What is a curator? What do they do? I interviewed The Biscuit Factory’s curators to find out!

Curators are defined by The Oxford Dictionary as “the keepers or custodians of a museum or other collection”…. But what does that actually mean? Who are they, what do they do, why are they important to important to museums, galleries, heritage centres and the creative and cultural sector…..? I honestly believe the majority of folks out there have no idea what curators do and as a profession, as it’s not front facing to the public and a lot of what they do is behind closed doors – even in the cultural sector, their role can be perceived quite mysterious, there is a lot of misunderstanding and (in my opinion) there is often a bit of a disconnect between artists and curators.

Over recent years, the words “curate”, “curation” and “curator” have all be absorbed into popular culture and are so overused to the point of diluting their meaning. Folks now “curate” displays, a sandwich, a playlist…. The overuse of the word is a weeee bit of a trigger for me to go on a rant (understatement of the century – but we all have our burdens to bear)……you did not “curate” a sandwich, you simply made.a.decision.

So as part of my mission to shine a light on curators in general and what they do, I thought I’d reach out to The Biscuit Factory curators and see if they would be up for a Culture Vulture interview. The Biscuit Factory is the UK’s largest independent commercial art, craft & design gallery set in the heart of Newcastle’s cultural quarter of Ouseburn and one of my favourite galleries – I love the variety of work displayed – it’s full of colour and very different types of art and interiors. If you haven’t visited yet or haven’t for a while, it’s a must visit – it’s obviously closed right now due to COVID-19 but will be open once more in the future. You can check out The Biscuit Factor online gallery here to see the artists and art works they have on their books.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

I was delighted that the curators accepted, it can be quite scary Mary to have a stranger come in and question your work and processes – so I was prepared for the “no”.  But I got a big fat yes and I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with them (they were so lovely and lush!) asking all my questions…..and believe me, I had a lot thanks to my question call out on my social channels from my fellow Culture Vultures. Consequently, it was less of an interview and more of a creatively curious interrogation (my Line Of Duty obsession, has made me an EXCELLENT interrogator….”Mother of God..!”). But we did have a lush chat and strayed away from curator talk into debating creative careers and opportunities…..

So here we go, an interview The Biscuit Factory curators; Sam Waters, the 3D curator, Sam Knowles – 2D curator and Mika Browning – jewellery curator; this is a long LUSH interview, so buckle up and it’s perfect for your lock down reading.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – Right, let’s start with some intros for my readers and followers…  

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: My name is Sam Waters; I’m the 3D curator at The Biscuit Factory and I have responsibility for sourcing, managing and displaying the items which fall within the 3D product group here. Things like sculpture, ceramic, glass and furniture; basically stuff which is not wall based, although occasionally wall based too. I also look after the cards for the gallery and a few other sort of ancillary things. I’ve been here since 2010 so coming up to ten years.

Before this I was very briefly at another local gallery which doesn’t exist anymore called the Artworks Galleries where I did a mixture of things and event space things predominantly. Before that I was a self-employed copywriter and photographer. And that’s about it.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: My name’s Sam Knowles, I’m the 2D curator which means I’m in charge of paintings, prints and photography; the bigger part of that by far is the paintings and prints. I spend my time sourcing and inviting people to the gallery, managing their artwork, suggesting what comes here and what might sell the best, cataloguing it when it arrives, displaying it, looking after work in the store rooms that’s not currently on show, making sure all the stock is as it needs to be, putting on displays, making sure the gallery is constantly sort of replenished, should anything sell or be moved or sent back to artists and being the person to get that work ready should anyone want to collect stuff either having been sold or being returned to them for other exhibitions elsewhere.

I’ve been here since 2007; I originally started as a gallery assistant, then took on photography which used to be a bigger part here with a lot of graduate exhibitions. Now I spend most of my time in charge of paintings and prints and beyond that I’ve got some responsibility for how the gallery physically looks in terms of wall colouring and floor layout.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I’m Mika Browning, the jewellery curator and I’m quite new; I’ve been here for a year now. I look after all the jewellery that comes in and the display; it’s quite interesting for me because before this I’d been self employed as a jeweller myself for quite a long time, so I’ve kind of stepped to the other side.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: With you looking after three different departments within one gallery space, how do you all work together and collaborate as curators?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: It can be ad hoc coming together and collaborating. Often we won’t be totally aware of what each other’s booked in but when we’re putting a show together, we’ll make sure that things complement each other.

When we have an open call out like the recent Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020; we will go through the submissions together to pick out submissions to be a part of the exhibition – we had about 1200 submissions from all over the world and we worked together to display the work and shared the load.

But a lot of the time, we’re just in our own departments, getting in our own work; but once the work is here, we realise there’s common ground and if it will work together. There can be any number of reasons why one piece of art can go with another; its subject or colour or style or just the sort of person we think it might appeal to, even if the work itself is nothing like each other. That process tends to be something that happens once we are all actually out on the gallery floor, putting work together, working with what we have and often feeling our way through things.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: You mentioned the Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020 open call out, how do you decide which pieces of art are included in an exhibition shortlist or “make the cut”?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: Well, ultimately it comes down do our knowledge, experience and what we like, which I appreciate is very hard to unpick and very subjective. We display work because we think it is interesting and to attract people to visit the gallery.

But a key decider is if we think it’s got artistic merit in how it was made and as we are a commercial gallery, we have to think whether or not it might appeal to someone to purchase or be of interest to someone commercially.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We use the same principles in choosing successful submissions from this Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020 open call out, as we do for the main exhibitions. But we probably have a little bit more leeway with this, to take a few more chances and to add a few things which are on the margins of what the main, day-to-day gallery exhibitions are. That’s kind the idea of doing this type of exhibition; we try to stretch the Biscuit Factory’s comfort zone a little bit and bring in newer and more progressive work.

We get submissions to the gallery from people wanting to exhibit on a daily basis. The basic cornerstones of the criteria we use to select pieces for all exhibitions, includes 1. the quality of the craft, regardless of what the subject is or what the medium is, 2. the standard of professionalism AND 3. the quality of presentation and the artistic vision. The Biscuit Factory is a very diverse space in terms of artwork displayed but everything that we have here, regardless of its aesthetic or its taste or its style, is of a high quality. The pursuit of quality helps us make choices when selecting work that might not be our own personal taste but we able to appreciate the quality and recognise that someone else might love it.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: As a commercial gallery, how do you tread the fine line, between selecting exciting, new, experimental and groundbreaking pieces and knowing your audience and knowing what they actually want to buy?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We are aware of what sells and we have a sales system, allowing us to see various different product groups and how they are performing – e.g. How many pieces of sculpture have sold in any given period or how many paintings have sold by a particular artist.

So we’re aware of that and we have to be guided by that to some extent. But there’s always a balancing act between being sales driven and the ethos of trying to show a range of works, some of which you accept may not be so commercially viable and we can’t just keep selling and displaying the same things; our visitors wouldn’t want that.  In a way, progression and sales have to go hand in hand because we can’t just keep selling the same type of work or the same artist’s work because eventually the sales would dry up.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I think the scale of The Biscuit Factory is so big, that actually there’s room for a very wide range of work here and we can afford to take some chances and have some really different things. I think a lot of people who haven’t visited us before would be surprised how big the range of work is here – there’s some very contemporary things, some very quirky things and some very traditional things; they all sit side by side quite well, quite comfortably because they are of a certain standard.

We sometimes think we know what is going to appeal to a particular type of Biscuit Factory visitor, but we are often wrong; you know someone who you’d assume would buy a traditional landscape actually goes for the really quirky portrait, or really minimalist etching.  Or they might be interested in all three!

We take pride in the fact that there’s something here for potentially everyone; behind our doors is a whole range of work waiting to be discovered all tucked in here.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think in terms of the jewellery, it’s a different sort of position because most of the jewellers that I work with are more commercial and used to that side of galleries. The jewellery is made to wear and own, rather than being looked at in a gallery, so that makes it a little bit easier for me when choosing between more ‘out there’ stuff.

Jewellers can send in more of their work as it doesn’t take up as much space; they might send a piece that’s kind of really high price and out there in design but then it can be paired with quite a lot of other pieces from a range which are really wearable, so that’s quite a fortunate position to be in as a curator that I can kind of manage to get in both.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: How would you describe the role of a contemporary curator and how do you feel about the overuse of the word “curate?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: Personally, I’m not precious about the word curator and I’ve always been aware that it’s a word that has many different applications or nuances and, people think of it in different ways.

I think it depends where you are as well because there are different kinds of curator and curation so it’s hard to be precious over; if you’re in a municipal gallery or the BALTIC or whatever it might be, even within one city there’s varying different sorts of curators, that aren’t really very comparable.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I guess “curate” is a word that a few years ago was quite niche and not used in the mainstream with connotations as quite highbrow. Now it’s become quite an everyday word and quite trendy, which is perhaps a bit odd.

I’ve been here a long time and what I understand of the word “curate”… or how I understand my job is not necessarily through the prism of being a curator; my job is what it is and when I read about other curators, they’re not necessarily particularly relatable positions to this one.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: For me, I think it’s more… I speak to early stage career artists and creatives in the industry that would like to get into curation and I feel that misuse of the word is removing the respect of the profession and understanding of it as a legitimate career path….  

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It’s diluted it a little bit but you can see that happening anyway through the democratisation of things through the internet and DIY elements across all creative activities. You don’t have to go to a web developer anymore to set up a website for example, you can do it yourself. I guess, the old gatekeepers who defined what a curator is and controlled the role, are dispersed a little.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Everyone’s artistic taste is subjective…. How do you feel if someone doesn’t like an exhibition you’ve curated or a piece of work you’ve put pride of place in the exhibition? Do you take it to heart?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: We’re slightly sheltered from people’s comments about an exhibition on a day to day basis because we’re tucked away in our office getting on with the next exhibition. We do feel it more when you’ve spent 18 months talking to an artist and they’ve then made the work and it doesn’t sell as well as hoped when it gets here.

You can look back and think “maybe I didn’t quite get it right” or “maybe it was a bit too far out for here” but the fact is that sometimes, you can get someone in who you think is perfect for the people who, largely come here and it still won’t sell; that can be very frustrating and disappointing for you and for the artist.

There may be a reason you can identify but sometimes there’s no reasoning for it, it can just be a matter of bad luck or bad timing; you’ve got to get a lot of things right to sell a piece of artwork –  the right person has got to walk through the door, it’s got to be at the right time for them in their lives and head and it might be that there were hundreds of people that loved the work  but they just didn’t or couldn’t buy it. Sometimes when you send work back that hasn’t sold, days later someone will come in saying “have you still got it because I’d like to buy it?”….. A lot’s got to come together all at the right time, and sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think you can still take heart in that, even if you get something in that you love and then it doesn’t sell, it still kind of feels good that you put it out there; people might not be buying it but at least they’ve seen it. Maybe they love it but they can’t buy it for whatever reason, but it still feels nice to be able to be putting stuff like that out there.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: And you never know what it might do for an artist’s career longer term, the fact they’ve been seen. It’s another exhibition on the artist’s CV, another opportunity to display their work and that feels rewarding.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Sometimes there’s a bit of tension between artists/creatives and curators in regards to how work is displayed and some curatorial decisions of exhibitions…..

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I don’t feel I’ve had that very often; I guess you can’t please everyone 100% all the time. I think largely the artists, certainly in my department, are very happy to be here and we all work hard to make sure their work looks good, is well presented, nicely lit, hung straight and hung in an interesting way; I think more often than not the experience is pretty positive.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I’ve occasionally had artists sort of grumble about where their work is, that it’s not their first choice location in the gallery or how it’s displayed; but in most cases that is because they have not quite appreciated the scale of the place, how things are laid out and that it’s necessary to display work alongside other artists’ work – you can’t always get the degree of separation that some artists would like because we have so much work to display.  Our role is to make the best decisions overall and to bring together cohesive exhibitions on a bigger scale. Occasionally that might mean that a particular artist’s work is not 100% how they’d want it to be displayed or they might personally not like another artist’s work that is visible somewhere beyond their work in the sight line.

But, most people are appreciative that you’ve made such an effort to display their work in a sympathetic and considerate way, and are aware there’s a lot of work to juggle and that you’ve made decisions for the best presentation of the gallery as a whole.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: As a curator do you go to other exhibitions and reflect on the curation?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I recently went to the new gallery at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, it was really inspiring!  Also, their shop space was really inspiring to me because that was where their jewellery and some ceramics were; I thought that it was beautifully curated and displayed.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I get out far, far less than I should; I go to the degree shows, just out of curiosity but I feel further and further away from that now with age. I’ve got young children which means my free time is at soft play and not galleries. But I do love going to art fairs, I quite like going to places where there’s a big mix of stuff rather than just going to see one person’s exhibition, but yes I’d like to go out more.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I don’t get out as much as I’d like for all sorts of reasons. I’m always very aware of retail art things and maybe that’s what I’m kind of more influenced by, more aware of and absorb. I’m interested in the psychology of retail and people’s subconscious decision making, so in art retail situations I am aware of trying to read how things are set up, colour temperature, sightlines, positioning of things and the way they arrange the spaces.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: When you work here it is hard to kind of turn off working here and to just enjoy an exhibition or art fair; you’re always thinking, that person could be good in the Biscuit Factory, taking a card or photographing the work or name of artist – so it’s hard to full immerse.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What is the process of seeking out artists to exhibit at The Biscuit Factory and how far in advance do you go planning?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We do get submissions, some aren’t appropriate or quite right for us. The process is mostly us finding things, going out into the world and seeing it in person or online. Using Instagram as a platform is becoming increasingly prominent as a way of finding things for us.

For the big shows, we often book over a year in advance. Sometimes, if we have space available, we might find things and come across things that if the artist has stuff available, we might get work from them in very quickly. As our space is so big and we have such a variety of different ways of displaying things with a flexible display space, we can often shuffle things round and create some space.

The exhibition timeline can be anything from working with someone that we’ve worked with for ten years and booking them in two years in advance for a big show or coming across someone new and having their work here two weeks after you first saw it and everything in between. We have a big quarterly changeover but within that we have an ongoing evolution of displays and bring in new work in quite often; it always keeps the job fresh for us and hopefully fresh for our regular visitors.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What would your advice be to artists and folks who want to get their work into The Biscuit Factory? How should they approach the gallery?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: A lot of people want to show you the complete range of what they’re doing, so you might get a charcoal drawing of an animal, followed by a portrait, followed by a landscape and unfortunately that’s not much help to us. What we really need to see is a coherent collection from somebody, whether or not that’s the animals or landscapes. We’d prefer them to limit themselves to presenting one collection at a time. Some artists try and show you everything they’ve ever done and can do which is too much, instead of honing with focus. And we only take submissions by email.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: It just has to be really good; what I’m looking for are pieces that are really impeccably made and that is something that takes a long time to learn and produce.  The submissions that come through, that are a goer, you know straight away; they come in with confidence, they know what they’re doing, even if they haven’t worked with galleries yet and they’re new graduates, they still have total confidence and a passion about their work. They send in good images because they know that it is worth taking a good image because it’s a good piece.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Often with paintings we’ll get terrible images of the piece – it will be pixelated or they’ll be photographed next to a heavily patterned carpet in someone’s living room….

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It seems an old-fashioned thing to say but when there are typos and spelling mistakes, it sets you on the back foot. When you’re approaching someone for the first time in a gallery, I think it’s very important to be very precise, deliberate and hit the mark in the quality of your photographs and presentation of the work. We don’t have the time when receiving hundreds of submissions to de-pixelate photos or read through paragraphs of art speak. For the best chance, it’s about focusing on editing your work down to the best stuff, investing into quality images, reflecting on the way you’re presenting yourself and your tone of voice.  Top tip: you’re much better sending 3 really strong images than those three being hidden in amongst 15 things – edit, edit, edit, be tight, be professional and get good photographs.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: If someone comes in or sends a good email and is really nice to work with straight away, we think, “yeah I can see us working with you for 6 months and that’ll be pleasurable, easy and we know that we can rely on you”.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: When you depend on people to fill a gallery, you’ve got to be able to communicate with artists and them communicate effectively with you, build a rapport, have confidence in them that they can deliver, be reliable and you can get along with them. That’s what we are trying to gauge from their submission.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Some pieces and collections seem to stay displayed for a while at The Biscuit Factory – how do you decide which pieces stay and form part of the next exhibition and which ones come down?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It’s intuition. Curator’s intuition. As much as we have stats and are led by those things, a lot of it is also instinct. We also talk to artists and get a feel for how their work has been received elsewhere and how they feel it’s performing here. For some pieces and types of work like sculpture and furniture, it really responds to having longer in the gallery and it can take customers quite a while, to finally commit to buying.

This contrasts quite vividly with paintings which generally sell best at the start and then gradually the sales will reduce. For sculptures and bigger 3D things, it’s quite a long lead-in time and there can be a period where you don’t make any sales at all. So, you just commit to it and have faith that more exposure will ultimately lead to the sale.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: There’s different reasons why paintings or prints might stay up; sometimes it’s because they’ve done well and you think there’s no point taking it down because hopefully it will continue to do well. Other times, like Sam says, sales might not have happened but you think “I just know there’s sales to be had from these” and it’s just a matter of time or the right person coming through the door so they deserve to be up.

It can also depend on where the work has come from, especially if they’ve delivered them from a long way away or the deal with the particular artist. Also, I feel if a particular artists work is on display too long, people become a bit blind to it so we might take down so when it goes back up again it’s fresh and people are pleased to see it back up.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What’s the weirdest or the most unusual submission to the gallery you’ve had?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: A sculpted portrait in a jam-jar full of their collected toenail clippings; certainly a curious way of doing self-portrait with their own DNA.

The Culture Vulture: With the state of play of the world, have you seen a move towards protesty or political artist submissions?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Not so much, our submissions tend to be very much about self and people.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Yeah, subjects like identity, gender, feminism; I see more work addressing those issues. There’s always been a lot of that with younger people, but I think there is a little more of that now.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – Thinking about another contemporary issue – the environment! Have you changed any of your practices in terms of wrapping up work and things to do with environmental concerns; has that changed how you work?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: We’ve all been a bit more aware of it recently, in fact we tried just recently getting some cardboard bubble wrap, like a sort of textured, cardboard wrapping.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: Not in terms of the way the gallery works but I’m really focusing hard on trying to get ethical jewellers in, because the jewellery industry is a total nightmare; precious metals aren’t always produced ethically. We’ve had an ethical showcase, shining a light on jewellers working with recycled or Fairtrade metal and it’s my big target to get as many jewellers as possible working with that. I’ve been contacting jewellers who don’t currently work with ethical metals and telling them about suppliers, trying to get that moving here as a wider movement.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: When you’re working on an exhibition install – what’s it like? What tasks are involved?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Well a lot happens on email before the work is here, it can be quite involved, suggesting and selecting what work, covering a range of price points and sizes. Then the work arrives; we have to check it off and catalogue it.

Using experience and intuition, I decide which prints and paintings work well next to each other without competing too much with each other – I spread out colours. styles and sizes so that there’s some balance to what is displayed. You want to be able to see the work as opposed to some heavily laboured curating; an exhibition is about the work, so you don’t want an arrangement that looks very heavily arranged. But you do want people to see particular pieces first, especially if there’s a large piece which you think is going to be a show grabber….The exhibition install is the really fun part of our jobs, we come out of our offices and get hands on.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: The install is a surprisingly small portion of the job though; from the outside, people might imagine that it is predominantly the job. Probably about 20% of our time is spent on actual installation of work, doing displays, thinking about the layout of the gallery, the lighting and the juxtaposition of various things. That’s the fun stuff, that’s what people see and that’s what people might imagine constitutes the job of a curator –  but the job is a lot broader than that and it’s about building relationships, a lot of administration, paperwork, analysis, managing stock, working out VAT codes…..

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think that’s why we work hard to get good gallery submissions because you do so much work in the background and then it’s such a pleasure when you get really beautiful work in and you can take loads of pleasure in putting it on display.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: It can sometimes feel exciting when something’s arrived, you can forget for a while that it’s not just for you personally. For a short while, it’s like Christmas, unwrapping the “presents” and that is a nice feeling.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: And when putting the work up, you start to get a sense of the possibilities and the gallery that you’re putting the work into is kind of ever changing. A lot of the displays aren’t really planned per se in advance so it’s about thinking on your feet; that’s quite energising sort of thrilling.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – I imagine it being like…..remember the 90s programme Itsa Bitsa, where they had loads of art materials and then they’d go as a collective, pick all the stuff out and then it would all be like chaotic and then they’d create something collectively mint out of the chaos…

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: We have two weeks of full-time install for each quarterly show and we’re just on the gallery floor. There can be trollies of paintings going up and down, things propped against walls, boxes of jewellery, boxes of ceramic, whatever it might be and we try to keep it all clean because we don’t close; we’re open to the public. There is a moment where everything is in some state of flux and change and then somehow, normally with five minutes to go before everyone turns up for the preview, it suddenly all looks rather nice and it’s weird.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It is weird how often really interesting displays come out of thin air and I would love to say that it was all very planned; may be at some level it is!  But also, twenty new painting deliveries might arrive at once, I might get twenty to thirty ceramic and sculptures and that’s all got to be arranged into the gallery in a coherent way that does the best for all those artists, you don’t necessarily have the fine details of that worked out but you’ve got a few days to curate it and out of that “something” happens! It just comes together in a way which is beautifully surprising and quite satisfying,

We are always too exhausted to really appreciate the exhibition at the end of the install.  The hour before the quarterly preview, we’re always generally still running around, polishing things and doing labels but there is always suddenly a moment of calm when I go “oh that’s come together and it looks pretty… pretty good and I really like how that sits with that.”

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Pre-lock down – were there any current art trends or futures trends that are impacting and influencing how you select work?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I guess, social media is changing how you select work because you don’t necessarily need to go… I can get a jeweller in from the other side of the country but I don’t need to go see it. Some people are getting really good at promoting their work online I think that’s something that’ll happen more.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Trends can be very subtle; like the colours of frames people choose or the fact that people change from making rectangular work to square work and all those things are subtly moving around all the time.

The Culture Vulture: I’m all about championing that there are so many routes into creative industries. Can you tell me what you studied and any advice you have for future creatives who would like to embark on a creative career path?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I studied jewellery and silversmithing in Edinburgh, so I do have a relevant degree. Then I was self-employed as a jeweller for a long time and then I had a small gallery space on the west coast of Scotland, where I got into the curating side of things!

I did really love doing my degree but if you’re interested in jewellery making, I would totally recommend going and doing an apprenticeship. Art college is great for concept and community but going to work with a traditional jeweller and getting that basis of skills will just set you up.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I have a degree in contemporary photographic practice from Northumbria and then I have an MA in Fine Arts Practice from Northumbria.

Advice for breaking into professional creative industries…… go out and make as many connections as possible, be open to things, attend things and broaden your horizons in any way possible. Advice from an art practice side, I’d say the same really and I think, just get good, in terms of making art!  I think a lot of people aren’t resolute or rigorous enough in getting good and people want… I guess people want to be famous, they want to be in galleries, they want to make money and obviously there’s pressures to be all of those things socially and economically but that can get in the way of building your own voice, which ultimately could be the foundation to your success. Some people want to shortcut that.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: I did a degree at Kent Institute in Canterbury for a year and then I did by BA at Newcastle University. Then I was a bit clueless really, I kind of floundered around for a very long time, reading the Evening Chronicle once a week hoping to find a very high paid arts job with my name on it and not knowing where else to look!

I don’t think my degree particularly did anything much to train me up to know where to find opportunities or to successfully apply for them when I found them; I did apply for various sculpture commissions and things without really knowing how on earth to put together a professional application. I spent some time working various retail jobs and then worked for about 18 months as an art technician in a sixth form college. I moved back here and became a postman, then I got a job here as a gallery assistant. I worked hard and tried to prove myself and when other opportunities came up, I applied and progressed.

In terms of advice, I suppose advice for artists would be slightly different to advice for future curators.  As much as I like my job I didn’t really set out to be a curator so it’s very hard to give advice to set yourself up to be one; I’m sure there are more tailored qualifications that would give you more chance of becoming a curator now.

Advice in terms of being a fine artist; that it’s important to hone in on one aspect of your work, even if you do lots of other kind of work for your own enjoyment. You’ve got to have something which is identifiably you, your signature, something that can be repeated to some degree to apply to galleries and connect to a specific customer base.

I guess, as Mika says, go and get some actual, specific experience, especially if you’ve done a fine art degree as it’s just so broad ranging, wide and potentially a bit wooly. I advise you to go down one route where you can start learning the skills that make you really good at something, rather than just having some ideas and tinkering. It took me a long time to do it; I was doing various part time jobs to free up studio time to make – I’d paint a portrait one week, then get frustrated and think that the new future of me was going to be landscapes and then decide it was printing and then something else… I spent years floundering around like that with nothing much to show for it. It’s only in the last four or five years, especially through working here, that I’ve narrowed everything to one or two things and tried becoming more professional on those. My advice would be to get to that stage, quicker than I did!

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I’d tell them to expect to have to flounder around for a bit. Perhaps now in the age of the internet. 15 years ago, when we graduated, it was a different world or it looked like a different world; it looked less easy to penetrate. Whereas now, I think people have social media and they have their own websites much more quickly;  I think that can lead to people wanting to shortcut it; but the floundering bit is character making, humbling, exposing you to failure and doubt, working out how to fit yourself into the world rather than just steadfastly standing there saying “I’ve graduated, I’ve got a website, world come at me/world fit around me”.

You’ve got to find your way into the world a little and I think it’s that, that is the source of a lot of discontent as some graduates are unprepared for the reality and competitiveness of the world.  You’ve got to expect it and understand that the world is indifferent to you at first, even if you’ve got a website and a first-class degree in Fine Art. The reality is you’re still going to have to work at it really hard; if you’re not prepared and hungry for it, it’s going to be even harder. I’m sure that we’ve all experienced difficulties in trying to find a route into the arts, with our own personal practice or professionally; but I think more than ever people are unprepared for the difficulty and it’s more competitive than ever! So you’ve got to go into an artist career with your eyes open or it can be quite damaging – the world can be quite hostile.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – I do a lot of work with young people and I’m starting to see less young people choosing to go into creative industries because they are viewed as a whole mass together and that there aren’t the opportunities….if you’re looking to go into a visual arts career, then yes it’s very competitive. But if you want to go into graphic design, app development, animation, outdoor event producing, tech  – well there are LOADS of opportunities….

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I feel like it’s irresponsible to send so many kids off to vague creative degrees and fine art degrees; many are left at the end high and dry when they finish. I had this experience in my final year of my BA, literally a couple of weeks before the end of it, we had a seminar about the outside world and how to write a letter to a gallery and it was like a one hour thing…..

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: After a four year degree, I did not know how to apply for a commission or how to write an Arts Council grant. It’s unforgivable that you can get through that amount of degree and not know those things.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Some artists have no awareness of the landscape in which they’re meant to be a professional in or they are meant to be qualified and don’t know materials, don’t know the processes, don’t know what opportunities there might be or how you apply for them. It happens all the time.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: It’s the same with outdoor light installation work – many aspiring outdoor sculptors/light installation makers out of University have brilliant conceptual ideas but no knowledge of the technical aspects of what it takes to make a sculpture durable outdoors and the technical aspects to deliver on a light installation….

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  It happens. Soon after graduating, I had this bronze commission for a school in Jarrow, a big bronze snail, I had no idea how to secure it to the ground and in about half an hour, having welded a couple of bowls, I just filled it with as much cement as I could and tried to wedge some holes into the ground. If that hadn’t worked and it actually needed to be on a stone base or welded, then I’d have been stuck. I had just had no idea at all!

The Culture Vulture: And just a final thing, I am really interesting in this “positivity” ethos at the moment on social, manifesting success and an extreme push towards “only do what makes you happy” across our whole lives – on one hand that’s brilliant but I think we’re gradually conditioning some people to forget that life is hard, that to get to where you want to be it is tough and sometimes you have to wade through a whole lot of difficult and challenging stuff…..and that’s normal and ok.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: It’s really unrealistic.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Yeah, and also you might not even get there, no matter how hard you work; there’s this idea, this myth, that if you work really hard, you’ll get what you deserve.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  Well we’ve all said this but our generation feels like we were told by our parents’ generation that you can naturally – unlike them, who just got a job and had to work hard at it for fifty years, that you can be anything you want to be as long as you set your mind to it but actually to become a very successful commercial artist is not attainable for most people and even if you’re trying, you’re not necessarily geared up for how much work there is involved. I’m sure there’s a lot of people of our generation, that are very frustrated that the false promise didn’t come off.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I think people take it on as a personal failing; whereas it is really a structural failing in a broader societal sense and also there aren’t enough opportunities for all the graduates coming out of Art School. And you know, like Sam said about his experience, you don’t really know what path it is that you’re taking and then you look back and you’ve arrived somewhere.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  You just find yourself in unusual places in your life, take what comes your way and carve out your own opportunity.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: In retrospect, it looks like there was a plan because it led you somewhere that turns out to be decent but actually it’s just a series of coincidences, circumstances, situations and chances; you find your way through it and I think people are perhaps less aware that is the reality of how it is, now more than ever. More people have bigger expectations and are fed this idea of the clear route to something; it’s pretty dubious to set people up like that.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

Wow – what interesting curator chat! You can check out The Biscuit Factor online gallery here to see the artists and art works they have on their books. The Biscuit Factory underpins the livelihood of over 50 staff, supports the careers of thousands of artists and attracts over 100k visitors a year into the local economy. They do not receive public funding, arts council financial support or rely on any grants to carry out work, so for the first time in their 17 year history, they are asking for support and donations. You make a donation or purchase something like a card, or lunch from their café HERE.

That’s all for now Culture Vultures. xx

Interview with queer feminist artist Louise Brown a.k.a. goodstrangevibes; smashing the patriarchy, learning to love your body & running a lush creative business.

I’ve always had a love hate/relationship with my mind, body and soul. I’ve loved being different and seeing the world from my own perspective – but I never really liked myself, not deep down. I grew up during an era of glossy mags that distinctly lacked any diversity, lack of representation in the media, a push towards conforming and the era of the waif (you might argue it’s like that now – but honestly, it was even worse!). I didn’t value myself, I am and always will be my worst critic, I didn’t look after my body….in fact I’ve lived at 10000miles an hour distinctly doing the reverse to self-care. I’ve proudly burnt the candle at both ends, I’ve fought world war three in my head for decades and my mental health rollercoaster is a consistent part of my life.

As a teen, there was no social media – my social sphere was who I engaged with in the immediacy. No online movements, no creative projects focusing on body positivity, mental health issues were not discussed (I didn’t even know what the word anorexia meant – despite having it for years), artists creating social work could not reach me – it was a different landscape to now. My only sense of understanding about mental health and body positivity was through poetry and reading – reading about mental illness, feeling like your body belonged to someone else and wanting the world to stop for a moment and feeling a sense of “gosh – I hear ya!”

In my 30s – I gradually sought out nourishment for my mind, body and soul; I even started to like myself (a bit). I’ve spoken about this before – but a place, I most often seek out content nourishment is via Instagram – a wonderful platform that has democratised (to an extent) art and enabled artists to reach audiences without institutional gatekeepers that often create more barriers than they enable (that’s another conversation entirely!). I spend hours stumbling upon artists and online communities that are creating not just amazing work, running amazing projects, leading positivity movements for thousands or millions of people, people living their purpose, proud of their differences, being the different they want to see in the world and championing diversity.

Body Appreciation

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

It makes me smile. And this is why creatives really matter – all the time – especially NOW. These creatives instigating these online movements are creating meaningful work to enrich lives, empower others, add colour, connect, increase representation, create community, reduce isolation (real and perceived) and to reach out with open arms – to the likes of a teenage me who would have massively benefitted. Social media audiences respond in their millions – with their interest and engagement. This is why these movements have such a great following – they are SO needed and tapping into something; they are also often the first defence during a mental health dip. I know they are with me – Instagram is my quickie version of picking up a self-help book.

So if the movements are needed, the movements are hugely popular due to their positive enabling, the creative visualisations and representations the creatives make are connecting and speaking with people in a way that other things aren’t able to do, then the creatives behind the movements and making the creative visuals must therefore be super important too. You can see where I’m going with this….

I’m spending time on this intro to reiterate how important art can be in relation to well-being and how important artists are in these movements. We are walking blindly into a mental health crisis. We have less mental health resources available than ever before. Our system is not pre-emptively set up. The impact of artists creating an online safe space community, increasing representation, positivity movements and feed into improved well-being is repeatedly understated…… I believe art and artists could play a much bigger role if they were supported and funded appropriately. I believe this is just one of many reasons that we need to reconsider investment in the arts and its wider impact. I’m always blown away with the thought- if THIS is the impact of arts and artists without anywhere near the levels of appropriate funding, imagine if we actually funded and invested into them…..

Giving No Fucks

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

An Instagram account that nourishes me and many others, I discovered a year or so ago was Louise Brown’s @goodstrangevibes – Louise was one of the first local NE accounts that I saw pop up during the beginning of the I Weigh movement. Her work focuses on body positivity, increasing diverse representation and is always a rainbow of colour – she is doing a lot of the above, with authenticity putting her own personal experience at the core; Louise’s account consequently is one that I often revisit on my doom days.

Louise a proud feminist, instrumental (imo) to the local movement claiming back the word “feminist” positively and in her early 20s. She gives me such a bubble of hope in my tummy – if I have folks like Louise coming up behind me pushing forward the next generation of creatives, then it makes me sleep better at night. The world is not shot to shit with wonderful younger folks like Louise in it. And she’s an account that I refer many young people, I work with to look at, especially if they are struggling in some way with themselves.

Louise’s work was censored by Newcastle University Library (not the University as a whole) for depicting naked women/bodies and the fear of it being sexual and offensive. That caught my attention and immediately made me shout BORE OFF when I read it in the Chronicle and how far we still need to go with womxn’s bodies. As Vulture, I proudly got behind the campaign to make the point that a boob or naked body illustration in day light is not a threat to society. (“A boob is not a threat to society” – could be my new 2020 tag line!)

No matter what you ate yesterday, you deserve to eat today

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

She recently attended my recent event (Pre-COVID and the project is unfortunately on hold at the moment) – Newcastle Herstory – Womxn’s Rights as an unfinished fight! Nearly 100 people attended the event to discuss Newcastle feminist histories and womxn’s rights past, present and to plot/reflect on the next chapter. Louise was such a lush addition to the event and I decided there and then, I wanted to interview her so you could find out about her, understand the positive impact her work is having and I’m dead excited to see her creative journey unfold – I’m here for it and along for the ride to support as Vulture.

So here you go – here is Louise Brown.

So hello, for my Culture Vultures – please introduce yourself!

Hello! I’m Lou; a queer feminist artist and final year student at Newcastle uni studying Politics, Psychology and Sociology. I set up and run goodstrangevibes; a small arts business which aims to promote body positivity and mental health awareness through my illustrations.

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goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

Tell me about your journey into the creative industries so far…..how long have you been an artist? When did you start drawing/illustrating/writing?

Hmmm, there’s a big difference from when I started producing art to when I felt entitled to call myself an artist. I think only since introducing goodstrangevibes have I started to say I am an artist, I’m not sure why – thinking back I could have said it earlier… my grandpa wrote this about me when I was just five years old ‘she is the most unusual creature who wants to be ‘Somethink’ rather than ‘Nothink’ but as she keeps disappearing under the table to draw pictures we can’t really say …’. So I guess I’ve always been an arty human but only self-identified as an artist as of the last couple of years.

That’s is the best answer to that question, I’ve ever had…. I used to spend a lot of time under a table as a mini in a creative haze – only I was writing. So tell us about your work– it covers a wider breadth of themes – what inspires it?

I do illustrations of nude humans with the aim of promoting body positivity and mental health awareness. I often use captions and text in my artwork to help convey the messages further. I aim to draw all sorts of bodies so that people can see my work and find an illustration that looks a bit like them in some shape or form.

My experience of low body image led me to create these illustrations. I had been in recovery (from an Eating Disorder) for a while and was being supported by professionals but I still was in the habit of staring at my body in the mirror each night and picking out parts I wanted to change. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to break this habit completely, so instead I decided to draw my reflection in the mirror as a sort of distraction from the negative thoughts as I was now focusing on drawing.

I drew my body every evening during the time I would have spent critiquing it. In appreciating the artwork I produced, I began to see my body as art and worthy of appreciation. From that, I started drawing a diversity of different bodies and posting them on my art Instagram (@goodstrangevibes). I received positive feedback from people who said I helped them feel better about their bodies and this really inspired me to keep creating and posting my work. Goodstrangevibes has really helped with my own mental health and provided me with a lot more self-confidence and happiness.

Other artists have also definitely inspired my practice such as Polly Nor, Alice Skinner, Frances Cannon, Pink_Bits… the list goes on!

Thinking about life

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

Well you’ve helped mine too ❤ – not just in appreciating my own body but the diversity of the human body in general. Your drawing style is pretty distinctive,  I can recognise a “Louise Brown” anywhere – how did that develop over time?

I think once I let go and stopped trying to create a ‘good’ proportional drawing, I began to see myself drawing my playful long-limbed flexible humans. I love drawing without the pressure of things being ‘perfect’, very much in the same way I began to embrace my body and stopped striving to affirm society’s conception of a ‘perfect’ body. It’s very freeing to just draw and accept what appears on the page. I very rarely use pencils or rubbers.

I have to ask this question…..how is/has COVID-19 effecting your work, life and practice?

Emotionally it’s been tough, but I am coming to terms with it all as best I can. For one I moved back in with my parents in London and had to leave Newcastle. I am incredibly sad about leaving, but I am very excited to come back up as soon as I can, I feel very at home in Newcastle. At first, I struggled with motivation which has been hard, but I’m taking my time and being kind to myself which definitely helps things!

It’s hard feeling unhelpful sitting at home when so many people are really suffering. I’ve been trying to use my art to hopefully comfort people who are struggling with their mental health and recently contributed to a free downloadable self-care colouring book which will be released soon.

We Will Get Through This Together

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

Ohh keep me in the loop about the colouring book as will be all over that! So you’re a feminist artist; what does being a feminist mean to you in the present day? Why is being a feminist important to you?

Being a feminist to me means believing in gender equality and actively calling out injustices, trying to change the status quo and fight the patriarchy! I feel very strongly about it because of all the inequalities that are still prevalent worldwide that need to be acknowledged, confronted and overthrown.

A feminist concern that I feel equipped to influence the fight against is body image issues. Having experienced an eating disorder when I was younger, I feel strongly about the importance of promoting positive body image in girls and young womxn. Body image is a feminist issue since body image concerns affect womxn disproportionately to men. This is not surprising considering the pervasiveness of the patriarchal idea that womxn should be judged by their bodies, and men by their minds. It angers me so much all the time and energy that is taken from womxn due to the pressures to conform to a single conception of beauty which is unattainable for the majority of womxn to attain anyway! It’s a capitalist patriarchal trap!

Jump

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

You depict REAL bodies in such a positive way – I personally find it, even as a 34yrs old woman, extremely inspiring. What do you want people who view your work who are struggling with their bodies, to take away from it?

Thank you, that’s super lovely to hear! To those struggling with their bodies who view my work, the aim would be to help them spark a shift in their mind, perhaps that it doesn’t have to be that you need to change your body to be worthy or that it is possible to accept how you look and not let that hold you back. Or I’d want them to see a body like theirs being presented in a positive light in my work, and I would hope that could comfort someone going through a tough time with their relationship to their body.

I’m so much happier now I have stopped battling with my relationship with food and I hope people can maybe take hope in the fact that it is possible to rekindle your relationship with yourself. Although I am also very conscious that this is much easier for a naturally slim white woman like myself to do this, as I do not experience fatphobia or other kinds of discrimination from society because of the way I look.

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goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

You identify as queer – how much does your queer experience influence your work?

I think being queer, and openly so, makes me feel more capable of covering whatever I want in my art – like a sort of byproduct of being open with who I am means I feel more comfortable also then being open with my art. If that makes sense!

I personally don’t think there are enough lesbian icons/visibility in mainstream society – what do you think?

I completely agree with this. I feel I grew up and am still growing up with a lack of representation of LGBTQ+ people in general. There’s still so much I feel like I’m slowly discovering bit by bit. Much of the lesbian visibility in mainstream society seems so fetishised and aimed at a male audience.

Any advice for folks struggling with their identity or sexuality during this period?

I’m not sure I qualify for giving advice, but I guess to be kind to yourself, take your time to listen to what feels right in your head and body. It’s okay if you’re not sure instantly or if you are discovering or coming out later on in your life. I can imagine for folks quarantined with people who are unaccepting of LGBTQ+ it must be really hard. Maybe try to find online LGBTQ+ groups so you can still express your identity somewhere and feel free to directly message me on Instagram if I can offer a listening ear (though I can’t promise I’ll say the right thing, but I’ll listen!).

Surfer Babe Colours

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

How can folks buy or engage with your work?

You can follow my page on Facebook and Instagram @goodstrangevibes where I post my art, or have a cheeky browse at my website www.goodstrangevibes.com where I have an about the artist page, some of my writing, example commissions (email me if you’re interested goodstrangevibes@gmail.com) etc. I also have my online shop on my website which is currently in ‘pre-orders’ as I can’t access a post office – but people can order anything and it will be reserved for them until I can post! I’m planning on releasing vouchers too that can be given as presents to be spent on the online shop or saved until I’m at markets again.

Solidarity

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

What would be success for Louise this year?

Ooh tricky question. It’s very hard to say in this confusing climate what’s going to be possible! I’d like to give my all to goodstrangevibes once my degree is done post June and see what happens. I’m applying for a foundership programme at Newcastle uni next year which would be amazing business-wise as it provides loads of support, but it’s highly competitive, so unlikely. But in general, success would be to get my art in more places and hopefully make viewer’s feel comforted or better about their bodies or minds because of it. I’d like to paint large scale on walls in people’s homes as a new part of commissions I could offer. An exhibition would be super exciting …

In non-business terms, success would be to feel more free, to skinny dip lots, surf, pole dance, do the things that make me happy with people I love. Travelling could bag me some happiness with meeting strangers from around the world and sharing experiences and discovering, but perhaps that will have to wait for a while now!

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goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

I’ve reflected a lot about the question I just asked you – my wants for this year are more personal than professional. I certainly want to travel and adventure. Do you have any projects that you’d like to share and talk about?

I’ve just launched a new project ‘revolutionising sex education’ where I am illustrating people’s sexual experiences and including three words they felt during and three words they felt after in an attempt to portray the diversity of sexual experiences possible and the different emotions that comes with that. How sex can be fun, romantic, boring, scary, exciting, awkward, embarrassing, confusing, upsetting, silly and many many more things!

I want to represent a diversity of sexual experiences, especially LGBTQ+ and others that aren’t explored in mainstream media and sex education at schools. I define ‘sex’ as  e.g. masturbation/foreplay/intercourse – basically anything that one considers part of their sex life. If

anyone is interested in submitting a story entry – email goodstrangevibes@gmail.com or direct message me to show your interest and I will tell you what the next steps are! I’m hoping to display all the illustrations in a book, zine or online resource – I’m not sure exactly what yet. It would be super cool to get a publisher in the future and make it into a proper book!!

I’ve also been investing in environmental business practices and have now launched my upcycled screen printed eco top range on my website if anyone wants to grab one! They are one-off tops that I bought from charity shops in an attempt to combat fast fashion. My designs were screen printed on with the help of Newcastle based Nick Christie at Incubate Printmaking.

Free From Confines

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

I want to be involved in all Louise’s projects and ideas, especially the sexual experiences one; society’s view and treatments toward a womxn who enjoys sex needs a lot of work. such an exciting human to watch creatively flourish! Check out Louise’s website and @goodstrangevibes insta for a dose of creative LUSHNESS.

 

That’s all for now Culture Vultures. xx

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!

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.

Interview with street artist & graphic designer Mul – “if people hate what you do, do it more”

If I have one piece of advice for you Culture Vultures for 2020, it’s put down your phone, get outside more and be a tourist in your own city. Northern cities are FULL of beautiful street art – work by amazing regional, National and International street artists are waiting for you to discover. Actually the North East is well known for its street art and I discovered recently, big name street artists actually visit here, seek out mural spaces and create their own mark on a NE city or town.
And if like me, you spend way too much time with your head down in your social media feed, you’re actually missing out on this lush art to discover, different styles AND the urban landscape is ever changing with new murals.
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Alex Mulholland mural in Ouseburn (near Tyne Bar)
Over the summer, I worked on a project exploring Ouseburn Valley and all the street art there – I visit the Ouseburn all the time, but largely in a passive auto pilot manner, as I’m looking at my phone and scrolling my feed. Over the Summer, I decided to put down my phone and suddenly, paths that I’d walked MANY times before sprung to life with pieces of work and street art, suddenly popping out; they’d been there YEARS but i’d never seen them before. I discovered SO many new artists.
One of those Ouseburn street artists is local artist Alex Mulholland a.k.a. ‘ Mul’! I’ve been a fan of Alex over the last few years – his bright murals brighten up my day when I’m walking around Ouseburn and Heaton and his Insta is just lush – he regularly posts new work. He’s got such a beaut style; Alex is graphic designer, street artist and he makes prints of his work too. He also takes commissions.
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Alex Mulholland – Mul
I first properly discovered Mul when i found out he was going to be spraying a design on the side of Thought Foundation caravan in their yarden! I wish children’s play areas were as cool as that when I was a mini….no rusty nails with a broken swing and instead street art, colour and lush space to play.
Recently, reached out to Mul for an interview to find out about his practice, what inspires him and to connect with him as an artist massively on the rise, getting commissions Nationally.
So over to you Mul….
Hi Mul, for my fellow Culture Vultures, tell me who are you and what’s your practice?
I’m Alex Mulholland or ‘Mul’ and I’m an artist and freelance  graphic designer from Newcastle.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Tell me your journey into the creative arts?
I probably started my journey when I was about 12 years old, that was when I discovered graffiti. Since then I have completed my degree in graphic design at Northumbria University and I started working for myself.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Your pieces are so lush and bold – where do you get the inspiration from for your pieces?
I guess inspiration comes from everywhere; I never seem to find it when I’m looking though. It always suddenly pops up out of nowhere; like a van driving past with something on the side of it. Apart from those random occurrences, music can also be very influential for me alongside travelling to new places and seeing art on the streets.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
You designed and sprayed Thought Foundation in Gateshead caravan, how did that commission come about?  I know what is used to look like before, you’ve done an amazing job!  
Thought Foundation was an interesting one. I’d never painted a caravan before but always wanted too after seeing ones Sickboy had done. I wanted to make the piece as colourful and crazy as possible and it was actually just made up there and then.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Tell us a bit about your big piece in the Ouseburn (near Tyne Bar in Newcastle)? What was the inspiration? 
That wall as really fun; I prefer painting bigger as there’s more space for creativity. I didn’t go into painting that wall with a sketch, I wanted to freestyle it and make it up as I went along.
I always have the most fun when I do that, as I’m not beating myself up if something doesn’t look how it does on the sketch.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
You have a very distinctive style, I think you can always tell your work from a mile off – how did it develop?
The current  ‘style’ has only been developing since January 2019. I hit a bit of a turning point with the art I produce and stopped what I had been doing for the previous four years. I think that if I hadn’t done that and made that decision, I’d still be stuck in the rut of doing the same thing over and over again.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
And where is the fun in that!? Do you like the mystic surrounding street artists? Often the pieces and style is recognised – but the person remains unknown….
I do understand it yes; I do think it’s more of a legal thing rather than the artist necessarily wanting to remain unknown (but not in all cases). The art I produce now I happily put my name to because it’s me and not an alias if that makes sense.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
As someone who champions and celebrates the North and loves street art – I’m thrilled people are seeing it as the exciting art form it is. There is a real buzz around street art and murals at the moment in the region – do you feel that too?
I’m glad this is becoming more accepted and celebrated up North. Places like Bristol and areas of London have been like this for a long time and I always love going to paint in places like that as it’s almost received with open arms.
Also having travelled and painted all through Europe you get a sense of how accepted it is in other places. Most cities now have designated areas for it and people travel from all over to paint and see the pieces.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
One thing I’ve always wondered is that outdoor art pieces have to survive the elements, but I do love it when it ages with it’s environment – do you enjoy the creative challenge making outdoor art?
Yeah! I mean my generation is lucky where that is concerned; we get the best paint for the cheapest price, delivered to your door and most of it will stand the test of time.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Do you take commissions? How would people get in touch if they wanted you to create a piece for them?
I do take commissions; the last ten months have really been great for that, lots of people are seeing my work and getting in touch for a whole range of fun projects.
You can contact me through my website http://www.mul-draws.com  or drop me and email at: alexmulholland@mul-draws.com
Alternatively I’m also on Instagram and Facebook @Mul_draws
Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Tell us about other street artists that inspire you?
I guess my biggest inspiration would be Keith Haring; he really pioneered street art in New York back in the 70’s and 80’s. His style is fun and bouncy which I guess is how I strive my work to be.
From the UK, artists like Stik, and D-face. I couldn’t leave Shepard Fairey out either, as he was probably my first exposure to street art way back in 2006 when he and other artists did the ‘Spank the Monkey’ exhibition at the Baltic.
Some of my favourite street pieces in Newcastle are still standing from that exhibition- The Obey paste-up mural on Falmouth road in Heaton and numerous Space invaders dotted around Newcastle and Gateshead. I think that they were the first pieces I saw and have definitely stuck in my mind ever since.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Do you have a fave piece that you’ve created? If i had a gun to your head and you had to pick one?
Yeah one springs to mind but it was under another alias so I can’t reveal.
Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Why do you think street artists are typically male identifying? There are some fantastic female identifying street artists too – but they seem in the minority.
Street art stems from graffiti, which is well known for being egotistical. I would love to see more females doing it especially up North. I can only name maybe one or two that do it up here which is a shame really.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Any advice for future creatives and street artists?
If people hate what you do, do it more.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Highlight of 2019 so far?
I had a great client that I’ve designed some hockey sticks for and a clothing line that will hopefully be going to the Olympics in Tokyo next year. I also got to produce a mural for them in Shoreditch, which was amazing.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Final question….what’s next for Mul in 2020 – anything you can share?
I am working on a few projects for 2020 at the moment that I can’t talk about at the moment but you can expect lots of big walls and collaborations. So make sure you follow @mul_draws on Instagram to stay up to date with that.

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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Thank you Mul; that is ace and I’ve got some amazing street artists to check out from your recommendations and if you’d like to discover more street artists, put your phone away and get exploring your city, you’ll discover loads of street art. A good place to start is the Ouseburn; you’ll see Mul’s piece there too – tell me what you think of it!? AND why not, swing by Thought Foundation and check out their Mul designed caravan; they also have a lush cafe, shop, exhibition on and events programme too.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Until next time Culture Vultures……

Women’s House exhibition: a transformed Tyneside flat exploring feminism from diverse perspectives.

A few months ago, I was contacted out of the blue, by artist Padma Rao about her upcoming exhibition ‘Women’s House’ with fellow artist Miki Z. The exhibition (and wider project) inspired by Judy Chicago sees a flat in South Shields transformed into a gallery space, exploring feminism in social, political, cultural and historical contexts and the notion of “otherness”  through various art forms. This exhibition is a culmination of research, individual and collaborative interrogations, conversations, workshops with diverse women, and discussions with artists through a symposium.

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

I get contacted all the time with exhibition information but this really triggered my interest for several reasons….

Firstly, in case you’ve been living under a rock, Judy Chicago, pioneering feminist artist, author and educator is having her work exhibited at The Baltic (until April 2020). The AMAZING exhibition at The Baltic spans Chicago’s fifty-year career, from her early actions in the desert in the 1970s, to her most recent series, The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction (2013–16), which has not been previously shown outside of the US. As a feminist, I’ve admired and been away of Chicago for some time, so any project that is inspired by her work is something I want to see and be involved in.

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

Secondly, it’s a genuine community engagement project. So many exhibitions and art projects have “tokenistic” engagement! This is not the case for Women’s House – they worked tirelessly over the last year engaging with community groups, organisations, artists, peers, researchers etc – having meaningful interactions with the wider community and creating opportunities for people to collaborate with the project. I really believe “co-creation” (artists working with the community) enables higher quality art work and more interesting outputs.

Thirdly, it’s a gallery in a South Shields flat; I love that concept on its own. It’s so interesting when you watch people in traditional gallery spaces, “gallery behaviour” exhibited and the audience barriers erected once art is put in a traditional gallery space. Instead with Women’s House – you’re greeted by either Padma or Miki, offered a cup of tea and then free to explore the ‘living room’, ‘ kitchen’, ‘bedroom’ and ‘bathroom’. It’s lush, it’s relaxed and it feels very special.

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Miki (left) and Padma (right) – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Finally, at its core is the exploration of feminism and different experiences of feminism via different art forms and cultural expression. I’m a passionate and proud feminist – I’m so interested at the fact the word “feminist” can have such triggered and polarised response. In the past, when I’ve supported a feminist art project, I’ve received some pretty horrible messages from people who really dislike feminists. And in championing this exhibition so far – whilst the responses have been really lovely and positive, there have been a few “stop with your feminist agenda pushing” or “I hate feminists”. Being a feminist is just about being a good human….

I went to view Women’s House a few weeks ago and it was so beautiful. Different art forms and styles in each room; there was a feeling of questioning, exploring, challenging the representations of women in various cultures and storytelling. The bathroom featured the work of members from Sunderland Women’s Art Group; over six weeks, members worked with Miki Z and Denise Lovell to explore domesticity, cross-cultural identities and gendered roles in the context of feminism. Some of this work is presented on sanitary wear including pads and tampons – which I just loved and extended debate around, why sanitary pads are STILL classes as luxury products and period poverty.

Women’s House is available to view until 20th December – they welcome individuals, community groups – anyone and everyone to get in touch to view by appointment via projectsangini@gmail.com . It’s a must see for feminists and art lovers alike.

I was lucky enough to interview Padma and Miki just before the exhibition opened to find out more! This interview was one my favourites as Culture Vulture and is peppered with such honesty from two fantastic creative humans!

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Miki (left) and Padma (right) – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Well hello both, so if we could start at the beginning…tell my readers who you are and what your arts’ practice is?

Padma: My name is Padma Rao and I am a contemporary visual artist, practicing abstract painting and contemporary drawing.

I am passionate about women’s issues and equality, and through my work I investigate the role and status of women in our current society, especially within the South Asian cultures. I use of traditional materials, such as vermillion and turmeric. Though my work is largely experimental and abstract, I include figurative elements as part of the narrative.

I have worked extensively in the arts and the wider cultural, voluntary arts sector in a variety of roles, including arts manager, poet as well as Diversity officer at the Arts Council of England and as an advisor on the panel for Sunderland City of Culture Bid 2021. Having left my job at the Arts Council of England, I have since set up a social enterprise ArtsConnect that runs an art studio/ gallery ‘Makaan’ in South Shields and works as part-time manager at Sangini, a BME led women’s charity in Tyneside.

Miki: I am Miki Z, a visual artist and natural builder. My creative practice is based on experimentation where process is as important as finished product. A significant element of my work centers on materialiality as well as collaboration. Play and accidents are an integral part of my creativity, working in a tactile way across materials. Alongside theoretical research, my practice is a point of research which deepens and informs my thinking process. This fluid approach draws in elements of installation, performance and community participation.

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The Storytellers – Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

So tell me about your journey into the Arts?

Padma: I have always been interested in writing and painting. I  have loved drawing since my childhood and studied literature in India.  I grew up in an artistic environment where music and literature was part of our daily lives as my mother was a classical musician and my father played guitar.  I wrote stories which were printed in local literary magazines and a collection of my poems was published while I was at college.

As a first-generation immigrant in the 80s, I found that the arts sector for the diverse artists wasn’t that developed and it was quite isolating. Much later, I entered the arts sector as a volunteer, helping out to put dance events on in Newcastle for Kala Sangam, Bradford. I also volunteered for a writing group in South Shields. Whilst developing knowledge and skills, organising workshops, I continued to practice my own work around painting, drawing and literature. It was during this, I learnt about the wider arts sector and the disconnect that existed for Black minority ethnic artists, arts organisations both at personal as well as wider level.  This marginalisation of Black artists concerned me and I began asking how can I instil pride in my daughter who was growing up as part of this society but had not experienced the richness of different cultural expressions around her. The history she was told in her school as part of her curriculum was not the history I grew up with about the British Raj and India.

I realised that the picture wasn’t right and in order to correct the picture, it was important that I was part of that narrative.  It was during this time, the Arts Council of England rolled out its ACE Fellowship programme, a fast track senior management training programme for Black, Asian and Chinese arts professionals who, despite working in the industry for a long time, found it hard to gain an entry point into the arts. It was the first-time Arts Council had recognised the lack of representation of BME artists and arts professional within the arts and it became a turning point for me. I was placed at ARC, Stockton where I learnt about all aspects of arts management, programming, marketing, events co-ordination, funding and finance.  Finally, I progressed to work as Diversity officer at the Arts Council of England, North East where worked till 2011.

At 50, I decided to leave my job to become a full-time artist, but that road has not been easy and it took me further 8 years to finally arrive at this point to show my work publicly with the Women’s House project.  All this time, I kept working in the arts with Sangini, creating projects involving women, highlighting women’s issues, took on governance roles with various organisations which contributed to the depth of experience that I am able to bring to my art today.

Miki: I studied 3D Design at Northumbria University 20 years ago. I left feeling completely disengaged with art and design, creativity had been educated out of me.  Some years later I started an abstract painting class with Linda Kent. I found I could connect with this way of seeing the world and letting the materials inform expression.  Alongside this, I attended various community arts workshops as a participant; this encouraged me to find a way back into my own creativity and the value of the arts.

What made you turn your house into a gallery space?

Padma: The gallery space is called Makaan, in Hindi/Urdu it means a house (that inhabits art and artists)

I feel passionately about the transformative power of the arts and know how ‘spaces’ can play an important role in giving access to rich, life changing arts experience.  Not everyone is able to, or likes to or comfortable to go to galleries, thus the buildings can become barriers in engaging public in the arts.  So, by converting this terraced flat into an art space I plan to bring the arts to the people. It exists quietly as part of a residential neighbourhood and has welcomed artists, women and people from diverse communities.

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Padma – Tracing The Evanescent

Tell me how the project came about and developed over time?

Miki: Woman’s House came about after many conversations Padma and I had shared over the years about our shared interest in feminist issues, working with women’s groups and our own creative practices. One question kept coming up in these discussions- Why could we not make our art and developing as artists be the most important thing in our lives?  We both felt passionately about pursuing this as a priority.  It became clear that there where many reasons why this didn’t happen. Everything else in life was given more importance -caring for people, doing other work just to survive, putting other projects and people first before ourselves.  Alongside these practical concerns, the underlying narrative is equally important. We have not valued ourselves as artists, the immense feelings of guilt spending time developing our creativity and under confidence in expressing our identity in the world.

In 2015 I visited New York where I went to see The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago. It was a fantastic and inspiring opportunity to see this iconic piece of work. What I was most struck with was the time spent working with hundreds of participants to create this striking art work. The highly skilled use of craft techniques, often seen as women’s work to depict each element is incredible.  It is an impressive collaboration between people, technical skills and ideas.

Padma: In 2018 while visiting a major women’s art exhibition in Paris, I saw some of the other work from the original project Womanhouse, 1972 the iconic project about women and domesticity by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro.

The Womanhouse, 1972 presented a variety of feminist art by various women including sculptures, performances, installations in a mansion, making this into a large scale site-specific installation, challenging the status quo around women’s issues and patriarchy.

The experience of seeing the original work by Judy Chicago was transformational; however, the exhibition presented a White, heterosexual, middle-class female perspective leaving a particular gap around Black and LGBTQ perspectives.

I got back from Paris and spoke to Miki at length about the exhibition I had seen and how these issues were still relevant, especially in the light of the Centenary of the Suffragette movement and the #MeToo campaign.  That’s when we decided to revisit the original exhibition Womanhouse. We both felt that there were still conversations to be had using Judy Chicago’s project as a departure point.  We wanted to understand how feminism is understood and defined by women from the BME and LGBTQ communities.

Four decades on, Women’s House considers BME and LGBTQ women’s narratives around some of the issues they are facing in current times in the light of the wider political, social and demographical changes.

What is it about Judy Chicago that you find so inspiring?

Both: The work of Judy Chicago opens a way to start dialogues about feminist issues.  Her iconic work Womanhouse seemed to fit well in the realms of what we had been talking about over the years, we both identified with parts of this particular work. The house being a main element of significance.  Padma had already converted a Tyneside flat into a studio/ gallery and my recent additional career direction in working in sustainable construction.

Having seen her work before, we both have a particular connection to Judy Chicago’s work. The tenacity, the boldness and expansiveness in her work has deeply inspired us to explore a lot of issues through our own lenses.  Her work has been pioneering in putting women’s work in a main stream context; highlighting women artists in their own right giving voice to feminist  ideas. It provided a radical language of expression for artists and viewer at a time when second wave feminism was active. Her work has influenced our own practice giving us courage in our own expression and aided more direction in enquiry within our creativity.

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

Tell me about some of the events and groups that you’ve engaged with so far as part of the project?

Both: The framework for this project included workshops with community groups, a networking lunch for artists and a symposium.

We held six workshops with 30 BME and LGBTQ  women across Tyne and Wear with the aims of the workshops were to engage women in a discussion around the themes explored in Women’s House using creative approaches help elicit visual narratives.

We also worked with Sunderland women’s art group and facilitated the process of developing an idea into a visual piece, enabling them to make site-specific art pieces for this exhibition.

We hosted a networking lunch for artists; eight BME and LGBTQ women artists were be invited to take a critical view on the issues of feminism and the impact on their personal lives and the artistic practice. What transpired was prioritising space for more in-depth conversations in the future about these discussions.

Finally, a symposium – Working in partnership with National Glass Centre; Sangini organised the symposium whereby a panel of women artists and art professionals were invited to present their views and experiences of Women centric work in the context off feminism in current times.

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Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

What do you want the audience experience to be when they visit the exhibition?

Miki: I want the audience to be challenged by the work created both collectively and individually.  Part of the exhibition is an immersive space to be viewed by minimal light enabling a space for individual imagination and narratives to be added into their own perception of the work. Their part of the story is an important aspect of this work; the boundaries are in no way solid, providing fluid interpretation.  I would like the audience to experience an emotional response to the work.

Padma: The work is largely visceral, personal and emerges out of deep introspection, unravelling small incidents with great care and honesty.  We are telling stories and I hope the audience is able to pick up on these threads and explore personal stories long after they have seen the exhibition.

Why do you think this exhibition and project is important?

Miki: This project is really just a starting point of opening the discussions around intersectionality. The uncomfortable, unsaid things are of interest to me, many of these topics have only been touched upon within this project. The tensions we see around our communities are real, but how do we address them? This project has started to make a space for dialogues between different women from diverse background. There is so much fear involved in talking about the real issues, the way we see ourselves in our own context and then how we may be able to see ourselves in a wider context.  Creating a safe space to have, what might, for many be unsafe conversations is challenging.  Using the creative process and facilitated sessions is a tool opening cross sectional dialogue.

Padma: This project is an important point of transition for me as an artist as it has helped me to affirm my identity, develop an understanding of the collaborative practice as well as my own individual practice.  Many of the issues explored in this project more in-depth conversations both internal as well as externally at wider levels.  Aside from the issues of race and sexuality, there are plethora of other issues that prevent women from leading a decent day to day life which goes to show that more is needed to achieve a level playing field.

The exhibition is personal yet it’s also reflective of the wider narratives we have encountered while working on this project.  It’s a conversation piece between Miki and I, a portrayal of the female world, as we saw it and experienced it.

This project helped us to link up with Baltic and the Women’s House exhibition coincides with Judy Chicago’s exhibition at Baltic. This is a major co-incidence which we are not taking it lightly. We are delighted with the opportunity to work with Baltic on this and we will be hosting an event to mark Judy Chicago’s exhibition.

Can you tell me about some of the pieces and the processes behind the making?

The Storytellers

Padma: A collaborative, immersive, site specific piece that draws on intersections of our identities in terms of race and sexuality.

This piece uses the techniques of Warli tribal art from India, where the outside walls of the house are painted in red natural pigment and using rice flour and water, women depict their daily lives on the painted surface.  We have used this traditional art form to portray our stories in the contemporary British context.  Using white line drawings, both Miki and I have attempted to bring together our experiences over the past year.

The piece creates an immersive environment, presented in a darkened room where viewers are invited to see the work using small hand-held lights, restricting their view of the artwork as a whole.  The viewers will only see parts of the work, forcing them to develop their own narrative/s based on the limited view of the installation.

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Miki (left) and Padma (right) – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Tracing The Evanescent

Padma: “Can’t remember the last time a south Asian female figure was portrayed in a mainstream art gallery.’

This became the starting point as I began investigating into the notion of feminism among South Asian women who are often seen as ‘passive’. This concern was further widened with questions such as, ‘Where are the stories of South Asian female activism?’  ‘Why there are very few or little South Asian female stories represented in the galleries or museums?’ ‘Where is the South Asian feminist art in the UK?’ After much research, there is a distinct lack of narratives to assert British South Asian feminist voices, especially through creative expressions.

This piece is a series of process based drawings involving the act of mark-making and erasure as the main method to ‘trace’ the lost or hidden faces of women of South Asian descent. What began as a quest for stories of feminist art expression among South Asian women artists, soon became a concern. There has been a distinct lack of narratives of the British South Asian feminist voices, especially through creative expressions.

Angry and upset, I began rendering by drawing and erasing the faces in a repeated fashion, as if to experience the notion of invisibility that happens to the women on daily basis. In some of the drawings, by slowly making the circular gestural marks over the face, thus partially covering the faded face, I was able to connect deeply and emotionally with these women.

Who are these women?  Despite the concern about the lack of presence of feminist expressions, what I found exciting was the ordinary and the everyday acts of feminism which pervade these women’s lives.  Hence, the largely lost or hidden faces of ordinary women who are brave, courageous and strong become the heroines and their narratives are explored through their gaze and emotional state. They are portrayed in oversized scale using charcoal, graphite and kumkum (vermillion).

Exploring Other

Miki Z: A process led investigation into gendered space both physical and emotional. Using abstract lines, mixed media and water colours, it explores the queer space in-between, capturing the non-binary state of depiction of a person. It’s open to challenging those boundaries, disrupting the binary position. Using intuitive way of working, there is the accidental or the unseen. What happens on the paper informs the next.  There is fluidity and sense of movement in the pieces that allow the viewers to gain a sense of flow that is largely internal, feeling like they are floating in a space of their own occupying a liminal space.

Sum the exhibition up in 3 words?

Both: Immersive, poetic, bold

What do you think about the current North East creative scene?

Both: The North East creative scene is a unique place to showcase as well as experience fabulous arts and culture.  Just take Sunderland and you can see how a city is transforming its cultural landscape through great music, dance, festivals and visual arts from across the world.  Despite the squeeze on funding, there are great advocates for the arts in the North East who keep fighting for the region and that gives us hope for the future. We do need more diverse artists from the region and their voices to come through and more diversity of audience participation, especially inclusive of minority ethnic, disability and LGBTQ communities.

Tell me about an artist that you find in the present, super inspiring?

Padma: There are several artists that I often refer to, depending on the subject I’m working on, for inspiration and to learn from; Kara Walker, Kiki Smith, Chitra Ganesh and Zarina Hashmi to name a few. But the one artist whose work I find particularly inspiring and deeply interesting, in terms of drawing, is Julie Mehretu.  Mehretu’s work is multi-layered with marks, architectural shapes, designs to create complex large scale abstract paintings.  I have not seen her work, but I am sure it will be just as transformational as it has been with Judy Chicago’s work when I saw it for the first time in Paris.

Miki: Throughout this project I decided not to do research on other queer or BME female artists. I was more interested in theoretical research which in turn influenced my creative practice becoming research, ideas and thoughts. The main area of importance for me goes hand in hand with my other work as a builder in various ways. Looking at gendered space as a concept, how we interact with spaces around us and how space is conveyed on a two dimensional plain.

Tell me about another project you’ve worked on?

Padma: Last year, I produced a retrospective for a national Rangoli artist Ranbir Kaur at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.

Miki: As well as being an artist I am a natural builder.  During my recent postgraduate degree in Belgium I was involved in the design and build of a women’s centre in a village in Morocco. Through this experience I have become motivated in researching practical design principles for best practice in working with marginalised  communities.

What’s next for you in 2020?

Both: We plan to carry on developing our collaborative work, expanding narratives working with communities to make larger scale artworks taking over public spaces.

Miki: In the next year I have many projects I aim to undertake, part research, part practice where one will influence the other.  I will attempt to undertake a research project which focuses on gendered space, crossing between physical built environment, body, emotional and the place in-between.  Alongside this I want to produce a body of work that crosses between my abstract art work and technical skills working with lime and clay in construction. Melding the two disciplines together.

Padma:  ‘The Female’ – as in consciousness, a metaphysical body, remains a primary concern of my work.  I would like to continue exploring some of the issues I uncovered during my research on this project, such as the notion of visibility, migration and identity from a feminist perspective. I have been deeply moved by the recent forced mass migration of Rohyingyas in Myanmar, but this is not in isolation. Mass movement of people is symptomatic of where humanity is at right now and I plan to develop a body of work on this topic.

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Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Wow…..I’ve loved this interview. I could talk about all of this all day – I really love when personal passions become the inspiration for projects. It’s all about people power!

Women’s House is available to view until 20th December – they welcome individuals, community groups – anyone and everyone to get in touch to view by appointment via projectsangini@gmail.com. It’s a must see for feminists and art lovers alike.

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!

Well hello there Digital Makings…nice to meet you!

Have you heard of Digital Makings yet? No….well you’re certainly going to. Digital is EVERYWHERE now; it is simply infusing and permeating into every possible area of Arts and Culture. There is no escape.

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For those, like myself, who feel a little bit uncomfortable as soon as someone says “digital”, Digital Makings is going to be a learning curve and hugely exciting and for those who embrace digital and we first adopters well, you’re going to love it!

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Digital Makings is a collaborative Arts Council funded project between Gateshead Council Culture Team and Gateshead Libraries. It’s an on-going year-long programme of participatory digital arts activities, full of opportunities for workshop attendees, school groups, library users/borrowers, community groups, artists and even the digital industry to experiment, explore and learn.

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Gateshead Central Library (above, with Storm Troopers…)

There is lots coming up for all ages and abilities – including talks, residencies and lots of events to enthuse about all things digital. There are two key strands running through the project; the first strand sets to expose and explore creative digital mediums so expect everything from animation, to film making, to stop motion, to Quinn Draw, to photography, to music, to image manipulation.

Examples of Quinn Draw by some Young People

The second strand focuses on engaging with participants, library users, communities, artists etc through quite traditional arts, library and cultural activity and focus on digital opportunities and how digital means can be brought in to enhance not only the activity but also trigger learning.

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That’s what I mean when I say Digital Makings makes me feel a bit uncomfortable; the activity involved is going to be different and exciting, not necessarily using artist mediums or equipment that I regularly use and I’m going to feel outside of my comfort zone – which of course, I love!

The Digital Makings project has just announced its two main residencies; we are delighted to have local artists Ben Freeth and Karen Underhill on board. We also have a mini residency by Sheryl Jenkins. With all three artists, a Digital Makings programme of activity is continuously evolving (I promise you, it’s mint!). Such activity will be taking place across Gateshead and Gateshead Libraries, so keep an eye out for that.

Similar to Sculpture 30, I will be writing a feature on each artist – but I’m going to let them get a little settled into their new Digital Makings roles before interrogating them. However, I can reveal that their work and engagement will culminate in a final exhibition towards the end of the project. And after reading their proposals and plans, I’m really looking forward to it. We’re in for a treat!

For this current season, we’ve been working with digital artists and We EngAGE to run workshops, we had a Digital Arts Zone at eDay5 and we’ve got Shipley Lates: Digital Makings coming up on 26th November.

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If you fancy a night out with a difference, then Shipley Lates is for you – there will be a bar, digital arts, crafting in the beautiful surroundings of The Shipley, lovely company (Gateshead Culture Team will be there and we are a cracking bunch) and, did I mention there is a bar? So why not come join us with a troop, have a G&T and get all digital. That’s my plan for the evening anyway!

So, as I mentioned Digital Makings is a collaboration between Gateshead Culture Team and Gateshead Libraries. We’ve been working closely with Jacqui Thompson, who is the Community Learning Officer for the Libraries and creates and develops a wide range of ICT courses, code club and has an enviable digital network. If you want to get in touch with someone in the Digital sector, Jacqui is the one in the know!

I caught up with Jacqui to find out about her involvement in Digital Makings and beyond!

Hi Jacqui, can you tell me a bit about your role at Gateshead Libraries and within the Digital community across the North East?

I am most proud of being the originator of eDay; this year was our 5th event! eDay is a celebration of exciting new media and digital technology. Local makers and companies come together for the event to encourage members of the public to fully engage with changes in tech and art.

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Developing eDay from the idea stage to reality has allowed me to form a wide range of successful working relationships with local and regional businesses as well as third sector organisations. Further extending this aspect of my work I champion Coder DojoNE here in Gateshead Libraries and this has given me the opportunity to work and connect with the fantastic expert volunteers who give up their time to support young coders and makers.

Can you tell me a bit about your involvement with Digital Makings?

I was involved in part of the bid writing suggesting possible partnerships and events. Once I found out the Arts Council bid had been successful, I was then able to add new activity and workshops to the likes of eDay and Coder Dojo as well as launching a new weekly code club.

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In addition, I’ve also had input to the programming of activity, whilst supporting upcoming events such as Shipley Lates: Digital Makings and Culture Camps.

Who is the Digital Makings project and activity for?

Looking at the fantastic programme that has been pulled together so far, there really is something for all ages and abilities to get involved with. It is for people who have not really engaged with Digital before, to people who are already really engaged and proficient. Moreover, there is a family aspect, so more and more, we see children with higher tech capabilities than their parents – so creative activities within Digital Makings, will enable families to collaborate, create and learn together.

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We are really lucky to have the project and programme of activity in the region and at the same times as SnowDogs!

Why has “Digital” become increasingly important?

Well there’s no getting away from the growth of digital in our everyday life and so digital has been added to the creative and cultural mix as a way to further engage people and to help them get hands on with new tech and understand its wide range of uses as well as to make better use out of the devices they already may own.

One of the highlights of Digital Makings so far has been eDay5…can you tell me a little bit about the day?

WOW eDay5 was a great day! 350 people plus attended and got hands on with tech and digital – everything from VR, to Makerspace, to Minecraft, to 3D printing.  From participants comments on social media and our evaluation forms, a great time was had by everyone and fingers crossed for eDay6.

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We also had a Digital Arts stand this year; we had digital artist John Quinn running animation sessions and green screen movie sessions alongside Hannah from the Shipley Art Gallery introducing Quinn Art using iPads. Both of these activities proved to be highlights of the day as did the Amateur radio group.

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Well thank you Jacqui! With Digital Makings now firmly underway and set to continue until September 2017, I hope I’ve wet your appetite for it. Over the coming months, you’ll get to know the Digital Makings artists in residence and I will be shortly sharing some of activity programmed.

Current book-able Digital Makings activity can be found HERE!

Sculpture 30 September Artist of the Month; Neil Canavan

It is with a heavy HEAVY heart we bid a big goodbye farewell to our year long Sculpture 30 project in Gateshead. What a fantastic run we’ve had celebrating 30 years of Gateshead’s Family Sculpture Day and Public Art Programme.

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The programme has included public events, sculpture tours, art walks, exhibitions, commissions, participatory workshops, school projects, community engagement and range of very talented artists each with a very sculptural practice.

Each month, I’ve featured an “Artist of the Month” showcasing them, their practice and sculpture in a variety of contexts.

October 2015 – Helen Pailing

November 2015 – Yvette Hawkins

December 2015 – Stephen Newby

January 2016 – Jo Coupe

February 2016 – Tanya Axford

March 2016 – Ed Carter

April 2016 – Joseph Hillier

May 2016 – Russ Coleman

June2016 – Colin Rose

July 2016 – Gilbert Ward

August 2016 – Jane Gower

And finally that brings us on to September 2016 and the subject of this blog post; Neil Canavan, our Sculpture 30 Artist of the Month for September.

I first met Neil, probably about five years ago, when I was working my very first Gateshead Family Sculpture Day in Saltwell Park. Neil is something of a Sculpture Day veteran – having been involved with it since very near the beginning.

You only have to work with him a short while to see; firstly the man knows how to handle a band saw…… something I’ve grown to love and learn, but was initially terrified. Secondly, he really loves what he does and working with wood – it oozes out of him. Where others (like me) see a pile of wood, he see’s opportunity and creativity. It amazes me every year, what he builds with the school children on School Sculpture Day.

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Neil has a studio in North Shields and alongside the making of his own sculpture, he works on commissions, residencies and school projects. He uses particular themes to produce a series of works – a key theme is that of the coastline; an area in constant flux.

Neil is our September Artist of the Month, not just for his involvement this year in School Sculpture Days and Gateshead Family Sculpture Day on 25th September; which by the way, was absolutely smashing! But he also led a Sculpture Making Workshop in the Gallery, at Gateshead Central Library where participants of all ages created mini sculptures which then became part of a large-scale sculpture called ‘Juggernaut’ inspired by the large mobile structures that were pulled along by devotees in Hindu religious processions.  Juggernaut became the ‘showstopper’ if you will, on Gateshead Family Sculpture Day, featured amongst the sculptures Gateshead schools had made on their days.

As always with our Artists of the Month, I caught up with Neil so I could dig a little deeper beyond the man I’ve only met on Sculpture Days and find out what other sculptures float his boat!

Hi Neil, so tell me about your practice?

Mostly, I tend to work on commissions either public or private. I work with the housing group ISOS quite a bit with their community development team producing work that is installed in developments. This usually means working on ideas with either community groups or local schools near to the new development.

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Cherry Tree Fence

Most of my work involves construction or carving mainly in wood but I love mixing materials and trying out new techniques, e.g. bin bags with Juggernaut. My work also involves interaction with the general public covering all ages; this is an essential part of my working practice.

Where do you seek inspiration for your work and sculptures?

There are many and varied sources of my inspirations; I do tend to plunder what I see as watershed moments in my past such as my childhood, growing up in the countryside, my time working in India and Cyprus.

Also I’m greatly influenced by the land and seascapes both in the North East but also my trips abroad. Shorelines in particular fascinate me; the fluid nature of their interaction keeps me enthralled.

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Going with the Flow

What is your favourite type of material to work with?

Wood but particularly driftwood! I love the shape, texture and feel of this material; although I’ve used many differing materials in my work from bones to bin bags. I tend to use either natural or recycled materials and love being able to mix them in my work.

How did you get into sculpture?

This is a somewhat long and convoluted journey. I started my working life as an electrician and through my twenties did lots of different jobs and became somewhat bored. By chance I signed up to a stained glass course to learn how to cut glass; the tutor must have spotted something because he said I had a talent for it. I started to get small commissions but quickly realised I needed to learn how to draw; at school I’d been told I wasn’t very good at art so I didn’t try to learn the technique of drawing.

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Seaton Burn Gabbions

So I went to do A level art and once there it was like a light bulb moment; I knew this is what I wanted to do! Since I’ve always been good with my hands I gravitated quickly to sculpture and working in three dimensions.

Any advice for a budding sculptor?

The main thing is perseverance! Say yes to any initial work after you leave college as you never know what it might lead to.

Tell me a bit about Juggernaut – the Sculpture 30, Sculpture Day showstopper?

The idea for Juggernaut goes back to my time working in India; I loved the way they celebrate events particularly big religious festivals and I thought what better idea then to make something big and colourful that could be pulled into the park to celebrate what is already an amazing popular event.

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Juggernaut

Also I liked the play on words from its original meaning in Hindu of the large mobile temples pulled along in outdoor religious festivals to its present meaning of something large and unwieldy; a bit like Sculpture Day itself.

Do you have a favourite sculpture of yours?

Not sure I have a favourite piece! I suppose I still have a soft spot for Ship of Fools, in fact my more temporary pieces tend to be the ones I have more fun making.

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Ship of Fools

Do you have a favourite piece of sculpture in general?

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Taratantara –  Kapour

This is difficult, as I’ve been inspired by so many different sculptors over the years. The Field by Gormley and Taratantara by Kapour are two that stick in the mind.

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The Field – Gormley

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to share?

I’m just in the process of working out the next ISOS commission for a social housing development in South Shields and I’m working with a local primary school.

So Culture Vultures, from me and the other Sculpture 30 Team; thank you for supporting the project. To all the artists including this month’s artist Neil, you’re all amazing and I hope we’ve created something of a legacy here; lots of memories.

With Sculpture 30 now over, you may be thinking….now what?

Well – there is LOADS coming up….first stop…..Digital Makings.

Watch.this.space.

 

Frank Styles in the Spotlight

You may have noticed Snowdogs popping up across the region!? From 19 September to 29 November, parks, streets and open spaces across the North East region are playing host to Great North Snowdogs; 60 large and 97 little sculptures  inspired by ‘The Snowman and The Snowdog’.

Leading businesses, cultural organisations and talented artists have united to bring you this major free, public art trail, devised by creative producers, Wild In Art in partnership with St Oswald’s Children’s Hospice to raise funds for this Newcastle-based charity.

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There are Dogs across Gateshead; two in Saltwell Park, One at the Angel site, One at Gateshead Central Library, One at Trinity Square, One in the Gateshead Interchange and two at the Sage, Gateshead.

My office and base is at Gateshead Central Library and it’s not that I’m biased (ok may be a little!) but of course, my favourite is Graffiti, which is standing proudly to right of the old library entrance. He’s an absolute knock out beaut and the design is just fantastic!

Have you seen our Snowdog Graffiti yet? If so, let me know what you think!? If not – then get yourself along to Gateshead Central Library to visit him and of course pop in and say hello to our lovely Little Dogs – tweet us @GatesheadLibs and let us know about your visit.

Frank Styles in the Spotlight

Graffiti Dog was designed and created by one of the best known street artists in the North East; Frank Styles.

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Frank is a talented freehand spray painter with over 18 years’ experience painting under his belt. He specialises in photo-realistic murals, freehand graffiti art and stencil graffiti. Throughout his practice he designs and paints North East graffiti commissions, street art, murals alongside facilitating graffiti workshops and community projects.

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Frank is equally passionate about making art accessible for all and storytelling through his work.

Now, I personally love love LOVE graffiti work – I love the David Bowie near the Sage, I love the changing nature of the industrial walls between Sandyford, Shieldfield and Heaton in Newcastle. It’s real art form – one that I’ve always been completely in awe of and captivated by. When done professionally and of course, legally, it adds a colour and vibrancy to urban areas.

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My experience with “street art” and interest began with those sharp “s”’s in the back of my maths class when I was probably about 11 – practicing them over and over and if you went to school in the 90s, you’ll know exactly what I mean!

That retro activity, which fills me with nostalgia is what got me interested and today one of my favourite things to do, in any city in the world, in places from Barcelona to Southend, is whilst exploring a new place; I take photos and photos of all the street art I come across. New York was an absolute haven for it and street sculpture too……a true culture vulture’s paradise. In fact, I think I spent more time looking at that than I did the touristy things.

I was speaking recently to a gent who commissioned a local graffiti group to decorate and a design a piece for his car park on Brandling Street, Gateshead (just off the Tyne Bridge) and I asked him why he’d commissioned a graffiti style of piece in a client carpark. He said, he wanted a talking point for his visiting clients, something colourful with a North East theme and he had the idea of young people feeling ownership of the car park, re-visiting it and thinking “I did that!”. It’s a fantastic piece that is hidden away and certainly always stops me in my tracks!

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So when I found out our Snowdog was by a graffiti artist, obviously I was excited and couldn’t wait to see it. I imagined colourful, exciting and impactful and that is exactly what we got. Frank’s design is brilliant and certainly one of my favourite Snowdogs!

I also love the idea of finally jumping over the hurdle of “graffiti isn’t really art” – well, of course it is and it’s one of my favourites. It’s a glorious form of Art and the skill behind it is unbelievable. I love anything where people are self-taught, self-crafted; that takes passionate and real hard work. We now have businesses and Councils embracing it and commissioning such work inside and outside as part of environmental enrichment and to impress clients.

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So whilst you could say graffiti isn’t to your taste; I could also say that a watercolour painting of a landscape really isn’t my taste but I can still look at appreciate the skill of the artist. You only have to watch our Snowdog Graffiti for five minutes and see how many people stop, look at the Dog and take photos.

And that’s exactly what Snowdogs is all about – getting out and about engaging with sculpture and new art forms and styles, learning about new artists and of course, raising some funds for St Oswalds.

I caught up with Frank to find out a little bit more about the man behind graffiti…..

Tell me a bit about yourself?

Hi I am Frank, Frank I am.

Tell me about your practice?

I paint pictures using spray paint, a skill I learned from doing graffiti. I’m a full time mural artist; I like to paint large walls in places where people can see them, for me it’s a job that I am passionate about and really enjoy, in that respect I am really lucky but then you make your own luck, don’t you?

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In between painting big walls I paint a lot of smaller commissions like restaurants, pubs, offices etc.  I love this, meeting new people each week and having a new challenge to paint all the time, it gives me ideas and techniques that filter into the bigger walls.

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What is “street art”?

I don’t see myself as a street artist, I used to do graffiti, I did Fine art degree and then I started painting commissions and eventually landed some big walls.

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I’m a spray painter, I paint pretty pictures, more of a mural artist, I had a choice to make – I could keep doing illegal graffiti and risk ending up in prison or use my skills to support my family and try to make the world a more colourful place at the same time.

Do you have a favourite piece of work?

Yes; it’s normally the last thing I’ve painted! However one that stands out for me is the ‘Two Whites’ piece on High Street East in Sunderland City Centre (see picture below). It’s a painting of two butterflies 12 meters high. It’s a simple painting but the scale of the thing still blows me away every time I see it.

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Why did you want to get involved with Snowdogs?

I wasn’t going to do a Snowdog but my friend Steph convinced me, she said you need to paint one it’ll be awesome! So I said, “ok I’ll give it a shot” and I was really happy with the outcome. It’s the first sculpture I’ve painted and it presented new challenges, trying to make it look good from every angle for example.

What was your inspiration for Graffiti dog?

Ok, so I paint a lot of photo realistic images and I love painting things from nature.  But when faced with a dog, it didn’t seem right to go down this route.  I thought “they look very cute so how can I toughen this guy up a bit”?  How can I contrast this cuteness?! So I looked back through some of my old graffiti letters for inspiration and came up with this abstracted letterform design.  I love the colours and the flow; I’ve had great fun painting this dog. I don’t think I’ve managed to completely kill the cuteness but at least I’ve given it a shot!

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A part from your Dog, do you have another favourite Snowdog?

I’ve been impressed by the standard of all the dogs I’ve seen. It’s so worth seeing them in person you just can’t take it all in through a photo. Mike Clay’s ‘Guide Dog’ sings to me for the sheer detail that’s gone into the maps on it and likewise the ‘Hounds Tooth’ by Damien Jeffrey must have taken some doing, so bright and colourful; it’s class.

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Advice for people wanting to get into street art?

It takes a great deal of time, patience and paint to learn spray painting. So you have to keep going and keep drawing and painting; even it doesn’t look great just keep going.  It took me years to learn, I mean 6 or 7 years before I was even happy with anything I painted, buy I kept going, you have to.

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Well thank you Frank – if you want to watch Frank in action – watch this amazing video!

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(The 90s kid inside LOVES Frank’s Power Ranger indoor design!!)

We are now 3 weeks into Snowdogs – keep finding them, enjoying the work and of course #protectthepack…….