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

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

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – me and jack

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

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

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

Artist Anya Paintsil leaning against a shop window.

Anya Paintsil

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

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

How would describe your practice?

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

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil Mair at Cylch Meithrin

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

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

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

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – Your Mum Eats Like a Camel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example of Anya’s work

Anya Paintsil – thirty six inch in six thirteen

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

Usually between a week or a month.

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

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

It is such a cathartic process.

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

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – Self Portrait

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

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

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

How have you been spending lock down?

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

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

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

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

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsl – ni yn unig

What are you working on right now? Any projects?

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

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

You should check out….

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

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

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

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

I would like to see

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

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

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

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

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – feeling powerful with my red nails

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

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

Until next time Culture Vultures!

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

Culture Vulture visit to The Hancock Gallery

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

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

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

The Hancock Gallery – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

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

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

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

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

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

The Hancock Gallery – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hancock Gallery (Image Credit Coffee Design)

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

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

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

Until next time Culture Vultures.

The Hancock Gallery – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Who could be the next Leonardo Da Vinci? #bemoreMary

We are getting towards the end of the run of Sunderland Museum & Winter Garden’s Leonardo da Vinci: A Life In Drawing exhibition. It closes on 6th May so it really is your last chance to view right here in the North East. I’ve been so immersed in the project and eagerly seeing audiences’ responses – that it’s dawned on me; Leonardo da Vinci was just a man…. a super talented one, but just a human none the less. His legacy and the impact of his work, has given him this almost super human status across so many sectors.

Then I got thinking that I wonder in 500 years from now, who are the artists that we might be celebrating (in a similar way to 2019’s Leonardo 500 campaign) for their works and legacy? Which artists are walking amongst us as fellow humans, who might someday hold this super human Leonardo-esque status?

Single use only; not to be archived or passed on to third parties.

Copyright Royal Collection Trust

And if that’s the case, I wish we could find them and champion them now, when they are living. So a month or so ago, I caught up Sunderland lass, artist and curator Michaela Wetherell and I posed her the question….”who do you think could be classed as the NEXT Leonardo da Vinci?”.

Da Vinci was an innovator, designer, maker, artist, activist, entrepreneur, inventor….he saw the world a little differently and created work that enabled us to begin to see the world and its potential through his eyes. It was an interesting concept exploring who exists today, who is doing things a little differently like Leonardo da Vinci in society when he was alive.

So I set Michaela a challenge…. I asked her to guest write a blog post using her own opinion and an Instagram call out in the wider artist community for suggestions, to answer the question –  “Who could be seen today as the next Da Vinci”?.

Michaela

Michaela Wetherell: a guest blog post edited by The Culture Vulture.

I’m a born and bred Mackem; totally and unashamedly proud of where I come from. I was raised in a little pit village called Shiney Row where I totally and utterly fell in love with the arts. In Shiney Row, culture wasn’t exactly at the main point of conversation and you couldn’t imagine having a career in the arts – it just seemed impossible. Even when growing up in the 90s where “girl power” was seen as the feminist battle cry – you could be just like Barbie and grow up to be whoever you want to be!  It seemed impossible coming from a place where culture seemed dead.

But luckily for me, I was blessed with parents who took me to museums and galleries when I was young and the art bug bit me HARD!! After years of making, learning, creating, researching, educating, volunteering to freelance I finally made a career out of it and became a curator based in the North East.

I share this because I was lucky; today education in the arts is becoming harder and harder to reach. University funds are immensely expensive, arts education in schools is being cut so museums and galleries are hugely important to educate and inspire not only young minds but everyone who believe art is not for them, just like it did to me.

So I was thrilled to hear that Sunderland was selected as a place to display selected drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci. You can’t get any bigger than Da Vinci and the thought of schools and locals coming to see this exhibition made my little art heart sing! If you haven’t seen the exhibition yet…. you should!

Da Vinci was a pioneer of everything! Maths, Invention, Art, sculpture, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography just to name a few!! You name it he did it!

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Copyright Royal Collection Trust

Many people will argue that no one could come close to Da Vinci’s genius…..but I beg to differ.

There are so many incredible artists out there who are pushing the boundaries of art, technology, science and socialism just like Da Vinci did, so here I am in this blog post sharing with you some of the local, National and International artists who could very well be The Next Da Vinci.

Local Artists

IDA4 – The Rebel.

There has always been a lot of speculation surrounding Da Vinci’s sexuality and his role as rule breaker and activist. Like many artists, he used his voice to push forward his version of the world, challenged the rules and norms and look beyond. But do we view his art as political? Is it considered in today’s terms activist art?

Many artists use their work in a similar way that Da Vinci did – to put forward a proposition, have their voices heard, use their arts to break the rules and to create a social commentary about the society at the time.

Chris Fleming or IDA4 is a graffiti artist who focuses his work on the LQBTQ+ communities and social commentary. He has created work about Trans Identity, celebrates drag queens and has created amazing mural street art around the North East and beyond.

In 2014, on the day the Sochi Winter Olympics Ceremony was showing across all media platforms, Chris created a street art graffiti piece in the centre of Newcastle of a man being arrested by the police with the Olympic rings as cuffs. This was a protest against newly reformed laws on gay propaganda. Chris’s work is meticulous; he creates his stencils before he even finds a canvas and creates layers upon layers of spray paint to get the depth and texture info his forms. Like Da Vinci, Chris uses anything he can get his hand on to spray on. Street walls (permitted of course), Studio doors, canvas, cardboard! And just like Da Vinci his work makes me smile and is often instantly recognisable.

Ida4

Future Da Vinci – Members of Thought Foundation Art Club

I currently work as a curator for Thought Foundation in Birtley. A huge part of our vision in the arts is not just learning new skills but reinforcing that you do not have to be an incredible painter or drawer to love and learn where your creativity flows.

We have an amazing Educational Officer (I am sure she hates it when I call her that) Amanda McMahon, who is an incredible woman who runs art classes every Saturday morning. These little ones come in with such enthusiasm and passion to learn and explore through art. Creating new work, taking creative chances and seeing how their work with progress week to week; I see these young humans as little Da Vinci’s in the making.

Leanne Pearce Billinghurst – Traditional portraits with a contemporary twist

You would think breastfeeding in 2019 would not lead to controversy. But still in modern day society, you hear stories of women being shunned to bathrooms, made to feel uncomfortable and of course, the fact a female nipple is still censored online. Yet artists have been painting women and child breastfeeding for centuries, celebrating the female form and representing the bond between Mother and Child! In 1490, Leonardo da Vinci painted Madonna Litta’ a painting of the Virgin Mary, breastfeeding Christ – a painting that I’m sure was controversial at the time but is considered a “high power work”.

Leanne Pearce Billinghurst is a modern day artist that combines traditional portraiture like Da Vinci but with a contemporary twist often using the subject of breastfeeding. Leanne takes the traditional overused, overseen images of the male gaze over the female body and creates beautiful large scale paintings of breastfeeding mothers. Her paintings are not of saints and noble figures, like Da Vinci’s female portraits often were, but women in their day to day lives breastfeeding children. Leanne’s work celebrates breastfeeding mothers, just like Da Vinci did in the Madonna Litta’ and challenges those in society, who believe an important, natural function should be hidden away.

leanne_self_portrait

Cack Handed Kid – The Skull King of Newcastle

Da Vinci was fascinated with anatomical studies; he would study and draw from Doctors’ studies and morgues. His detailed studies are something of wonder and show unintentionally the macabre of the time where anatomy wouldn’t normally be shown to the public. Anatomical studies in art have evolved throughout art history and today the obsession is still strong; with skulls featuring heavily in tattoo art, fashion design, symbols etc.

Cack Handed Kid is partly responsible for flying the flag across the North East, keeping the anatomical obsession alive – his artist skull designs and illustrations are printed around Newcastle and he’s a talented tattoo apprentice. Out of all the artists who use the human anatomy in their work I LOVE Mr Kids work.

I love the macabre anatomy details of his skulls with the precision of his pen and the detail he can draw. The reason why I love his work is so much is that it has a pop culture funny twist connected to them. Of course, I want to see the inside of Mickey Mouse head and Felix the cat, who wouldn’t!?

Cack handed kid

Jonpaul Kirvan – The Mad Scientist at Ampersand Inventions

I can imagine Da Vinci’s mind being abit like a hamster on a wheel full of never ending thoughts and ideas, just going faster and faster, whilst always on the go. That Da Vinci style of mind, is exactly how I think artist, director, building manager and all around creative, JohnPaul Kirvan’s mind works too. If you know JP you wouldn’t think he creates his own work as he’s normally running around Commercial Union House, keeping the building on its feet and supporting other creatives. But when you see his work you can see his personality all over them; he takes found objects and repurposes them to create works that explore literary escapism. In his practice, he creates large installations where he collects objects and images and creates chaotic, cluttered and wonderful spaces.

JP believes that the most important aspect of the creative process is the process itself of designing, devising and making – just like Leonardo da Vinci. When beginning to create an installation he starts with the idea and concept and allows himself to be led connecting multiple ideas, binding them together into something larger and more meaningful than the individual elements.
Amper

Ampersand Inventions

Zara Worth – The Next Generation.

I have been a fan of Zara Worth for many years now and I have had the pleasure of working with her in the past. Last year she had an exhibition at Vane gallery in Newcastle called FEED’. FEED’ brought together a body of work created since 2016. Concerned with our relationships with hand-held technology and social media, Worth’s practice has been described by curator Tyler Robarge as ‘swipe-specific’: using online culture and technology as subject and medium for artworks with on- and offline lives. Throughout the exhibition materials and methods of creative production point to themes of value, presence and self-image in the social media age.

Like Da Vinci you cannot put her practice in a box. In her work, she has used video, photography, painting, technology, found objects, collage and textiles to name a few! And just like Da Vinci, she is an academic at heart and uses this within her own drawing practice.

My favourite work in her recent FEED exhibition was “The artist’s presence.”; two chairs face each other and when you download the app you point the phone to a certain point on the chair and Zara appears. The work explicitly references Marina Abramović’s performance ‘The Artist is Present’ (2010) in order to question notions of real ‘presence’ in the digital age. I love this piece because in the hologram she looks like an oil painting that has been digitally been removed from a painting, bringing together old and new ways of seeing art.

Much like Da Vinci, Zara uses technology and innovation in her work to ask questions of the present and the possible. Da Vinci not only used technology in his practice- but he was a master innovator, creator and designer.

ZARA1
National Artists

Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark

Da Vinci is not overly known for being a sculptor but he certainly did dabble, as he did with everything! He was captivated by objects and people’s “form”. When I was researching for this blog post, I knew I wanted to look at sculptors and this amazing artist popped up straight away; Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark!  Her work explores the playful theatricality of sculpture, examining the space between objects modelling the real and its ability to usurp the ‘original’ as self-sustaining fictions. It also raises important social comments around whitewashing not only in sculpture but in all art history – by presenting and celebrating the diversity of humans and differing races which has always existed.

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Pippa Young

Another artist I discovered when considering the ‘next Da Vinci’ was Pippa Young; she’s an artist, like Leanne, who uses traditional drawing and painting with a lovely contemporary twist! Pippa’s works are hyper realistic portraits with a missing imprint on each piece of work. A missing hat, an “unfinished” collar, the portraits are reminiscent of some of Da Vinci’s portraits, full of realism, character, representations of people and an often haunting vacant stare out communicating directly to the audience.

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International Artists

Rafael Lozano Hemmer

I learnt about Rafael Lozano Hemmer’s work when studying for my MA in Curating at Sunderland University.  We were learning about New Media artists and honestly, I was not connecting with the movement at all… until I learnt the name Rafael Lozano Hemmer and I was hooked!  Rafael is a Mexican Canadian electronic artist whose works branches to architecture, technological theatre and performance. My favourite piece of work he created is Pulse Room.

Pulse Room is an interactive installation featuring one to three hundred clear incandescent light bulbs. The bulbs fill the space with an interface placed on a side of the room has a sensor that detects the heart rate of participants. When someone holds the interface, a computer detects a pulse and immediately sets off the closest bulb to flash at the exact rhythm of the heart. When the participate let’s go of the interface all the lights turn off and then starts flashing then the other heartbeats move down the room until it disappears. I love this piece because it blends technology, shared experiences and human connection brilliantly just like Da Vinci did.

Pulse words

Bathsheba Grossman

Da Vinci used mathematical calculations and design techniques to create work and inventions that are equally considered pieces of art work and mathematical genius. I tried to look for a modern day artist, that could be considered in the same way and my research led me to Bathsheba Grossman and her work blew me away. Bathsheba creates sculptures using computer-aided design and three-dimensional modelling. They use mathematics in creating these extremely beautiful but precise works just like Rafael Lozano Hemmer, uses new and growing technology within their practice creating pieces that are experimental and innovative. Some of the pieces are actually quite functional – like interesting bottle openers.

Bathsheba

So that’s the “Future Da Vinci list” and ones to watch out for! I hope that this blog has inspired you to learn more about these artists and beyond!

All my love Michaela xx

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Well what a list and I’ve certainly discovered and fan girled over several new artists in the process of editing it. So much talent there – and some of the above are quite ordinary people, a human just like Da Vinci, who have achieved some extraordinary things.

I’ve got so many take away messages –

  • Da Vinci’s legacy lives on inspiring and permeating past, present and future artists, people and projects.
  • The world is just filled with fantastically talented humans – the above list is not exhaustive and is just a hint of some of the talent that exists out there and some of the people who are real trail blazers in their own right.
  • That artists can be more than one thing….”oh so you’re just an artist” – why yes, I’m a designer, innovator, maker, creator, visionary, artist, inventor, rule breaker, academic, researcher, opportunity seeking business person….Leonardo da Vinci evidences how cross sector artists are, how they don’t feel the same fear trying something new, experimenting and that artists have the power to reimagine and look beyond normative restrictions of possibility.
  • Art is a fearless social commentary – it does not shy away from newness, truth seeking and challenging narratives. It enables audiences to see the world through different eyes and at the very least, question their own reality and perceptions.
  • Da Vinci experimented and was fearless in the face of failure – he did many versions of his work and in some cases, these “sketches” that we visit and love at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens today, are the very same, as that sleepless night when you’re consumed with a new idea and at 2am and write, scribble or draw in your note book. He continuously learnt, bettered himself, was hungry for knowledge, disproved his own theories until he got to the truth and remained in a constant state of personal development until he died. Growing and learning never stops.
  • He absorbed influence from society, innovation and new learning of the time – but at the end of the day, Leonardo da Vinci put out the work, into the world, that he wanted to and meant something to him…..now I’m not commenting on status of privilege here (and his means of doing so), I’m commenting on the core value and self-belief of being able to do that. Being able to fall in love with your own ideas and art and make them real.

But the main take away, I have from above – comes from a friend who has established the mantra and hashtag #bemoremary – in relation to her little girl who is absolutely as fearless, full of character, creative and just all round lush. Whether you’re an artist, creative, art lover or a fellow (or future) Culture Vulture, I want you to embrace some of that Da Vinci mindset and BE MORE MARY!

Who knows…may be little Mary from Sunderland is the next Da Vinci?!

You can still catch the end of the exhibition run at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens – tickets available from here!

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Mary ^^

Until next time Culture Vultures. xx