chat the Social Distance Art Project….for my fellow Culture Vultures, what is it?

Julia – TSDAP aims to give a platform to graduating creative students of 2020 whose degree shows have been cancelled due to the outbreak of Covid-19. As fine art students, we felt like we’d spent the most part of our degree preparing for the exhibition and so were heartbroken at its cancellation.

The project consists of an Instagram (@thesocialdistanceartproject) where we upload submissions daily and a website which acts as a library of all past submissions.

The idea is to give creative students a space to show off their work in the absence of a degree show and a space where students from all institutions can get together in solidarity, getting to know each other’s work and how they’re staying creative during current times!

Why did you set it up? What was the impetus?

Julia – We set it up the day our studios closed. We just felt like we couldn’t just sit by and do nothing when hundreds of students were in the same position as us. We started with the Instagram account, getting in touch with Universities and their followers hoping that they’d get involved. It took off in a way we never expected!

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Emma

It has been so brilliant – honestly from the bottom of my heart, thank you for doing it! And well done! From your perspective, how did students feel when the realisation dawned that shows were cancelled?

Julia – We’ve had so many messages from heartbroken students and the majority of our submissions start with a note about how disappointed everyone is. We’ve spent three/four years planning for this and it’s just so quickly been taken away and it’s such an awful situation for everyone.

And, your own experiences…..how did you all personally feel when your shows were cancelled?

Alex – It was immensely underwhelming, the degree show was something that drove my practice throughout third year, both in terms of opening up opportunities for our futures and as a final celebration of our achievements. Online alternatives have given us some exposure as artists, but I am still saddened that we did not get the chance to have a physical show.

Jasmine – Extremely disappointed. Our whole degree works towards this exhibition. Now it’s been taken away, it feels like our degree has been left open, without any real closure.

Julia – It was incredibly disheartening that the big finale of our creative degrees just wasn’t going to happen. I think I was subconsciously in denial about it because it seemed so set in stone for such a long time. Once the upset and anger subsided, I learnt that we still need to make the most of showing off our artworks, and for now doing that virtually is the best thing to do.

Emma – It feels like such an anti-climax, we’ve spent the last four years of our lives working towards degree shows which open up so many post-graduation opportunities and are almost seen as a right of passage for it all to be cancelled in a matter of weeks. Documentation of degree shows is vital in future applications for studios and grants so it’s hard not to feel at a disadvantage compared to those graduating in years before us.

For those who aren’t aware of the importance of degree shows within the creative degree framework, can you tell us why they are important?

Julia – There’s such an opportunity for networking; you really don’t get online – speaking in person to other creatives and people from outside of your institution. Even the planning and curation of the exhibition is a really vital experience as we all embark on our careers. Through the degree many of us have had the opportunity to put on smaller shows but the degree show is really where you get to experience the organisational aspect.

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Alex

What has the response been like to the project from Universities and artists to SDAP? And the wider world/audiences?

Julia – Universities have been super supportive of what we’re doing! Especially since we’ve been using our home page to promote virtual degree shows across the UK. We’ve had a lot of contact from institutions asking for their shows to be added and sharing links to their student’s work on our platform. I think it’s been really great for institutions to see what others are getting up to and supporting each other.  Wider audiences have been really interested too which has been so nice to see – that students are being noticed as a result of what we’re doing to promote their hard work!

I’ve discovered loads of artists via your website that I just wouldn’t have discovered otherwise and their Insta as a digital canvas representing their portfolio of work – I think this could be the dawn of lessening the importance and focus on physical galleries and increasing the importance of creative digital spaces….what do you think?

Julia – What’s happened as a result of Covid has really given everyone some wake up calls as to the way the world has worked, bringing up a lot of questions about accessibility in particular. It makes you wonder about access to the arts for people who have to live permanently “socially distant” lives; whether that’s due to disability or any other factors. I think digital galleries are a great way to open up creative industries to a much wider audience.

Being able to view so much amazing work from your living room is so amazing whether that’s through Instagram, digital exhibitions or virtual tours. In thinking about the North/South divide that often sees “big names” of the art world exhibited primarily in London too, the five of us living in the North often can’t afford the travel for every exhibition we’d like to attend. And that travel has you debate the environmental impact that traveling to exhibition.

That being said, I really don’t think you can belittle being able to occupy the same space and the effect it has on your experience of it.  Maybe for some forms digital galleries would be a great accompaniment to physical exhibitions to provide an alternative for those that cannot visit.

Absolutely a digital strand to go along the physical! Various forms of research are showing that audiences are more likely to take a risk with art/art form in a digital space than in a venue…. I’ve been engaging more with things like sculpture (for example) that I just wouldn’t normally seek out. Digital space seems to remove the fear factor of being in a creative space and realising the work isn’t to your taste or you “don’t get it”. What are your thoughts?

Julia – I think digital spaces definitely offer the opportunity to spend more time with a piece of work. Especially with more conceptual art, or performance etc being able to view it in your own time in your own space means you have no fear of looking ‘silly’ as you figure out what it is you’re viewing. Perhaps you give certain pieces more of an opportunity in a digital space as it’s less intrusive.

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Julia

Going forward do you think having a digital form or platform for graduating artists like this – will/should it continue? I personally love the fact, I’ve discovered works and about educational programmes in other cities, that I wasn’t aware of.

Julia – Definitely! I really think platforms like ours should continue in future years as accompaniments to physical degree shows. We’ve been able to build space for a community of graduating artists from institutions across the UK to promote their work and discuss their practice. The inspiration you can find from other creatives is invaluable and being able to promote your work digitally to such a wide audience of your peers is super helpful for the next steps of our creative careers.

Have you missed the “in person” being creative?

Julia – 100%. One of the big things, is missing the energy that we feed from each other in our studios. The resilience you gain from tutorials and critiques with your tutors and peers is so beneficial to us as art students as it allows you to constantly think about your work from different perspectives and so work and concepts develop at a much faster rate. On top of that, the physical limitations that 2020 graduates have experienced have been at times impossible to navigate. Vacating studios at such short notice has left many of us without equipment or even adequate space to create.

Do you think graduate artists have missed the real time ability to showcase in their degree shows in person and feed off that energy? (Digital can’t replace that!).

Julia – We keep reiterating that platforms like ours have only arisen due to the absence of any adequate alternative. This digital space we’ve created, and many of the virtual degree shows that are now being launched, have nothing on the real experience of a degree show. I think most students have now experienced the anti-climatic virtual end to our studies and share this sense of loss.

Are there any artists or creatives that have submitted to your site – that are personal faves? Or doing work that has caught your eye? (All of the names mentioned below you can search out in the Directory of the SDAP website)

Nat – There are so many amazing creatives submitting work to us that it’s super hard to choose! Some of my favourites have Annie Graham’s sculptural practice whom I wrote about in my own blog, Reuben Brown’s exploration of growing up queer in Northern Ireland and Olivia Taylor’s amazing black & white photography of urban landscapes.

Alex – Ameerah Dawood’s work stood out to me, her use of textiles and screen printing has a simplicity and preciseness that I really enjoy.

Jasmine – My personal favourites are Holly Sarll and The Overload Project.

Julia – A personal fave whose work resonated with me was Alice Miller from Loughborough University and her oil paintings. The awkward yet familiar angles of everyday social situations, surrounded by figures, makes us feel like we’re there and her painting techniques make these moments feel fleeting. Ideas that I’ve been exploring with my own paintings.

Emma – Tiggy Beaman’s nude paintings really stood out to me and got an amazing reaction from our community. Also, Adonia Hirst’s work with textiles and soft sculpture, she is from my university so I may be slightly biased, but I’ve always thought her work is amazing.

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Jasmine

Any black artists or creatives that you’d like to suggest folks check out/champion?

JuliaAD DADA was one of our earliest submissions and his work is amazing! He engages with black culture and identity in contemporary society through a whole range of mediums. His portfolio is super interesting to look at and reflects on the point of view of a black artist questioning British Institutions of art.

How long are you going to keep the project up? How can people get involved at this stage?

Julia – There’s no deadline for the project! It’s been so successful and exciting that we just want to keep going. We’re still taking submissions and soon we’ll be moving towards also posting the work of students who are not in their final year who’ve also been affected by studio closures.

We just want to keep everyone’s timelines creative and supportive at these tough times. We’re looking to begin to support emerging early career artists who aren’t necessarily just recent graduates. The possibilities are endless and this is just the beginning.

What’s next for the Social Distance Art Project?

Julia – Our next steps are to evolve the project into representing recent art graduates and emerging artists and become an active contribution to help early career artists venture into the artworld. We hope to provide opportunities online through open calls, various exhibitions ideas and explore what art promotion will be in the future, alongside social distancing. We hope we’ll be able to execute these opportunities in real life at some point. Currently, we have teamed up with SHIM (@shimartnetwork ) who are a fantastic online artist network who present exhibition opportunities through Artsy and we are directing TSDAP artists to them. We have more plans on the way with them coming up later in the year.

As graduating students, do you have any advice to creatives and artists about to go to University?

Julia – Take advantage of every moment you’re given. Utilise the creative people you’re surrounded by on a daily basis, it’s a situation you may never find yourself in again and the advice and support you can receive is invaluable.

Then what about you folks as a team – what’s next on a collective basis and individually?

All– Our work with SHIM and one day hold our first physical exhibition and achieve funding.

Nat– I’m working on my art criticism via my own website before I start an MA in Critical and Cultural studies in Leeds next year.

Alex– I am hoping to study Fine Art MA at Leeds Arts University whilst also working part-time. Working in the community arts sector is something I really enjoy and hope to continue.

Julia– I’ve decided to see how my artistic career will change without being in education anymore and act on the skills I’ve learnt on BA. I hope to find a studio space in Leeds to keep developing my practice and continue putting in my own group shows alongside applying for open calls.

Emma– I’m hoping to find a job as a creative arts coordinator, ideally working with inmates or former inmates, so I can gain the experience needed to study an Art Therapy masters.

Anything else you want to share?

All – We would just like to thank everyone for their wonderful support. We have been overwhelmed by the response from 2020 art graduates getting involved with us and we can only wish them the very best with life after university and what the future has in store.

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Thank you SDAP team – what a wonderful interview and how exciting to hear about your future plots and plans! Check out TSAP via their website and Insta and give them some love – they deserve it for creating this wonderful platform. Very excited for the next chapter and I’ve got a feeling, this is the beginning of something MEGA for this team – both collectively and individually!

All my love, The Culture Vulture xx