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!

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

 

Interview with Sunderland artist Kathryn Robertson – making waves, rebels & lock down.

I am so proud at how the artistic and creative community has been coming together and rallying at this unprecedented time of….well it’s nothing short of a Black Mirror episode of crazy that I keep thinking I might pinch myself and wake up from at some point. I am more determined than ever to use my platform and voice to help and support artists – I want to show you the talent that exists in the world, how bright and beautiful creative humans are and the amazing things many artists are doing even when the chips are down….

Kathryn Robertson –  is one of those artists doing lush amazing things. I wanted to interview her long before this COVID-19 thing kicked off – but having a little bit more down time has provided me with the ability to get through my “must interview” wish list and start reaching out to folks. And what a better place to start than Sunderland muralist, illustrator, graphic designer and all round gloriously talented Kathryn! #ganonlass

Kathryn Robertson

Head over to @kr.illustrates on Insta to get a flavour of Kathryn’s work – it’s so lush and if you’re familiar with Sunderland, you’ll see lots of lush sites and re-imaginings of things you might recognise. Kathryn has also collaborated remotely with @martintype (Insta) on a screen print to raise funds for North East food banks during their time of arguably greatest need. Head over to HERE to see it and purchase – it’s Pay What You Decide.

I had the pleasure of recently, remotely catching up with Kathryn and here is our interview…. It’s lush one!

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Kathryn Robertson

Hiyer, so tell my Culture Vultures who you are?

I’m Kathryn Robertson, 25, some kind of artist from Sunderland.

Standard Vulture question – what was your journey into the creative industries?

It was a bit of a winding road, apologies in advance for the long answer. I went from: Apprenticeship in Design & Print when I was 18 then unemployed then worked in bars/cafes then an apprentice chef (for a very short but painful while) then realising I was a bit awful at all of these jobs.

Ben Wall (HI BEN), gave me some work in designing event posters for Independent (Music Venue & Nightclub in Sunderland), I worked behind the bar at the time, but I basically ended up quitting the bar to design the posters and other things instead. I registered as self-employed, went to uni in 2016 to do Graphic Design at 21, carried on with illustration/graphics on the side, did a bit of hustling/selling my own printed products/couple of art fairs here and there.

I structured my final project at Uni around public artwork and illustration, and since then I’ve worked on commissions and public artworks with University of Sunderland, Sunderland Libraries, The Council, Pop Recs, Holmeside Coffee, Vaux and many others! I’ve been lucky to have been supported, and to have worked with some great orgs like Sunderland Culture and The Enterprise Place along the way.

Kathryn Robertson

I love your illustration – when did you fall in love with drawing?

I liked it when I was little because my sister is an artist, and she would give me drawing lessons and take me to The Baltic, and out to see street art when she lived in Manchester. I used to draw/try to emulate things like the typography off food and drink labels quite a lot. I properly fell in love with it when I was around 17, when people started to ask me to draw things for actual purposes, like gig posters, and stuff for fanzines etc.

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Kathryn Robertson

You do SO.MUCH; tell me about your practice?

This is something I’m not very eloquent at. I usually look to others to describe my work back to me (lol). I’d describe my practice as: Graphic Design, illustration, and painted murals, sometimes/mostly heavily influenced by my surroundings in the North East.

How you finding “lock down” as an artist/creative? Any advice to creatives struggling right now working from home?

I’ve never been the *best* at working from home, but it is something I got used to when I was freelancing as a graphic designer, so I’m mentally prepared for it. I’m easing myself into it at the moment and feeling very lucky that I have the option to do so. I’m doing organisational things that I’ve been putting off for ages, stuff like backing up my work up 7 million times, organising folders and filing receipts. I find that “getting dressed” in the morning is a canny good start though.

 

Kathryn Robertson

SAME – terrible working at home; a dynamic learning situation! You’ve got quite a recognisable style in terms of design work – how did that develop?

Thanks! I guess just a lot of practicing makes for the natural development of your own style really. Everyone has a unique style, so the more you work, the more you iron it out and make it your own. We’re all just an accumulation of our other influences as well though, innit.

You were awarded University of Sunderland 2019 Design Student Award, how did that come about? How did it feel to win?

I did a mixture of sort of hands-on things as part of my final Graphic Design Project at University. It included an illustrated surfboard which is on display in The Beam, an entry in Vaux’s beer label design competition, and a mural of Sunderland in The Priestman Building, along with some other things. The award was for Creativity & Individuality – probably just because of the weird mixture of not-very-graphic-designy things I decided to do (lol).

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Kathryn Robertson

Thoroughly deserved! You create fantastic murals – tell me about the mural connected to Holmeside Coffee in Sunderland and the process behind creating it?

Joe from Holmeside got in touch as they wanted something to jazz up the doorway of their take-out shop when it first opened. We struck up a deal of a doorway mural in exchange for me selling my merch in the shop. That was sort of the first ‘mural’ I did really, (other than a terrible one I did in Independent in 2014).

It’s a mash up of Sunderland buildings in HC doorway, and it was kind of made up as I went along, and drawn in paint pens, it was snowing at the time, so I went delirious with the cold. When people ask if the made-up-buildings are certain places I’m like “yep, that’s exactly what it’s meant to be, definitely didn’t make it up”.

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Kathryn Robertson

HAHA! How does it feel having your murals pop-up all over Sunderland bringing it to life? Do you ever lurk and watch folks looking at it to get a sense of what they think?

It’s great 🙂 I like having my work so visible, but I’m very shy, so when I see people looking at stuff it’s nice to just wander past in the knowledge that they don’t know that I made it (if that makes any sense) (creepy). I like hiding (figuratively) behind the artwork I guess, that’s probably why I’m an artist in the first place, to let the drawings do the talking for me. I’m bad at talking.

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Kathryn Robertson

I’m QUEEN lurker/introvert/socially awkward and shy – I hear you! As a social media professional I LOVE your personality on Insta and that you’ve got the breadth of your practice (including yourself!) on there; loved the @teatowelontour Insta channel – how did it feel finding out about that? (Reminds me of the Innocent smoothie stapler going across the world!)

Yeah it’s great to see Helen (@lifeouels) travel with the Sunderland Tea Towel, just a really canny idea to take a bit of home with her around the world, love seeing the updates 🙂

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Kathryn Robertson

In addition to tea towels – you sell some of your work and your available for commissions (loved the design for Lamp Light Festival graphics!) – where can people buy stuff from you and get in touch?

Thanks!! My online shop is partially down for the time-being while I figure the whole ‘freelancing whilst social distancing’ thing out, but I’ve got something out now with another artist pal (Andy Martin) at the moment, a print – you can get it HERE.  Other than that it’s: @kr.illustrates (insta), @krillustrates (FB) and krillustrates@gmail.com for work enquires!

I feel like you’re really making waves and your mark on the Sunderland creative scene – what do you think of the creative scene in Sunderland? Any Sunderland peer creatives you admire that I should check out?

I love the creative scene in Sunderland. Here are some names/instagrams of Visual artist pals based in Sunderland (I think) : @heatherchambersart, @chris_cummings_art, @saragibbesonillustration, @mar9ntype, @mariegardinerphoto, @sue.loughlin, @maverickartjo, @cwnutsandseeds, @charliepasquali , @faostyles.

There’s so many more but my brain is not working. Need coffee.

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Kathryn Robertson

Speaking of making waves….tell me about the “City by the Sea” exhibition and your piece in it?

There was an open call for artists based in Sunderland to design a surfboard to part of this exhibition in The Beam (that building on the Vaux site). I proposed a very Sunderland themed design of past and present buildings. I was picked as one of the artists to be commissioned.

They delivered this 6ft surfboard to me and I drew on it in paint pens, they lacquered it, and now it’s upstairs in The Beam, alongside some other local artists versions, and they got some schools to do a few as well. Canny!

Can you tell me about Rebel Women Sunderland – what the project is and how you got involved?

Laura Brewis (Sunderland Culture) is the mastermind behind The Rebel Women of Sunderland project, and I believe it was inspired by a book called Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, as well as her daughter. It’s a project to shine a light on notable women from Sunderland, and to tell their stories in an engaging way. We created illustrations and stories for each of the selected women. I was commissioned to do the illustrating, alongside writer Jessica Andrews who wrote their wonderful stories.

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Kathryn Robertson

How were the notable women selected?

Sunderland Culture put a post out for people to nominate women or give suggestions of notable women, or women that have shone in their field, or gone somewhat unsung, I believe they got a huge list of suggestions, and had to condense it down (which will have been very difficult!)

Why are projects like Rebel Women important in 2020?

It’s important to tell the stories of all of these women, and I think it’s particularly nice to be able to show and tell them in this way, there’s been a lot of RW themed events where people can get involved, the exhibition has been around a couple of different venues in the city – and I’m sure the stories will have inspired some young people to think “I can be that too”. As Laura quoted at one of the past Rebel Women events, “you can’t be what you can’t see.”!

I love that – Brewis is such a lush human! And rebel lass in her own right! Tell me about the new recent additions to Rebel Women Sunderland for this year’s International Women Day?

The newest editions are Nadine Shah, Florence Collard + The Shipyard Girls, Ellen Bell, and Aly Dixon.

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Kathryn Robertson

What’s next for Rebel Women Sunderland as a project? Where can we see the pieces in the future?

It will expand in the future hopefully, there’s still plenty of lasses to feature! Laura wants to make a book, which I’m so down for. I’m not sure where the pieces/stories will be available to see next, maybe we should make it into some kind of virtual exhibition though (!!?)

I am so here for that – so tell me about a few illustrators or muralists you admire and suggest I check out?

Sheffield-based artist Jo Peel @jo_peel (obsessed with her), James Gulliver Hancock, @gemmacorrell @vicleelondon @mul_draws, @pandafunkteam, @sophie_roach, @mr_aryz @ashwillerton

What’s next for you? What projects do you have in the pipeline?

As with everyone, I’m a little uncertain for the next however many months, as public work is off, art fairs either postponed or cancelled, but I’m hoping to have plenty of new illustrations by the end of this, and if I’m dreaming about the future, then I’d love to have my first exhibition of my own work somewhere one day – if it was something people wanted to see.

I’d love to carry on with public artworks too. Also I have this (maybe slightly ambitious) dream of doing a stop-motion animated mural, inspired greatly by Jo Peel, check this out HERE

Love what you do and thanks for the great questions!

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Kathryn Robertson

That love is right back at you and I am so excited for what you do next! You are a glorious human!  Check Kathryn’s work out…

That’s all for now Culture Vultures! I’ve got a great list of blog posts coming!

Interview with Newcastle Artist Pointer – MIND FULL MESS

If you’d asked me the question last week – “where’s your head at!?” – well I’d have said – a bit worried, but excited for lots of things to come and happenings. Now you’re asking me a week on – well… not as much in a pit of doom as I was a day or so ago but I’m circling it. The world as we once knew – individually and collectively – will never be the same again. It’s all A LOT to take in!

In the wake of what’s happening, social media has exploded into a well-meaning (sometimes!) explosion of noise, information, guidance – it’s suffocating. It’s bringing out the best and worst in people – a lot of projection IMO. Some of the elements of social media that we all know is bad for us and creates anxiety, disillusionment, chaos and everything in between, is unfolding in this period of uncertainty in which 24 hour news is being consumed like Crack. I feel like I’m trapped in a Black Mirror episode.

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Artist credit – Pointer – image from Insta

MIND FULL MESS by Newcastle artist Pointer, explores both those things – it provokes you to reflect on the question of “where’s your head at?” in the wider context of the social media world. Of course, this exhibition and it’s work was created before Covid-19 was a thing but viewing it and reflecting on it, in this new light has been interesting and for me, added a whole new layer to the work and actually, provided comfort.

Little did I know when the invitation to the opening of it at B&D Studios (the exhibition was set to run until end of March but is currently closed); that it would actually have such a profound effect, long after viewing. As someone who struggles with the concept of mindfulness (my brain just isn’t wired that way) and also navigating the relentlessness nature of 24/7 social media life (even more relentless in the context of now) – I thought the concept behind the exhibition sounded amazing.

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The MIND FULL MESS exhibition was filled with bold and thought provoking, mixed media skull pieces revolving around the theme of social media, the digital age and its effect on our potentially brilliant minds and mental health. Each skull summed up exactly how my brain feels at some point every single week or how it has felt times a million this week. Each skull was a provocation to reflect and check in with myself whilst considering that folks could be feeling any number of those thoughts or emotions…..

Before I get into the interview with Pointer – which was planned before Covid-19 ramped up to this level – I have a few take aways for my readers….

  1. Ask yourself the question “where’s your head at” at least once a day – check in with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself space. Give your mind chance to process and breathe.
  2. Take some time away from social media and put your phone down for a few hours a day – I’ve had freelance friends and art friends turning off their phones and muting notifications for their sanity – being overloaded by information and advice through various “groups” as other desperately try and figure things out, might not be helpful to you right now.
  3. Pointer is a fantastic artist and this was a selling exhibition – like many the current state of play will have hit his wallet hard. If you like the skull pieces and would like to purchase or interested in a commission – (hey we are all going to be spending time in doors for a while, so may as well colour up those walls) – contact him via his website: http://www.bypointer.com or via his insta: @bypointer

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*Get ready for the question that triggers existential crisis….Who are you?*

I am a Newcastle based Artist by the name of Pointer.

*Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?*

After studying Graphics I drifted into a career as a commercial artist; making artwork for other people, companies and even other artists. For a long time I was quite comfortable being the guy that worked behind the scenes – without an outlet for my own personal work.

*Where did the name Pointer come from?*

That just happens to be my surname.  After a childhood of kids pointing fingers at me, I grew tired of it but I kind of like it again now.

*Tell me about your exhibition MIND FULL MESS?*

The exhibition is a collection of 16 artworks I have been working on since September. The tagline for the show is ‘In a 24/7 always ON culture, where’s your head at?” It’s a snapshot of peoples’ state of mind, a look at modern anxieties caused by living in the social media age.

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*How did the relationship with B&D studio come about?*

Someone kindly put my name forward for a show and I thought why not.

They have a free hosting space and take a generously small cut of sales.  I met James the manager on a tour of the gallery and later when a studio became available I felt it would be a good opportunity to progress my work.

*The show is called MIND FULL MESS – as someone whose mind is always a bit of a mess and has tried mindfulness and just doesn’t get it – I relate! Have you tried mindfulness?*

I think playing my music loud, stepping outside to take a walk once in a while and not taking my phone to bed are measures that are enough for me most of the time – I have never felt the need to do yoga on a beach at sunset listening to Enya.

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 Pointer – MIND FULL MESS

*What do you want people to take away from the exhibition?*

Just to make people think or connect somehow with the work or look at things from a different perspective. That’s the most you can expect from art I guess.

*Tell me about inspiration for the pieces and exhibition?*

The initial impetus of the idea was wanting to show visually what’s going on in your brain whilst you are doing something mindless. I was thinking of some kind of internal conflict where one part of your brain is busy staring at the flashy lights whilst the other side of your brain is screaming for you to think.

*I feel like I live that conflicted reality …. So as a commercial artist – where is your head at with social media?*

I feel one format of social media is enough for me (Pointer is on Instagram – @bypointer). I chose the more visual platform of Instagram but there are long periods where I ignore it. I would happily pay a subscription for Instagram to ditch the ads and the restrictive algorithms. I realise I spend too much time reporting each ad I see as spam.

That’s a big negative for me, advertising really disengages me with what potentially is a great tool for artists. It’s a love / hate relationship!

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 Pointer – MIND FULL MESS – taken from Insta

*I think most people feel like that with social media….can you tell me a bit about the process of making each piece?*

Each piece features numerous laser cut wooden elements, these are all hand painted with sealer, primer and acrylic.  I have also used cut Perspex and steel which is then screen printed on. The pieces are then assembled and put together to make the final artworks.

*What’s next for you?*

I had planned on showing work at the recently postponed Nowt Special event and also the Late Shows in May (both postponed due to Covid-19). So, I guess I will get back to the sketchbook, it would be nice to book in another big exhibition project but will see what happens.

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 Pointer – MIND FULL MESS – taken from Insta

Thank you Pointer! Total talented gem!

Just to reiterate on my close of this blog interview – the current state of play will have hit his wallet hard. If you like the skull pieces and would like to purchase or interested in a commission –– contact him via his website: http://www.bypointer.com or via his insta: @bypointer – artists need our support right now.

An interview with artist Slutmouth – an Instagram discovery with meaning, heart and soul.

Instagram Is a great place to discover new artists and it’s one of my first places to start when looking for new creative lushness. It’s given a place for creatives – their feed is their digital gallery and portfolio to the world, alongside an insight to themselves and their practice. I think Instagram increases democracy in artistic opportunities and audiences – there is more potential for folks to see their work, enjoy it in their own time and there doesn’t seem to be the same barriers for folks as there is in an art gallery.

I spend HOURS on Instagram looking at artists and creatives’ feeds on social – an introvert haven. Discovering new artists on Insta is almost as much of an addiction as my diet coke habit. Bettie/Slut mouth (love.that.name) is an Instagram super star creative, I’ve followed for some time – not only love their work, but also their ethos, integrity, passion for being real and bold in their work and they are one of my favourite (probably arguably my favourite – but I struggle with making final choices about favourites so ….) feminist and gender equality promoting artists. Their work crosses different mediums and like me – it’s kind of hard to describe what they do!

I’ve had Bettie on my list for a Culture Vulture blog for over a year – so I’m buzzed it’s actually happening and I got to interview this brilliant creative human. We need more Betties in the world. Part of my Culture Vulture adventure so far – it’s taught me as much about what and who I want to be personally, as it has professionally. Artists like Bettie create art that means something, says something to world and is an extension of who they are in a meaningful unapologetic way. Artists like Bettie, remind me, to be bold, be honest and to use my platform (and privilege) to say something to the world. Over to you Bettie….

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Hiyer, who are you?

I’m Bettie aka Slutmouth a surface designer and proud cat mom based in the North East more specifically, Hartlepool.

Tell me about your journey into the creative sector?

I was always very creative as a child, my mum nurtured this being a community artist herself. At age 14, I started to attend the National Saturday Art Club at which, was then, CCAD at Green Lane. We had the opportunity to exhibit our work in the Somerset House four times which is extremely cool at that age!

Whilst attending the Saturday club, I had the chance to use specialist art facilities which inspired me study Design crafts at the college and pursue a career in the Arts. During my time at the college, I really developed my love for freehand embroidery and created a bizarre and whimsical installation piece created as a homage to George Méliès and the Smashing Pumpkins.

The following year I started the Textile and Surface design course at the Northern School of Art where I really dived into Screen printing in the first year. It was in second year when watching John Waters ‘Pink Flamingos’ and The Cockettes documentary that I really began to home in on the ‘Slutmouth’ aesthetic and vibe. For the project of ‘Off Beat’ I was hugely inspired by Leigh Bowery and the Club Kids of New York and I feel that’s where I really started to explore my own identity, and what it meant to me within my work. This is when the penny really dropped and I felt I had a solid direction.

How would you describe your arts’ practice?

I would describe it as an extremely personal process with it originally being me exploring my identity, the taboos and negativity I was holding against my body and sexuality and breaking through those barriers by using my art to do so. I’ve always been a very colourful person even when in my emo phase and so this reflects within the colour palettes of my work. It is amalgamated stylised chaos, thought process.

Taking influence from music, art, fashion, film and feeling. I feel that I use my work as my platform to voice how I feel, think or would like to say. It’s very important to break down the barriers and stand for what you believe in if you have the ability to do so.

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How did you come up with the name Slutmouth?

For years I went by my name Bettie Hope; that name on my artwork never really sat right with me – I loved the idea of having an alter ego where I can really express myself and not feel so attached to it, if I needed to walk away and start again I could.

It took days and days to figure out what I wanted to be called. Slutmouth was the first idea that popped into my head, I was really into listening to Girlpool at the time, but I kept talking myself out of it. In the end I felt so strongly about the name I said Fuck it and drew my logo up right then. The reason the name Slutmouth

resonated with me so much is because of the struggle I faced as a young woman in a world of people who are just rude, inappropriate and feel they can slut shame womxn, so in reality it was me taking ownership of that and hopefully turning it into something positive. It’s still a funny process when trading at events and people see my brand name; some people are often shocked shuffle away very quickly, others adore the name and I can only think that it’s because they also resonate with it.

Well I adore it – Your art really has playfulness, passion & purpose behind it – it’s art that means & says something to me – but the tongue & cheekness also makes me smile…..where do you get your inspiration from for your work?

My first real inspiration for the ‘Off Beat’ project was my late friend Gary Pearson. I met him when I was in second year of University and he was in first year, he bounced into our room wearing this wonderful leather gimp mask; I was so excited and we instantly became friends. We chatted about so much; sex, relationships, music and it made me realise I wanted to be as open and make my work more personal to myself.

I started this process back in secondary school when I made a giant ragdoll that was supposed to be me. I think it’s very important to constantly looks inwards and challenge yourself to as authentic as possible.  Gary was such a fabulous leather daddy creature who introduced me to Tom of Finland. I’m honoured to have known him during that period of time; he really helped me begin to understand myself.

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In your pieces, you explore feminism, identity, sexuality, queerness, empowerment, sex, bodies, being human…. Can you tell me about that?

I think the themes I explore are things that I have difficulty within the sense that I struggle to understand them within myself, and they then become things I can deal with. I also use my work as a platform for others and try to voice my thoughts through my work. Like I mentioned earlier I feel it’s very important to challenge the ‘norm’ and stand up for what you believe in, also to speak up for those who can’t find their own voice, you might become the thing that inspires them to do so.

I’m working on several feminist projects at the moment – and supporting several too. What do you think it means to be a feminist in 2020? What does it mean to you?

I think feminism is different for everyone; for me it’s about equality for all womxn and providing a safe space for us all to live and grow in whilst supporting each other to do the same. I love to explore feminist themes within my work to outline the struggles womxn still deal with today. The world can be a tough and nasty place and in recent years it seems as though we are taking huge steps backward in the western world, there are a lot of topics that can be covered within feminism, it can be quite overwhelming sometimes when thinking of social issues not just for womxn but for all sentient beings as I would like to help wherever I can, but sometimes you have to leave that fight for others; you can only do your best and so much but even then, that can make a huge difference.

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Tell me about your involvement with Sassify Zine Issue #7? What is Sassify for those who don’t know?

Sassify Zine is a platform to local and international LGBTQ+ artists and they aim to be advocates for meaningful change and education about the queer community. It is a not-for-profit Queer culture print magazine giving you all the best queer art and sassiness. In the Queer Heroes #7  issue the work I have featured is a digital illustration  named ‘Femme and Fierce’ and the ‘Luxury Period’ piece that was also exhibited at The Art of Being Queer exhibition, at the exhibition it was framed in ornate golden frame, but for the magazine its styled and photographed to look like a sanitary towel that is almost functional. If anyone is interested in seeing what I have featured then you can pre order the zine on http://www.sassifyzine.com

I was a lurker on your Insta for some time before I stumbled on to your work at The Art of Being Queer exhibition last year, which was absolutely the highlight of Middlesbrough Art Weekender – how did you get featured and what was the experience like of being featured?

Pineapple black was and still is an absolute Hub of creativity; my friend Gav Paughan who is a fantastic textiler, creates gorgeous gold work masks and wearables, was working in the studio space that he won and he was working on a new project something along those lines, another very busy artist.. anyway he got talking to Josh the guy that runs The Art of Being Queer blog and got himself in the exhibition and name dropped me – Josh contacted me and I submitted imagery of my work to be exhibited.

It was an amazing experience, I had lots of fun and it was unreal to be surrounded by the sheer amount of amazing artists I couldn’t quite believe the level of quality I was witnessing. The opening night was fantastic and the exhibition really stepped up the mark for the Middlesbrough Art scene, I’m very much looking forward to keeping an eye on where The Art of being Queer travels to next. In the mean time you can head over to the blog and keep up to date with more established and emerging queer artists.

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Of course, I fell in love with your “Period Products Are A Necessity Not A Luxury” embellished sanitary pad exhibited….Can you tell me about the piece and the process of making it?

Wow thank you – this piece was created to highlight just one of many issues within period poverty. I started to create the piece just as embroidered typography, then during the process I had a brain wave whilst embroidering into the bleached calico to create a sanitary pad shape. I wasn’t sure if I was taking it too far at this point it was around 1am and I may have been delirious, but it was obviously the best kind of delirious.

I went on the search for a sanitary pad to get the shape accurate and began to incorporate the shape into my design, I then started to think how I could stuff it and make it 3D, from that point the typography read “Period Products Are A Necessity Not A Luxury” .

Another brain wave later; I decided to make it look like it had been used, which I would have preferred to have known at the start, but It was very organic the way this piece established itself in my brain. Once the watercolour had dried, I then began to embellish with a pearl trim and golden chain to make it seem unwearable and luxury. I had so much fun creating this piece I felt like I went back to my roots when doing so.

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You make some products like tea towels & pom poms – I’m surprised I’ve got this long into the questions before asking about the pom poms….LOVE pom poms (also a tea towel….very underrated in my experience) – tell me about your products?

My products are all handmade or hand finished; for example the T-shirts, I buy are organic cotton but I would then screen print the designs or hand embroider onto them. Any designs digitally printed are my own, but I source the digitally printing in the UK and then make up the product myself on the sewing machine. It’s just putting my artwork on different surfaces, I would eventually like to create garments alongside accessories, and play around with wallpaper again. I like to keep myself very busy if I’m not exhibiting my work, I’m trading sellable stock at fairs and on my website. I have just always loved to make sellable things since being around 16 years old and studying design crafts, at this age I also started to organise my own craft events.

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Tell me about fuzzy bosom? What is it? When the next “thing”?

Fuzzy Bosom is a side company I have set up with my lovely friend Adele Catchpole. We studied at Uni together and became very close; whilst at Uni I was the President of the SU and Adele was my VP – we started to put on events for other students there such as zine fairs and designer maker fairs.

We both have our own freelance businesses but we saw that Hartlepool was lacking in this field; we also wanted to offer bespoke artist workshops for the community along with a platform for local artists. It is also a lot of work to organise an event on your own, so we decided to join forces and share the load and thus the Fuzzy team was formed. We have lots of amazing ideas, and more events to plan, but we are both moving homes at the moment; so we have put it on the back burner for a few weeks before we get back to it. We have recently ran a weaving workshop and screen-printing workshop during the Stand Together event in Hartlepool.

What’s the art scene like over in Hartlepool? I want to make a day trip of going there – where should I be visiting? What should I be seeing?

The art scene is pretty strong; the place is heaving with creativity at the Bis Centre on Whitby street, in the Northern School of Art, Hartlepool Art club and The Art Gallery. The main art scenes are music events that have community arts projects involved I find, which is why we set Fuzzy Bosom up.

I am also admin to the NE: Creatives group on Facebook which was formed to give local artists access to specialist opportunities. You should certainly check out my students, they are superbly talented, I am the National Saturday Art Club tutor, based in the Centre of Excellence in Creative Arts, the students are aged 14-16, the group bridges the gap between school and college and really gives the students the opportunity to develop specialist art skills that can develop into a career.

We have recently been creating a GIANT pom pom which I am super excited about and I’m sure you will be too, so I will send you photos when our hard work is complete. We have also been working on self-portraits and hand embroideries. You need to check out our Instagram to see the raw talent these emerging artists have its @northernartsatclub.

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This week is International Women’s Week…. Any womxn artists that I should be checking out/aware of/inspire you?

I am surrounded by so many amazing femxle artists that are local so I will name drop a few! Just Harry Designs, Cat Call, Adele Catchpole, Jade Lenehan, Kirsty Jade Designs, Betty and the Lovecats, Mandas Cat, Make it Reign Studio, Hun North East, Molly Arnold, Lucy Alice Winter, Hairy Yetti, Laura Moon, Wild Lamb and Megabethpaints–  Just to name some off the top of my head, some serious talent!!

Well that was a total feast for me to discover….What awaits you in 2020? Any projects you can give me flavour of?

The first project that awaits me is finishing unpacking in my new studio. Then at some point this I will be creating some new pieces that will be exhibited at the ‘Wild Slut’ Wild Lamb and Slutmouth Collaboration exhibition date TBC.

I will also be trading my wares the following day at Base Camp which is host to GRL 2020 an event packed with live music, street food and a feminist market. Sunday the 15th of March I am going to be chatting with Chantal from Sister Shack on Pride Radio. I’m not really sure what the rest of the year entails, but I know it’s going to be an exciting one, I can feel it. Check out my Instagram @slutmouthdesign and website http://www.slutmouth.co.uk to stay up to date in the world of Slutmouth.

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Well thank you….if I wasn’t in love with Bettie before – I sure am after this interview. And what a perfect week to share this interview, than on International Women’s Day WEEK!

And that’s all for now Culture Vultures.

#AD Observe Experiment Archive – a photography exhibition at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Photography exhibitions for many years, were my comfort zone in art gallery spaces. In my late teens and early twenties, I didn’t feel empowered enough in my own creative sense of self to comment on paintings, sculpture, textiles etc. But photography to me always told some kind of a story! The first photographer that I ever became truly aware of as an “artist” was Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, a Finnish photographer that ended up living in Newcastle and has an extensive body of work. I loved her depiction of Byker and the sense of place, people and home – she managed to create.

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Neon at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

I’ve always been a fan of photography as a means to communicate and explore difficult issues – to display various shades of the same thing and of course, to capture a moment. In fact, I’m working up a project funding proposal at the moment with photography at the heart of it. But my love of photography and respect for it as an art form, has grown exponentially as a social media and marketing professional – it’s ALL about the high quality, visually impactful visuals. And that’s why I invest so much money and resource into the photography of events, projects, people, audiences, places, venues and moments. The right image can have far reaching impact and tells a story….

I was recently, invited to view Observe Experiment Archive – a group photography exhibition curated by North East Photography Network at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens – support by Sunderland Culture. For those Culture Vultures unaware, yes Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens does have a beautiful gallery space so add it to your gallery culture crawl list…. It’s where the Da Vinci exhibition was housed AND they are one of three new venues, to have been selected to present work from The Arts Council Collection (first exhibition in February) until 2022!

It’s great to see how many folks have followed my “story” showcasing my exhibition visit and how many of you have followed up my social media posts, championing the exhibition, telling me that you’re going to visit or have visited!

Observe Experiment Archive is available to view until 5 January and presents multidimensional view- points of our ever changing world. It’s for the curious seekers, experimenters, future innovators and creative thinkers – my visit lasted over an hour, I read ever interpretation cover to cover, it got me thinking, reflecting and full of wonder for the natural world and how we have interacted with it in the past, present and the possibilities that lie in the future. The exhibition explores human interventions, innovations and inventions and the global challenges that can no longer be ignored.

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The exhibition showcases the skill and diversity that exists within contemporary photography, reflecting scientific and environmental concerns through both a modern and historical lens. I went in with an open mind – I’d read the blurb before going in, on the website, which in no way captured how truly fantastic this exhibition was. It’s certainly in my top 5 of 2019.

Beautifully curated, inviting and thoroughly interesting. The supporting pamphlet that you can pick up on entry, was the perfect thought fuelling accompaniment to the exhibition as I walked around taking it all in. All 8 photographers featured are very different in style, subject manner and provide a gateway for folks like me, to consider, explore and observe the world in a new way. I learnt a lot, thought about things that I hadn’t really considered in a world that is so busy and it certainly triggered my appetite to learn more.

This exhibition is in no way passive – it invites you to think, reflect, go on google, check out the photographers, participate in their narrative and really demonstrated to me, the unbelievable power of a photo to capture a moment, tell a story, challenge a pre-conception and to trigger thought and potential change. The thing I loved, is that the current state of play around themes like the “environment”, “intrusion of technology”, “human intervention”; the press and on social media present it in an often angry and preachy manner – things MUST change dogma and those who are not participating in the change…. Well, they are unfavourable. What this exhibition manages to do, is explore and present, many of the same elements, impacts and what humans have done, doing and may continue to do but invites you to question and reflect on WHY.

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I’m going to give you a little overview of my thoughts on each photographer’s work in the exhibition – without hopefully spoiling it, as you have until 5th January to visit so go go go! Order presented is based on how I worked my way around the exhibition.

Robert Zhao Renhui’s work is a colourful guide to the flora and fauna of the world – it presents a catalogue of curious creatures and their life forms mixing fact and fiction, whilst demonstrating the present and possible effects of human intervention. His pieces are visually stunning and thoroughly Insta ready and his work explores the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. To accompany the exhibition, there is a wonderful A3 size hand-out which I skimmed over, but properly read when I grabbed a tea at Holmeside Coffee. Very interesting!

Robert’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Maria McKinney’s recent projects have examined the relationship between humans and cattle collaborating with cattle breeders and genetic scientists. From this work, there is LOTS of learning, especially for me as someone who doesn’t have much knowledge around how humans influence breeding of animals and their genetics. Contemporary cattle farming is depicted in large scale animal portraits, which really do remind me of large scale cow portraits from 18th & 19th century, that can be seen in the collections of Bowes Museum, Northumberland and Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle.

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Maria’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens (Robert’s in back ground)

Mandy Barker’s work, I found I kept on going back to on my visit to view again! Mandy’s work investigates and showcases marine plastic debris by collaborating with scientists. Her main aim is to raise the awareness of plastic pollution and effects of plastic on marine life. Her photographs are visually beautiful – it wasn’t until, I got up close that I realised exactly, what I was looking at. Whilst, we know humankind treats the sea, like our dustbin, seeing this…… well, it really demonstrates that fact and I think Mandy’s naming of this work, as “SOUP” is just perfect. You can see toys and possessions that I imagine at some-point were much loved and now, they end up floating in the sea creating a kind of “plastic soup” – the plastics float forever, attracting marine life to them, which will eventually lead to their death by poisoning or choking.

Mandy’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Liza Dracup’s work, embraces an ethos very close to my heart and something, I try to practice as Culture Vulture in my own work; looking at the extraordinary in the ordinary (we are all extraordinary in some way) and the perfection that exists within the imperfect. Her work was full of colour, light and made me smile. This collection of work is inspired by Joseph Swan, inventor of the incandescent electric light bulb – which makes sense as the theme of light and bringing to light nature features in her work. Also loved that she had included the practice of taxidermy, as a means to connect the past and present natural world – I’m fascinated with the practice and it’s having a huge revival!

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Tessa Bunney’s work was super interesting – contemporary farming is not something that I really think about (I probably should – as you know, I rely on it to eat…). In her work, she showcases the faces and new world of farming, a mix of traditional practices, innovation and artisan. A theme that runs through this work concerns, the changing nature of rural life and how humans have really shaped that landscape. I’ve worked on a few “rural” arts projects recently so I’m aware of the disconnect between the rural work that we rely upon and the urban world, that for folks like me, is our work and playground.

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Penelope Umbrico’s work was one of my favourites- especially as I’ve just wrapped a large scale outdoor event that was all about celebrating the moon! Penelope displays screenshots of photographs since 2015 that are tagged “full moon” from Flickr. These screen shots are presented both in print and in digital form. I could have stared at the digital screen for hours – one moon with MANY different representations! Really interesting and beautiful – I liked the element of collecting content from a digital platform, consuming it and then sharing it with a wider audience…… in that way, so many people have contributed to the work and have ownership of it.

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Penelope’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Sophie Ingleby’s work ‘Seed’, explores human fertility treatment. Now this is something that I am extremely aware of, with lots of my friends having fertility challenges (1 in 6 couples struggle to become parents). I guess, as a trigger warning, this element of the exhibition might not be right for you, if you’re very close to that journey right now or potentially at the recent closing of that capture – but none the less it’s fascinating, showcases the process, the science, the embryologists leading the way, the people hoping to become parents one day…..

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Sophie’s Work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Last but not least, Helen McGhie’s work explores the nature of darkness and astronomical observation. Again, coming out of wrapping a project all about the moon which also explored space, time, the stars, and moon-landings etc. – this work was just fascinating to me. Helen captures her own personal encounters with the night sky, which are just beautiful to look at and also presents a collection of photographs of objects used as a Northern Astronomer. I spent ages looking at each object capture – really interesting and certainly a bag of tricks.

Helen’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

This exhibition was organised by North East Photography Network (check out their insta!) who were established in 2009 to promote and develop photography in the North East of England and beyond. They work with photographers, artists, curators and a wide range of cultural partners, to create a lively and informed context for photographic activity and to encourage new audiences for photography. NEPN are really going great things – providing commission opportunities, ensuring visibility of photography within the cultural landscape and showcasing what contemporary photography is and could be in the future. Observe Experiment Archive is not only an opportunity to check out an amazing exhibition, but it’s also an opportunity to get a sense of what NEPN is all about. So if you’re an aspiring photographer or photographer in the North East, they are THE organisation to connect with.

Observe Experiment Archive is on to view until 5th January at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, check it out this week or this weekend….you honestly won’t regret it! It has certainly, reignited my interest in photography and given me A LOT to think about.

 

Stuart Langley; an artist lighting up the world one installation at time…

So I’ve had a full weekend of Culture Vulturing – I’ve been all over the place to galleries previews, to live painting, to workshops, to Christmas markets, to the theatre, to Lumiere Durham and I can tell you, that it has given me a total Monday spring in my step.

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Giant Slinky – End Over End at Lumiere Durham

It has filled my soul with such lushness and all feels great in the world of the Culture Vulture, today on this glorious Monday. Lumiere Durham was of course, a total highlight…. I mean…. WOW! I LOVE Durham at the best of times, but with light installations, sculpture and projections around every corner, I fell in love with it more. So after Lumiere Durham, catching up with Stellar Projects ahead of Nightfall AND hitting up Light Up North’s residency launch at The Biscuit Factory on Friday eve – my world is presently #lit with my love for light installations so it just feels like the perfect time to share this interview with one of my hands down fave light artists, Stuart Langley.

Stuart Langley is one of many artists creating a BRAND new light installation art work for Nightfall 2019 (last few tickets still available for this lush outdoor event in Teesside) and he is someone I’ve fangirled from a far for ages. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of championing his work, programming his work, I’ve even got slightly drunk at a Curious Arts auction and purchased his work and across 2019, I’ve worked with him multiple times. It’s funny in the freelance world – folks like Stuart, whilst I’ve only met a couple of times in *real* life, due to ongoing projects, I speak to him more currently than some of my mates.

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Stuart Langley

Stuart is a graphic designer, maker, installation creator and neon rule breaker…. His light installation pieces are just amazing. I knew from the moment, he created a toilet with a neon rainbow coming out of it, that he’d cemented his place on my top fave artist list. AND he’s a local lad from Hartlepool, big up the North creating work on a National (and International) field.

I’m BEYOND excited to see his new piece at Nightfall – I’ve seen the mock up drawing of and I know where it is going to go – it’s epic, it’s brilliant, it’s colourful, it’s ambitious….it’s VERY Stuart Langley.

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So without further ado…. Let’s hear from Stuart!

Hi Stuart, we’ve had this interview on the cards for ages…. So let’s get down to it for my readers; who are you and what’s your practice?

I’m Stuart Langley and I design, create and imagine things with lights and that.

Standard Culture Vulture question…… tell us about your journey into the creative arts?

I’ve always created – from making model rollercoasters and stop motion animation as a kid to being able to create big installations nowadays. I didn’t do a degree in the arts (I ended up doing Japanese and French), not even a GCSE, because I was always told being creative could only ever translate into a hobby. I ended up doing a foundation degree in graphic design and worked (and still do) as a graphic designer which gave me the confidence to imagine on a big scale.

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Amusements – Stuart Langley

It’s so bizarre that folks don’t believe that there is a career possible in the creative industries and that message is still being communicated….Your pieces are really interesting, some have a ‘Langley flare’ and others are completely different in style…. Where do you get the inspiration from for your pieces?

Anywhere and everywhere but anything that holds my interest for longer than a day or so is always worth developing.

Tell me about your involvement with Nightfall 2019?

For Nightfall, the plan is to create a piece that is going to reanimate the iconic aviary space which is very exciting but kinda intimidating as it’s a space I’ve wanted to do something in for ages. I’m just one of a number of commissioned artists that are going to be turning Preston Park into a magical moon themed escape for two nights in December.

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Hartlepool Art Gallery – Stuart Langley Solo Exhibition

Tell us a little more about your piece? What was the inspiration?

So the iconic Aviary is going to be filled with about 3,000 floating iridescent butterflies that should look a little like magic. The work is inspired by a moment: at the end of July this year I looked out of the window and saw hundreds of butterflies everywhere – I was having a shit day and it made me smile.

Apparently, painted lady butterflies make an annual 7,500 mile trip from Africa to the Arctic Circle every year and 2019 just so happened to feature a major pit stop on the Teesside coastline. So, thinking about extraordinary journeys in the sense of 2019 being the anniversary of the first moon landing, the aim is to create a piece which celebrates a magical journey of the natural world.

Why should folks get tickets for Nightfall 2019 and see your piece?

First off, for a one-of-a-kind and memorable trip out on a cold December evening, it’s a bargain. Plus, there is so much going on in the programme, there is bound to be something for everyone to enjoy – not forgetting the appearance of the iconic ‘Museum of the Moon’ by Luke Jerram which is surely reason enough to get tickets.

There feels a real buzz around culture and events in Teesside at the moment – do you feel that too?

Yes – Teesside and its people, have so much resilience, humour and creativity. It’s good to be the underdog and so many organisations (the Auxiliary, Pineapple Black, Platform A, Navigator North, Creative Factory etc etc) are proper flying the flag for creativity in the North East. There’s a ridiculous myth that art happens down South and although there is a higher concentration of cultural activity down there I think Teesside is able to put a completely different spin on things.

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Neon and That – Stuart Langley

I couldn’t agree more and In Teesside you see that real unique partnership work of Indie galleries and orgs working together with the more “traditional sector players”….you don’t often see that. Back to your work, you often create outdoor art pieces that require real technical knowledge to survive the elements – do you enjoy the creative challenge that creates?

To say that I create things is a bit of a fib. I’m fortunate to work with so many other people with so many different skills and knowledge and the success of a piece is always reliant on the quality of the collaboration. It’s essential to collaborate when you’re coming up with ideas for outdoor pieces as there are so many different factors to consider.

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Over – Stuart Langley

Tell us about your involvement with Curious Arts (who will also be popping up at Nightfall!)?

Being a gay lord myself, I think it’s important to support work that champions the outsider and increases visibility of LGBTQ+ comrades. Curious Arts are doing some really ground-breaking work in terms of making the arts part of a wider drive for equality and I’m always happy to play a small part in that.

(The Culture Vulture adds – Following the success of Start’s installation ‘over’, featured as part of Curious Festival 2016, Curious Arts reconnected with him to reimagine the World AIDS Day ribbon. Curious Arts challenged Stuart to create an artwork inspired by the World AIDS Day charity ribbon to reinstate its distinctiveness in ensuring visibility for the 36.7 million people globally who are living with HIV & AIDS.

36point7 saw the creation of 36.7 of Stuart’s neon light box, available for a minimum donation of £360.70 each. Curious Arts’ ambition is that each limited edition piece will be displayed in a visible public area for a minimum of two weeks annually – National HIV testing week and the week of World AIDS Day (1st December). In addition, a large touring piece is in development which will be accompanied by a programme of workshops and talks delivered in partnership with local HIV & AIDS affected communities. I purchased one of the smaller Light boxes for £360.70 to support the project)

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Do you have a fave piece that you’ve created? If I had a gun to your head and you had to pick one?

I’ve never had a gun to my head, a few other choice implements but never a gun – so that’s quite difficult. I am never happy with the work I put out – it’s a feeling a lot of other creatives have – there’s always something that could have been done differently to improve the end result. But staring down that loaded barrel, there’s a work I keep revisiting called VHS R.I.P. (the fourth incarnation of it was shown at Pineapple Black earlier in the year, the first version was shown as part of Nuit Blanche Brussels way back in 2014) which has a very exciting mix of subject and material: video tape, horror and light. Maybe being obsessed with films like The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and The Never Ending Story as a kid has something to do with my love of VHS and wanting to give it a proper send-off/funeral but it’s also nice to think of defunct technologies like absent friends and do right by them through celebration.

LOVE that answer….Tell me about the toilet with the rainbow coming out of it?

I’m a big fan of the work of people like John Waters, David Hoyle and more recently the artist Christeene. They all promote the idea of revealing and celebrating the beauty to be found in the dirt; ultimately highlighting the ridiculousness and hilarity of modern values that try and push us towards glazing over the more unsavoury and carnal aspects of our existence. So, the rainbow in a bog considers a lot of these ideas as well as being a direct response to some of Bobby Benjamin’s work which I thought looked a bit like the insides of a very healthy and active bowel.

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Rainbow in a Bog – Stuart Langley

Tell me about a fellow artist that inspires you currently?

I went to see Christeene perform Sinead O’Connor’s The Lion The Witch and The Cobra at the Barbican recently and loved how feral and honest her performance was. She has so much drive and ambition and never apologises for being so intense and direct – her energy is inspirational and I hope one day I can take my own work to a level where it might have a positive impact on other people’s lives.

Any advice for future creatives?

Just make stuff.

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Two Hearts – Stuart Langley

You don’t really do much social media – which blows my mind – how do you champion yourself and your work?

I came off Facebook in 2013 or summat and have since ditched everything else, most recently turning off Instagram. There was a time when what you experienced and what people told you directly mattered most and whilst there are some really good things about social media I personally think it adds too much noise, distraction and negativity to our lives. Maybe I’ll turn it back on in a year or so when all the commissions dry up from lack of presence on the internet.

Well, if you need a social media “representative” look no further! Do you have a highlight of 2019 so far?

I’m working on two big projects at the moment – the Nightfall installation and something for Ushaw College in Durham so fingers crossed I don’t fuck it up…

What’s next for Stuart in 2020 – anything you can share?

All buns in the oven for now but I would really, really like to make a ghost train before I pass away…

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Cars – Stuart Langley

Can I be one of the first to ride it please? Thanks Stuart, an artist who inspires me and reminds me that my dream of having a house full of neon art work to dance around near, on a Friday night, is more possible than ever before. See, all you folks planning your families and lives and I’m planning when I can afford a Langley commission, with a Light Up North commission and a Dan Cimmerman….

To see Stuart’s new commission at Nightfall 2019, why not nab one of the last few tickets available….. I’m so excited to see it in person! You can’t follow Stuart on social but he does have a website…so you can check him out there!

Artist interview with Naomi Edmondson – life survival techniques, mental health and positive vibes through guerilla street art!

Those of you who follow me on social media on my Culture Vulture Facebook will know I’m on a bit of a mental health mission (check out my Mental Health event in September!). It’s something that I’m extremely passionate about and as someone who has had significant mental health issues through-out their life, I’m determined to be an advocate, champion that there is life during and post mental health issues, celebrate creative expression as an outlet AND just taking some time out to look after number one (YOU!) every so often.

Mental Health is a topic that has been explored and tackled in many of my recent projects…. And is something that I am (alongside lots of artists) are using as a stimulus within current and future creative projects. I want to be part of the positive change and also to smash the perception of exactly WHAT mental health is and WHO “suffers” from it.

I recently worked on a brilliant festival called Make & Mend Festival; this festival focuses on and celebrates the power of craft, colour and creativity. It doesn’t just imply that being creative and engaging in creative happenings might be good for mind, body and soul – it all out, uses this as its core value to attendees. And being there on the day, doing their live social media, meant that I was able to enjoy the atmosphere and absorb the festival vibe and it just filled my soul with joy. You could literally feel people’s passion, happiness and creativity over flowing through-out the festival site. Perfect and more events like this please!

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

As part of Make & Mend Festival, I had the opportunity to engage with lots of artists, makers, artisans, creatives, motivational speakers, wellbeing practitioners and everything in between. Lots of them I knew already, some only through my constant social media stalking and fan girling so it was a pleasure to meet and chat in “real life” and there were lots of new folks to meet….. it blows my mind how much talent and lushness there is in the North East and that with the greatest will in the world, you just can’t know about them all. But events like that festival are all about creative discovery and I get a real buzz from that.

An artist/creative that I’ve fan girled for some time is Naomi Edmondson. Those who know me, know I’m in love with street art – I love bold, creative designs in urban areas. I’m of the mind-set that it’s an art form that I’d like to see more of and it’s an expression of “reclaiming” space and communicating with the rest of the world. Good street art stops you in your tracks and often makes you smile. Naomi’s work makes me smile and champions positive affirmations (not in the cheesy way – I can’t DEAL with a cheesy motivational quote), but actual real shit….. stuff that sometimes our brains just need to see as a pick me up, a metaphorical and colourful high five and a reminder that when things are crap, you’ve still absolutely got this.

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Naomi Edmondson in front of one of her murals.

So of course, I was delighted when I found out, that Naomi had been commissioned to produce some pieces of work to display across Make & Mend Festival grounds to be enjoyed. In fact, I think I did a little scream and said “THE Naomi Edmondson!?” …. I love it when fate just brings things together. So of course, when the opportunity arose to interview a Make & Mend artist as Culture Vulture, I was ALLLLL over Naomi like the creepy fangirl I can be…. “hi hi hi, I love you, I follow you on Instagram and I think you’re brilliant!”.

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Before I launch into my interview with Naomi, I suggest checking out her work to get a sense of it all. It’s mint. Naomi has turned the Instagram and advertising negativity on its head… instead of a social media feed with things that will make you feel inadequate or an advert in the street, that will remind you of all the things you should be doing to be a good adult….her work, is the antithesis of this – it’s like shit hot, positivity street art that shares some basic survival techniques in life.

So you get the sense that I LOVE her work, love the positive mental health theme running through out it and I want to shout loud and proud about Naomi to you all……. We need more of it in our lives and when I have an office, I want Naomi’s work within in.

So over to Naomi…

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Hi Naomi, absolute pleasure to talk to you and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat….so tell my readers who you are?

I’m Naomi Edmondson and I’m an artist with a street art project called Survival Techniques; it aims to promote hope and optimism and bring a little light to people having a dark day.

4 years ago, after a period of feeling very low, I wrote a list to remind me what to do when I was feeling bad: things that always made me feel a bit better. They were always super simple things like ‘Talk to someone, anyone, about anything’ which came from me chatting to the guy in my local shop for a few minutes. I realised that I would leave the shop feeling much more a part of the world again.

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After finding that friends found similar ‘Survival Techniques’ worked for them, I began to think about ways of sharing the list, and after seeing a local street artist at work in East London, decided that the street would be the best, most democratic place to share them.

The first wall I painted was “Hide Less Chat More” – words from the friend I’d first shared my list of Survival Techniques with. There are now many paintings spread across the UK and Japan.

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How did it all start….tell me about your journey into the creative world?

In my early twenties I was a professional freestyle skier, but after a string of season ending injuries, I decided to move back to the UK. I had a quarter-life crisis and eventually decided to study a 1 year Art & Design foundation course in London. I’d always enjoyed Art at school, but hadn’t really considered it for work. I completely loved my first course and went on to study BA Graphic & Media Design. I started working as a graphic designer for a book publisher and have been working on a freelance, part-time basis for that same publisher up until very recently, as I simultaneously worked on building the Survival Techniques project.

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You have a signature style….I love the bold typography choices…can you tell me the inspiration of your style?

I’ve always loved typography, and the reason I studied for my degree at London College of Communication was because they had a huge letterpress studio, full of drawers and drawers of letters. In particular I like dynamic, bold typography. It took me a while to get to the Survival Techniques style as I wanted to find that balance between colourful and eye-catching, whilst also putting the message first and foremost.

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How do you come up with the phrases for your Survival Techniques work?

When I first started the project I asked my friends and family to send me their Survival Techniques in any form. I then created phrases from what they told me, or edited down their words into the size and tone that I wanted. I am always collecting phrases; whenever I hold an exhibition there is a submissions box that people can post their Survival Techniques into, and I have always had a form on my website for the same thing.

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So for those who follow you on Insta, like this creepy fan girl right here, know you’ve been in Japan super recently with your work – so me about it?

This past year I’ve been out to Japan several times and have had 2 solo exhibitions in Tokyo. The first exhibition was in summer 2018 at UltraSuperNew Gallery during an intense heatwave. I gave a talk about my work and in partnership with the gallery we hosted a charity auction of 3 pieces of work in aid of the West Japan disaster that happened whilst I was there. The exhibition led onto a commission for the gallery to paint the shutter at the entrance to the building, and it also led onto my work moving across Tokyo in autumn for another solo exhibition to Park Gallery. I also collaborated with Park Gallery to run workshops for a group of adults and children, and I painted the front of the gallery in Spring 2019; I painted Open Your Doors, which are words that a 14-year old boy posted into the submissions box at my first exhibition at UltraSuperNew.

It feels incredible to be able to make work there, and be involved in the culture in a way I would never have expected and I feel so grateful for the experience and opportunities.

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People can buy your work….we all need more of your Survival Techniques in our life. Where do you tend to sell your work – where can people get them from?

Initially for print sales it was purely through my own online shop, which I still have and sell through, but I also now sell via galleries and dedicated print shops, in particular Atom Gallery and PrintClubLondon.

Paintings tend to sell via exhibitions and occasionally Instagram.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

How do you get approached for commissions?

Often commissions will come after I talk about Survival Techniques at an event; I think it’s the best way for people to understand the journey and reasoning of the project. Otherwise, having my work out on the street means that lots of people see it and then recognise other paintings. I think there is something immediately engaging about seeing work physically. To see work online or in print is always interesting and inspiring, but if people see my work in real life, out on the street somewhere, I think it is even easier to engage with.

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I find your work bold and yet quietly reflective – the colours enable the message to permeate whilst it triggers reflective thoughts about why i don’t necessarily feel that way in that moment and ignites a self determination to strive to feel that way. Was that intention?

Thank you and yes. I always try to find a balance between the colours being bright and hopeful, whilst also not shouting or being too commanding. I don’t have a scientific approach other than I always use a limited colour palette. I just work on it until it feels right, and like the colours together have the same feeling as what I want to say.

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What do you want people to feel and think when they see your work?

I hope that the messages will be gentle reminders of things you can do, or ways to look at a situation when you’re feeling low. It could be something you can do that same day or moment, or something that perhaps sticks on your mind and that you can call upon at a later date. I also hope that the messages will make people realise that everyone is struggling at different times and that they aren’t alone.

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Again through my stalking, I’ve discovered you were part of the World Book Day Teen campaign….how that that happen and how did you get involved?

I gave a talk about my work at an event in South-East London, where I have a lot of paintings. The ladies that run the studio that head up all of the design for World Book Day were there, started following my work, and a year later they got in touch to see if I’d be interested in collaborating. Reading has always been very important to me and I think World Book Day is such a brilliant event and charity, so it was a very easy decision to say yes.

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Some of your pieces have a distinctively positive feminist vibe – what does being a feminist mean to? Would you class yourself as a feminist?

I would definitely class myself as a feminist because I want to be treated equally to men. The inner levels of ourselves that the patriarchy reaches can be terrifying to discover sometimes. I think there can be no shortage of voices that give strength to women.

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Last year, you placed pieces “I am Here” – “I am a Woman” around London….. what did you want to achieve from that project?

I wanted to celebrate International Women’s Day in a way that felt relevant to my work and how I feel. I took those two paintings to locations around London that were or are key to women’s history and rights, for example meeting places for the suffragettes. I wrote the words I Am A Women and I Am Here as a way of unapologetically celebrating and claiming the place of those women, and of my own space in the city today.

You painted several commissions for Make & Mend Festival this year – I had the privilege of seeing them on site during the festival and they were just perfect additions. For those who didn’t attend, can you tell them a bit about your commissions.

I’ve created 5 paintings on wooden boards that were spread around the festival site. The words are Survival Techniques that relate directly to the ethos and vibe of Make & Mend.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

How did you come to get involved in this year’s festival?

Rachel, one of the organisers of the festival, got in touch about a collaboration and working together. I could immediately see so much common ground in what we were both doing and it was the perfect event for me to get involved with.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

Make & Mend Festival is all about giving yourself space to be creative and investing into your mental health through the power of craft and well-being focused activities – that seems to blend and connect well with your ethos at Survival Techniques. Why do you think creative opportunities and events are important for positive mental health?

I think we all need to be creative in one way or another. Finding that way is difficult nowadays as a lot of people don’t have that opportunity in their jobs. To be making things seems to be so important to what it means to be human. I run workshops where people can create their own Survival Techniques artwork and every time people are amazed at how relaxing it is to sit down and be creating something. One friend helping me to paint a mural and she said she nearly reached nirvana.

To go to an event that is focused on creativity is such a wonderful and important thing that you can do for yourself, and the benefits last way beyond the event itself.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

How does your practice and painting these positive affirmations influence your own mental health?

Painting each phrase onto a wall cements it into my mind and means it really stays with me. I still sometimes forget things, and when I think a little more in a situation and remember a certain painting I’ve done, for example ‘You Can Rest’; it helps me to stop dodging doing the good thing for myself, and just do it.

The actual physical act of painting is so calming and I feel lucky to be able to do it often.

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I’m an avid champion of the Northern Arts scene and I ask all artists from the South this question : Do you think there is a difference between the North & South Art scene?

I’m sorry to say I don’t know much about the North Art scene. I live in London, and up until recently all of my work has been based there, growing on the exposure and contacts I have in my local area until eventually I’m now creating work all across the city. I was so delighted to make work that was going to be outside of London as this is something I’ve always wanted to do.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

Do you come up North much?

Not as much as I’d like to. I really want to see the Keith Haring exhibition at Tate Liverpool, so hope to make a trip there soon. I spent New Year in the Lake District which was even more beautiful than I’d imagined. My brother and his family live in Scotland so I will visit them a couple of times a year, but I don’t currently have many other connections in the north at the moment.

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Well Naomi my dear, the North East is calling out for you to properly visit and if you need a tour guide….this gal is the one to ask!

Naomi’s work really is fantastic and I suggest that you follow her on Insta for some colour and positivity in your life!

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Zara Worth – Online/Offline: Art, Academia & Instagram

Ok I admit it – I’ve recently lost my blogging mojo and it’s been a while since I’ve posted – my head has been full of projects and events…..well after some time out away – I’m back and I’ve lined up some cracking posts and some brilliant interviews with artists.

So first up is an interview with the wonderful Zara Worth. Zara has been an artist on my radar for a while – someone who has kept popping up in either my news feed or connected to various projects. So I was delighted when she emailed me about a year ago – introducing herself and her projects. It’s so lovely to have artists actually reach out and tell me about their work (So why not do the same!?)….

I became really interested in the fact she is a post graduate student – as someone who has always been in love with academia, research and what I’d like to call intellectual adventuring – I’m extremely hungry for knowledge and challenging it. I’ve always been interested in an artist/creative, something we assume is inherently practical actually engaging in PhD research. And there are lots of artists and performers out there doing just that – I really enjoy the process of reading their research/papers whilst simultaneously enjoying their pieces of work or performances. For me it adds often an additional socio-dynamic or element of political/self-expression.

Zara explores many themes in her work – but the ones I’m currently captivated by; living your life both off line and online and the effect that has on your mental health and self-identity. As an introvert who has made a living building a brand and identity online – I find it an interesting topic especially when I consider the impact of living my life as The Culture Vulture visibly and how that sits at odds with the fact I’m actually a very private person and one, that whilst I knows a lot of people – I only have a certain amount of really meaningful friendships. Secondly, how people perceive me after getting to know me online – their construction of who I am, my personality, how I will interact in “real” life – the fact via social media we build up snap shots of people via what their shareable content and Instagram feed. Which leads onto questions about mental health – especially in the North East where there have been several recent suicides of people many would consider “influencers” on social media and who presented a very happy, exciting and often successful life…..img-0796_orig

Screenshot of ‘Economics of the Kitchen (an A to Z)’ appearing in Instagram feed (Zara Worth 2018) [performance to video for Instagram]

Zara has recently ran a workshop with discussion at Vane in which she invited participants to explore social media and self-identity…. Whilst I couldn’t attend (booo to working every weekend over the Summer and missing some ace events!) – I heard some fantastic things and I’m delighted that she’s running another version as part of the Gateshead Live programme in October for young people and adults alike. Attendees will use collage as the medium to patch together social media identities – a bit like an Instagram feed. So whilst it’s an opportunity to explore the creation of social media themes, styles, visuals and making them as impactful and engaging as possible – it’s also an opportunity to reflect on how social media imagery prompts us to feel, trigger us to behave and influences our mind set.

You can find out more about the upcoming workshop by following the link

So I’ve told you why I’m super interested in Zara and her work …. But now it’s time to hear from Zara herself. So Culture Vultures…. Who is Zara Worth when she’s both online and offline?

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Zara Worth

Hi Zara – thank you for agreeing to be my blog subject! I first discovered your work when I was researching Northern artists about a year ago – so it’s so brilliant to finally connect – we have so many mutual creative interests. Can you tell my readers about your work?

Lovely to be discovered! My work at this moment feels to be a type of contemporary religious art; I’ve been reflecting a lot on what connects my current practice with the work I’ve made in the past and I’ve realised I am drawn towards belief systems and ideological communities.

In terms of how I make work, currently I’m exploring developing a practice which mirrors our current condition of living life simultaneously on- and off-line: so nearly all of the works I’ve been making since 2016 have an online element – usually on Instagram on the @zara_worth account – and also have an offline aspect – so drawing, or perhaps an object. I’ve also started using the same title for works with connected on- and off-line elements, to further conflate this relationship between them.

Instagram has been a key source of interest since 2014; and its prevalence as a theme within my work has led my practice to be described as ‘swipe-specific’: a term which I also really align with.

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‘The Artist’s Presence’ (Zara Worth – 2018) [Chairs and AR app] made with kind support from Ian Truelove and Field Design

Swipe-specific is something I really align with too – everything is so in the moment, instantly discovereable but equally immediately forgettable….

Everyone has a really interesting story of how they got involved in the arts….so tell me about your journey?

I suppose my journey is fairly typical; being an artist always felt inevitable, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to pursue it. One thing I always find interesting, particularly at this stage in my life, is how hard people find understanding that you identify as something – an artist – which isn’t necessarily your primary or only source of income. I used to think that I would be satisfied with just helping other people with their creative projects – working in film or for other artists – I very quickly realised that I was miserable if I wasn’t making my own work.

The origins of my interest in belief systems is perhaps more interesting than my story as an artist so far. Whilst puzzling over why I have these aesthetic preferences starting my PhD it dawned upon me the impact that my Granny’s faith had on me. At this point it is important to note that my Granny seemingly inexplicably became a devout follower of the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s also worth noting that my family is in no way Russian and to this day I have no idea why this was the particular strand of Christianity that she was drawn to.

Living in Congleton, Cheshire, funnily enough there wasn’t anywhere specifically Russian Orthodox to worship, so being pragmatic she bought a large shed from B&Q and started a Russian Orthodox church in her back garden, complete with papier-mâché onion dome (later replaced with a fiberglass one when the first one melted in the rain). So growing up, when I went to Granny’s house I was surrounded by religious icons, and I used to love trotting down to the back of the garden and lighting candles and incense in the church. She died when I was 17 and I never properly spoke to her about her faith, and I suppose a lot of my work is trying to make sense of its significance.

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‘QR Codes’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2018) [QR codes on rice paper]

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‘Void Fill’ (Zara Worth/Vane 2018) [void fill strip curtain]

I have aspirations of one day returning into academia and education at some point – I’d certainly like to do a postgraduate in 2019 – something around people and behaviour and also a coaching qualification  – I know you’re doing your PhD…… how does that compliment or effect your arts practice?

Someone recently asked me if starting a PhD had caused me to hate my art practice and that completely horrified me. I’m just starting my third year of a part-time PhD (six years in total) and my experience so far has been brilliant; studying at Leeds Beckett University has already opened up so many doors and I’ve worked in collaboration with some really fantastic academics, so it has been a very productive time already. My practice is driven by ideas, so I’m not forcing an academic framework on my practice.

I would also say to anyone thinking about doing a PhD to try to make sure you work well with your Director of Studies and your Supervisor(s); I already knew my Director of Studies, Professor Simon Morris and really landed on my feet with my Supervisor, Dr Jill Gibbon, but I’m aware of other people at other institutions who do not have great relationships with theirs and it’s been hell for them.

I’ve really been enjoying studying part-time; I was a full-time Masters student when I was at Goldsmiths and the whole thing felt like a mad sprint and I don’t feel I really had time to get the most out of the experience. I feel very fortunate to have received a part-time studentship as it’s allowed me to pursue other experiences alongside study, which would have been inconceivable if I was a full-time student, plus it supports the development of a sustainable practice in the long run – as the reality is I am unlikely to have the luxury of practising art full-time in the immediate future.

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 ‘Quotations I, III, II’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2018) [23.5 carat gold leaf on paper]

I agree with that – becoming sustainable in the creative and cultural sector is a strategic process – very similar to building a business. Back to your work – what mediums do you use?

The medium is the message. I like my work to be loaded, so the materials should be working ideologically as well as be visually interesting. As I’ve mentioned, my recent works have on- and off-line lives, the online aspects have been predominantly performance to video for Instagram, and Instagram collages; though recently I created a piece involving Augmented Reality.

As for the off-line aspects of the work, mediums include celery; void fill (packing peanuts); and 23.5 carat gold, all chosen for the significance that they carry.

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‘A drawing made by cutting up my body weight in celery’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2016-17) [celery and kitchen knife on paper]

We are going into the latter part of the year – it’s insane how quickly this year has gone by. Consequently, this question seems crazily appropriate – what’s been your highlight of 2018 so far?

Opening my first solo-exhibition, ‘FEED’, at Vane, this August. The Directors at Vane, Chirs Yeats and Paul Stone, have been incredibly supportive and I’ve had such an amazing response from visitors and everyone who has participated in the events running alongside; it’s been quite overwhelming. In the same month I also installed Matty Bovan’s exhibition for the London Design Biennale – I was Project Manager and it has been brilliant to be a part of; quite a crazy summer.

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‘A drawing made by cutting up my body weight in celery’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2016-17) [performance to video for Instagram]

Going forward into 2019 – what do you have planned?

I’m joining The Newbridge Project’s Collective Studio programme, which is a nine-month studio residency and development programme for emerging artists, so by 2019 I’ll be immersed in the programme.

I’m in the early stages of planning an exhibition with Carol Sommer looking particularly at the use of language on Instagram, and in early 2019, if not sooner, the issue of The Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, which I’ve been guest-editing, should be published! I’m also wanting to focus on moving my writing forward with my PhD, up until now, everything has been very practice-led; as a practice-led PhD should be, but I’m really looking forward to spending some time digging down into the work I’ve been making.

You seem to have connections with mental health with projects and are passionate about the project area (as am I!) – can you tell me a bit more?

I work part-time at Gateshead College and was fortunate enough to receive a Level 1 qualification in Mental Health Awareness through an ESF course provided by the College. It really drew my attention to the importance of caring for our mental health and I started drafting ideas for a mindfulness workshop with input from a friend who is a professional art therapist.

During the collage workshop, ‘DisCONTENTed Dining’, which I ran at Vane to coincide with my exhibition, we were making collages in reference to social media, and something which came up was how much pressure people feel under after looking at social media, but how calming it was just taking time to participate in a creative activity. I’ll be running a similar workshop very soon in Gateshead and in early 2019 will deliver ‘Still Life, Still Mind’: a mindfulness drawing workshop designed to encourage positive mental health using creative drawing exercises which participants can replicate at home. My research does make me concerned about the negative impact social media has on our mental health, so I hope that these activities and exhibitions offer some small ways to resist against that and also help us reflect on our own behaviours when we are online.

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Screenshot of ‘Economics of the Kitchen (an A to Z)’ appearing in Instagram feed (Zara Worth – 2018) [performance to video for Instagram]

Well thank you Zara and good luck with your Newbridge residency – excited to see how that pans out! Extremely excited to see more of Zara’s work and how the mental health and social media element further entertwine and develop.

I am beginning to work on the very beginnings of a mental health event for 2019 for freelancers, self-employed and creatives and I sense some real synergy here! If you’d like to meet Zara – as she mentioned, she’s running another social media workshop called “Who am I, when I’m online?” in Gateshead….. you’ll have the opportunity to explore Instagram as a channel, use collage techniques to consider how we present ourselves online and think/reflect on the difference between online and offline identities…. So come along and do something creative on 6th October and join what is sure to be some really interesting discussion!

Megan Randall; Guerilla Clay, #getnorth2018 & making.

I was delighted to recently be invited to do some real time culture vulturing around Ouseburn Open Studios for their spring event. Just trumped by Eurovision, Open Studios is a calendar favourite of mine. I had a wonderful time with my pretend paparazzi for the day, professional photographer and lush megababe Marion Botella, who captured my every move as I visited The Biscuit Factory, 36 Lime Street Studios, Northern Print, Jim Edwards Studios and The Kiln.

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One of my favourite elements of Open Studios is the opportunity to chat to artists and find out more about their process, passion , pieces…..most of the time, the people behind the art are just (if not more) interesting as the art itself. For the Spring Open Studios, the Biscuit Factory did something extra special in celebration of International Women’s Day; they invited the likes (and absolutely megababe favourites) The Crafthood, All Round Creative Junkie, Trendlistr, Megan Randall and others to host pop ups. Championing Northern artists is what I’m all about so that gets me excited, but championing female artists, well that gets me jumping out of bed in the morning!

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Artist Megan Randall

I loved my Spring Open Studios experience and it was the perfect opportunity to catch up with all the pop up artists at The Biscuit Factory especially ceramic artist and maker Megan Randall. I’ve met Megan a few times – she’s been to Culture Vulture events (yay!), works as a freelance participatory artist for the Baltic, hosts amazing pop up sessions at The Thought Foundation in Gateshead, has an interesting practice – all alongside a commission for The Great Exhibition of the North. Her pop up at The Biscuit Factory invited participants to create small, white porcelain flowers which would be used as part of the #getnorth2018 wider project.

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Megan is a fantastically interesting artist and maker – her work and passion is multidimensional; it crosses many different art forms. I really loved Megan’s recent 2016 Guerilla Clay Project; a series of installations, interventions and workshops in Northumberland National Park to engage communities, residents and visitors. The project came from the idea of sharing clay artworks with the world in an anonymous way; making things and putting them in public spaces for strangers to appreciate.  ‘Guerilla’ anything interests me – putting something pop up, unexpected or starkly out of place in a space really interests me.

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I also really like Public Art for the reason of community shared ownership, the ability to view art accessibly without a threshold, stumble across it almost but still able to fully appreciate it. In an open public space – the art belongs to everyone and every individual thinks, feels or connects to it differently.

Megan says this about her work: “In the process of my work I relinquish control, instead of having a predetermined outcome of how the work will be received. I do not mind if the work is stolen, destroyed or rearranged just as long as it is treated with the same passion used to create it.” I find this really interesting – as many artists become so unbelievably attached to their work, almost like a part of them. And even I with my creative projects – I could not disconnect at the point of project implementation and delivery….

I took my Open Studios visit as the perfect opportunity to catch up with Megan and get to know her more….find out about her projects.

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Hiyer Megan, it’s been lovely to chat and catch up – can you tell me how you became involved in this Spring Open Studios?

Rachel Brown, Biscuit Factory Gallery manager, invited me to attend the event; I had discussed with her making some work as part of Great Exhibition of the North and she wanted to link that to open studios for visitors to contribute to the project and see me making.

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Ohhh so this Biscuit Factory commissioned project is for #getnorth2018 – that’s really exciting! So brilliant to see Northern artists benefitting and securing work from what is going to be an ace summer! Tell me more about the project?

I am making a large installation that will be made up of approximately 14000 magnetic Parian flowers. The flowers are made by a combination of mould making and hand building; they range in size from 2cm to 14cm in diameter and each flower will be completely unique.

During Spring Open Studios, I made with visitors several hundred flowers, all of which will form part of the huge installation, almost a wall of texture. Each flower will be individually for sale except a number (including those made at open studios) which will be given away to distribute on street signs and lamp posts through-out the city.

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More Guerilla art, I love it! So where can people see the final piece?

The work will be displayed in the biscuit factory during #getnorth2018.

I love the individualistic nature of each flower and the fact so many Northern folk & Biscuit Factory visitors will have contributed to the end piece. What are you hoping people will think when they view the large piece?

I want people who visit the gallery to be confronted with a wall of texture which is bigger than them and is formed of small delicate components so that it becomes a solid mass of texture. I like the idea of being overwhelmed by something which individually so small.

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I know this is a super hard question to answer but I’m going to ask it anyway! Tell me more and your practice?

My practice is a confusing one; I have two strands. The first is Megan Randall (@meg_makes) which is where I make installations using hundreds, sometimes thousands of components. The second is Cobalt and Lustre (@cobaltandlustre) where I make and sell designed ceramics homewares, jewellery and art.

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The two practices complement each other; I make the large scale installation pieces because I love playing with spaces, watching people’s interactions with ceramic objects and gifting places with unusual objects. In my own artistic practice I tend to selfishly make for myself, make work which tackles issues which are important to me. This selfish making develops skills, new designs and new ideas which feeds into work made for Cobalt and Lustre; a wonderful platform to talk to people, gauge reactions, and get into the meditative role of making.

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Tell me about your journey into the arts?

I got the clay bug at primary school when I worked with a visiting artist to carve a clay robot which is still attached to the outside of the school. This encounter means that now I love working as an artist facilitator and working with schools, collages, families and community groups. I think that art is getting pushed further out of school timetabling which means there is less time to mess and explore materials, which alienates kids like me who were a bit rubbish at English and maths.

I did an art foundation then came to Sunderland University where I studied glass and ceramics at degree level and then went on to explore ceramics as a PhD student.

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Favourite project of 2017?

My favourite project of 2017 was being commissioned by art mix at the Baltic to make a bed and ceramic quilt where I collected peoples’ hopes and dreams. It was part of an exhibition called ‘What Happens to a Dream Deferred’ and for me was all about making beds and laying in them. I received a huge response and had dreams ranging from, ‘I want a pet dinosaur’ to peoples’ hopes for marriage proposals and regrets of broken relationships. There is something about anonymity that frees up people to say what they really mean. It’s why toilet cubicle graffiti is so interesting!

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Love that you made a project out of beds….One of my favourite venues in Gateshead is the Thought Foundation – what do you do there?

As well as working with the Baltic and National Glass Centre, I also work with Thought Foundation in Birtley. I love the space as a venue as it is so welcoming and inclusive, I sell things in their shop which is beautifully curated and have exhibited in their gallery space. I have also started delivering some workshops from there. And, it also sells an amazing caramel apple cake!

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Tell me about your future projects?

In 2018/19 I made a promise to myself to make an artwork each week, which is going well. I’m currently making 365 clay knots, all based around a love hate relationship with clay with is beautiful and malleable one minute and cracks and breaks the next.

I have been working with lots of school groups and applying for funding to instigate a project with older people based around memories. I will be exhibiting work at the Biscuit Factory and Thought Foundation in June. I have made a new range of jewellery for Cobalt and Lustre and have other projects lined up with local creative companies.

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Well that sounds ace Megan – I’m so excited to see your Guerilla flowers across the city during Great Exhibition of the North and to see your piece at The Biscuit Factory.

Check out Megan’s work Culture Vultures – it’s truly wonderful!