Every illustration is decadently overgrown. It immerses you in native plant life, tumbling fruit, larger-than-life crickets and snarling panther jaws. It’s ready to swallow you whole and spit you out in the speckled shadows of a forest floor.
It’s difficult to believe that this artist could ever question his incredible talent. However, Matthew reveals that he spent the months leading up to his six month residency at Tara’s headquarters “worrying that I would be ‘found out’, that I couldn’t draw, that I was totally talentless and that there had been some sort of terrible mistake in inviting me there.”
This “perpetual state of anxiety” can be read in Matthew’s drawings, which are precise and overwhelmingly detailed. No space to ask questions. No room for error. Each piece of work – from the 8-storey mural commissioned by Zap Architecture, to the album artwork for Pete and the Pirates – share the same barrage of information. As a recent client Dr. Piyush Pushkar put it: “You see the strokes of Frame’s marker pens, and then feel yourself pushed backwards as far as possible to grapple with it all.”
However, in Matthew’s newer illustrations we discover a distinctly looser style. In fact, some of the drawings featured in Walking is a Way of Knowing and Speaking to an Elephant are taken straight from Matthew’s sketchbook.
Matthew’s experience in India where he illustrated the two books – working with limited tools from his bedroom, getting ink all over the floor and enduring the worst monsoon Chennai had seen for 100 years – sparked a new, liberating perspective in his abilities. “I […] realized that my artwork isn’t about the things I have around me – I don’t need anything to be able to work effectively, I just need me.”
Since returning to the UK, Matthew has worked on many ambitious commissions, including a mural titled The Marisolysian Fields which celebrates the joint Indian and British heritage of baby Frederic Pushkar. He is now starting a new chapter as a professor of BA Illustration at Portsmouth University and MA Illustration at Falmouth University.
Matthew says: “My one bit of advice to anyone reading this would be to be constantly putting yourself in situations where you feel slightly out of your depth […] Nothing will compare to the sense of achievement you get when you have completed what you thought to be an impossible task.”
This article is one from my artist feature series, showcasing the work of professional UK-based artists whose work I love. Let me know what you think to the article and Matthew’s illustrations, which you can find more of here!
Prepare to be thrown off balance. Cyndi Speer making her artwork both progressive yet accessible is a balancing act as dizzying as her paintings.
This Suffolk-based artist re-imagines local countryside into a waltz of the senses: her paintings bridging the gap between the familiar and the fantastic. One moment you’re turning your collar up against a frosty moon, the next you’re soaring up with swallows, only to tumble down meadows into the pale arms of a sandy beach. The animals depicted flow with the same energy as their habitats: climbing impossible slopes and settling in the nooks of fictional valleys.
Breaking new ground is a deliberate choice for Cyndi, avid to keep her practise fresh and innovative through artistic growth. “In a way it’s not a case of me choosing art – art chose me,” she says, adding: “I don’t want to just create work that is expected of me, because that would stifle me – I want to keep progressing. If you don’t push anything forward, nothing new will happen. And if we did that, all art would stagnate.”
Driving this progression is Cyndi’s experimental techniques. Blending water-based and oil-based mediums, she often starts by pouring a puddle of paint on a canvas, tilting it to form her signature curves and swirls, and letting the result dictate the final composition. Never static, Cyndi works on multiple artworks simultaneously due to the lengthy drying time of each layer of paint. For her, this recurrent discovery is the most exciting part of the process.
Although her paintings have widespread appeal, Cindy describes how difficult it can be staying on the straight and narrow in terms of advancing her style. “There is a constant battle for all artists between trying to be true to themselves and their practice, and trying to make a living making work they know will sell well. Lots of tourists come here [to my studio], and it’s tempting to be drawn into creating landscapes which I know they’ll like.”
To combat this, Cyndi is bringing in a touch of portraiture alongside an inspiring new body of work to her next exhibition Dream and Reality in Quay Gallery, Snape Maltings, Suffolk this October.
Cyndi’s yearly schedule is choc-a-bloc with exhibitions and sculpture trails – including making two pigs for the prominent Pigs Gone Wild art trail organised by Wild in Art, where a passel of painted pigs took to in Ipswich in 2016. Cyndi’s personal highlight was contributing to St Elizabeth Hospice and getting her artwork out of the gallery space into the minds and hearts of the public. Whilst not pandering to commerciability, Cyndi thinks that art should speak to a wide variety of people, and sculpture trails are an effective way to do this. “Art should be accessible for all, not just for the privileged few.”
From her studio deep in the Suffolk countryside, Cyndi’s passion continues to push her practice forward. Art lovers can be reassured that creativity will never be stifled in this artist, as Cyndi adamantly declares: “I will probably die with a paintbrush in hand!”
Elisa’s powerful installations take us from the neon rapture of a dance stage into the quiet bliss of a floating word garden. And how? All through the power of words and light.
Although her recent pieces explore the various states of dreaming, these artworks wake us up better than a cold bath and a bloody mary. Her recent project saw 10 dancers perform against human-sized mirrored lettering spelling out the word DREAMERS, which was the title of the piece. This ambitious installation and dance performance showcased the collaborative efforts of the artist, a sound producer, choreographer, director and dance troupe, taking viewers “from sleep into dream, a dance in the liminal space of twilight to the edge of night.”
Other notable pieces include the Garden of Floating Words, a cluster of poetry that floats delicately in Jubilee Gardens, London, and A Solid Wish Scatters, which throws a poem from the pavement onto the famous concrete wall in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester. At the moment, Elisa’s very own solo exhibition Building Text commissioned by Broadgate, London and curated by Rosie Glenn is open to visitors: spanning three buildings in the area until 26th October 2018.
Though based in Manchester, Elisa’s commissions have taken her across the world: from the Faroe Islands to illuminating the mountain sides of Seydisfjordur, Iceland. In 2014 she was commissioned as a Red Bull Creative to create an installation in their studios, and since then has been shortlisted for the international Darc Awards in 2016 and 2017.
However, enlightening the world with her artwork is not all Elisa does with her time. After all, we are talking about a woman whose nail varnish matches the RGB colour palette of her lighting tech.
Whilst in the winter months Elisa creates brilliant installations, in summer she co-directs the biennial Manifest Arts Festival. Last year the festival showcased over 250 artists in open studios, events and exhibitions for 5 full days across venues in Manchester, Salford and Bolton. She is currently coordinating the next festival which will run on 11th – 20th July 2019.
Elisa commented: “I’ve personally always had the split between artistic practice and curation. Even when I was studying at Manchester School of Art, I ran The Link Gallery for 2 years, curating weekly exhibitions alongside developing my practice as a Light and Text Artist.”
Elisa acknowledges it can be very challenging to balance the two disciplines since planning such a large festival can take time away from her personal artistic practice. However she also commented, “Festival planning isn’t always serious. Sometimes you get to climb a beard!” (This is a true story: she has indeed scaled Engels’ beard in Salford.)
See more of Elisa’s impressive work on her website here.
This is another article from my artist feature series, researched and written by myself on UK-based artists I admire. You can read more about how to become a full-time artist through equally illuminating articles about Richard Day and Juliette Hamilton.
Ambrin is a fearless, fifth-generation jewellery designer heralding jewellery as the boldest art form.
Ambrin’s fiercely lavish pieces reflect current socio-economic events, to bring perspective to the concept of wealth, worth and privilege. Her golden touch transforms everyday objects – from tampons to beer bottle lids, bubble gum to contact lenses – into opulent wearable treasures that artfully tell the story of our times. Ambrin says: “I love bringing things into the jewellery world that feels like they don’t belong there…I think that’s an interesting way to progress jewellery as an art form.”
Delectably inedible, her piece Gold Bar – a gold-plated Kit Kat – explores the fact that chocolate was exempt from the new sugar tax introduced in the UK in April 2018. In another piece Pretty Penny, Ambrin works directly onto a copper penny, embellishing the queen’s portrait with gold jewellery. By elevating the insignificant coin into a precious item, Ambrin challenges us to reconsider our attitude towards small change.
By reflecting on contemporary issues in challenging sculpted pieces, Ambrin brings this formerly considered craft irrefutably into the fine art sphere. The duality of Ambrin’s work as both a stand-alone sculpture and a wearable work of art gives its message extra poignancy – since as a wearer you can directly engage in the play of wealth and power that the artwork itself is undermining.
“There’s a lot of room for more contemporary jewellery in exhibitions and it’s often missing from the fine art space. Just because an object can be used as jewellery doesn’t mean it can’t also be a sculpture or considered as a piece of art […] just because it’s jewellery it shouldn’t be excluded or overlooked.”
Ambrin crafts her pieces using 100-year-old tools and knowledge inherited from her family’s jewellery business. She draws upon her extensive training from studying Jewellery Design at Central Saint Martins, and many experiences since including the Galerie Marzee International Graduate Show 2016 in Nijmegen, Holland, creating a bejewelled bee for Bee in the City, and spending a year as the Jewellery Scholar at Swarovski Foundation Scholarship: gaining key industry insight at many events including the British Fashion Awards.
Ambrin is bringing her enlightened perspective to the rest of the world as she embarks on becoming a key part of the global jewellery-making community. For example, she has just completed a residency in Peru, learning from local jewellery experts how to create traditional Inca jewellery.
Watch this space as Ambrin changes the way we approach adornment and carves out a place for jewellery in the global fine art world.
Discover more delights from Ambrin on her website and Instagram. Hope you enjoyed reading another of my artist feature series!
Manchester-based sculptor Juliette Hamilton is the tirelessly industrious human you’d dearly like to be. I’d be surprised if she has ever uttered the word ‘procrastination’ in her life. As I interview her, she doggedly irons clothes ready for her holiday to New York tomorrow, but still finds time to fill me in on her incredibly inspiring life as an artist and how she accidentally got there.
Juliette makes a living creating realistic animal sculptures out of willow and other mediums for clients ranging from green-fingered locals to Hollyoaks, the BBC, and Bollywood films. Her creations stand proudly in museums, heritage centers, halls, gardens, farms, galleries and festivals all across the UK and beyond. As well as doing commissions, she also coordinates three weaving workshops a week and sells her wares at fairs and events throughout the year.
You may ask how does can she possibly get so much done? The secret is her lifestyle. And two pints of tea every morning.
Juliette wakes at 5:30am everyday like a songbird, and gets straight to work creating sculptures from her studio at the bottom of her garden. Powered by a questionable amount of caffeine, she weaves for a minimum of ten hours a day, six days a week. It’s no wonder she has an strict no-work-on-holiday policy, though she insists that her routine and the process of creating is very enjoyable. “I don’t feel like I’m working at all, it never feels like a chore. Many people who go to my workshops comment “time just disappears” – and it’s true! It’s often a very therapeutic process.”
Despite being very happy with her lifestyle as a sculptor, Juliette remarks that becoming a full time artist was purely accidental.
After being cajoled into joining a weaving workshop by a persuasive friend, Juliette discovered a knack for the craft that soon attracted the attention of local art buyers. Everything snowballed from there. She says: “to be honest I had no intention to do this for a living but it crept up on me […] It took a few years to realize that that’s what I was doing for a living now – that creating sculptures was now my full time job.”
Currently Juliette is creating stock for the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair and working on a shire horse commissioned by the Manchester council – one of her most challenging projects to date.
The horse, which will stand proudly next to the canal in an effort to rejuvenate the walkway, is reinforced by a metal skeleton – unlike the wood that Juliette usually uses to fortify her sculptures. She says this is so that the horse can be remade when the willow eventually biodegrades, with the added benefit of being able to withstand the weight of a human incase any cheeky visitor fancies a horse ride.
After half an hour discussing the perils of ironing and the joys of a creative life with Juliette, it’s difficult not to feel more motivated by her. Perhaps not wake-up-at-5am motivated. But I’m definitely game for drinking 2 pints of tea before noon. How about you?
See more sculptures from Juliette on her website here.
This article is part of my artist feature series, showcasing the work of professional UK-based artists I admire. Let us know what you think below!
For full-time artist and entrepreneur Richard Day, being an artist is a business, his paintings are products, and his life is golden. Richard brings home the bacon by selling commissioned artwork through his online Etsy shop: shipping paintings from his studio in Norwich to homes, restaurants and offices around the world.
Richard’s painting style is as fearless as his mindset. A carnival of colour with the unfettered energy of a rock anthem, his pieces combine graffitti with traditional portraiture in striking pop-art designs. The backgrounds are often filled with vibrant splashes of spray paint and scuffs of colour; the foregrounds daubed liberally with oil paint, depicting cultural icons, musicians and historical figures. Creating them can take anywhere between four hours and four days depending on the complexity of the design.
Richard started freelancing full-time in March 2017, and is already building up a storm with over 32k followers on Instagram and hundreds of clients. He’s also taken part in numerous events including live painting – his performances always leaving audiences agape (and asking for his number).
One would think that if being a full-time creative was as easy as Richard makes out, half the population would hand in their resignation to start a cookery school or knit tea cosies for a living. So why aren’t we writing to our bosses right now?
For some, becoming a full-time artist is a perilous step into the unknown. For Richard Day, it was a necessary manoeuvre to be free of bosses, gallery commission, and menial routines. “I always knew I wanted to work for myself but I never thought being a full time artist was an option.”
Richard admits: “Information isn’t a problem – we have an abundance of information that tells you how to do pretty much everything including how to be an artist. I’m sure there are people much more qualified to give people advice on the topic. My advice would be to just smash it – be very, very stubborn and say fuck it, I want to be an artist. And just go for it.” He adds: “You can champion good qualities such as perseverance, self belief and all that, but for me, stubbornness is key.”
Richard goes onto say there are things you need to take into account when working for yourself. For one, meticulous record keeping and sticking to deadlines is essential. “I’m very aware how many paintings I need to sell to make rent etc. and that is always something I need to consider.” Richard says the most difficult thing he faces is shipping the artwork out, which can often be delayed during the journey.
At the end of our chat I asked Richard what he thought he’d be doing for a living if he wasn’t an artist, to which he replied: “That’s a bloody good question. I have no idea. To be honest, I’d probably be working a shit job trying my best to be an artist.”
You can find – and commission – more of Richard’s incredible work on his online shop here.
This article is the second in a series of artist features, researched and written by me with many thanks to Richard for the great interview and photos.
Matlakas is a dyslexic artist with a six-pack who doesn’t like ice-cream. But moreover, he is an art activist fighting for cultural and political unity in a world full of imaginary borders.
More passionate than Picasso, Italian-born Matlakas covers himself in automatic umbrellas in the name of art on the regular. Onlookers observe as he treads the streets of London, Cape Town, Seoul, Naples and the Jeju Island wearing a crown of barbed wire and roses, which he slowly dismantles along the way. He’s taken Melting Borders – a performance piece involving real ice-cream with natural, edible colours melting slowly in the sun – from Armenia to the North Korean border, and participated in the Moscow Biennale 2010 and the Gwangju Biennale 2014. The artist brandishes a battlecry in every area he visits: “Now it’s the time. It’s the time to melt away all flags. Accept the variety of all colours. To accept cultural differences, to win together.”
Matlakas says about his performance work: “As I look up my head is tilted upwards because I have a dream. So many dreams, and many dreams […] that [are] obstructed by inhuman rules.” According to the artist, these obstructions include passports, fences, laws, permissions, weapons, violence, and barbed wire.
This idea is symbolically expressed in all of Matlakas’ work, including his energetic life-size paintings created from his studio in London. These pop-art scenes with expanses of yellow and blue and cages of dense, black lines bring in motifs from childhood and modern life. A piece might feature lego men besides books and birdcages. Classical sculptures with laptops and lasers. Paper planes and sailor suits. They wallop you with colour and tickle you back to life with whimsy.
However, these fantastical scenes draw us into the imaginary world of borders and their very real consequences: the confinement of refugees, the conflict of human desires, and the freedom of a borderless future (should we ever reach it). As Matlakas put it: “how come something so imaginary leads us to fight, and fight back?” And from that he suggests the question: why is it so important to continue to fight?
As he prepares for more performances and residencies across the globe, Matlakas continues to combat these fictitious borders in society by creating art that makes you sit up and listen. Or stand on a car bonnet holding a protest poster, one of the two.
This article is the first of a series on professional UK-based artists I admire, researched and written by myself. I hope you enjoyed it and please feel free to share your thoughts on Matlakas’ work below!
Experiencing the Echo Exhibition opening night really showed me how businesses of any specialty can support and progress the artistic world, and I think that it is a fantastic blueprint for the future of commercial fine art. Here is my experience of the fantastic Echo Exhibition that opened last night…
About the exhibition
The exhibition is homed in, and supported by, Prettys – a solicitor firm in Ipswich ran by people with genuine enthusiasm towards the arts. Prettys host a biannual exhibition, where they basically deck out their lovely office space with artwork from University of Suffolk artists and invite lots of people from the local area to see it on the opening night.
Luckily for us, this year the work featured in the exhibition was exclusively from the Waterfront Studios – which is a space for artist alumni of the University of Suffolk to rent inexpensive studio spaces within the university.
Each year the role of curator changes, and this time the Echo Exhibtion was curated by the lovely Sarah Bale and Julie Dodds, who share a studio space at Waterfront Studios. They were responsible for selecting and collecting work and installing the two story labyrinth of Prettys’ office with 24 artworks – a mammoth task which they managed to accomplish with tireless enthusiasm and energy.
Where do I come in?
Although I don’t personally rent a studio space (although I’m looking forward to that point in the future!) I happily fell into the exhibition since I work for a creative company called Pop My Mind which is based in the Waterfront Studios. We work in a shared office space in the middle of the artists, meaning we are constantly met with the hammering and drilling noises of Carlos’ jewelry making (the ‘Mad Dentist’ as we like to call him), the cheerful conversations of Sarah and Julie from the corner, and the smell of turps from Adam’s paintings in progress. It’s a really awesome space to work in (even though I can get easily distracted from all the exciting things happening around us) and since my co-workers and I are also artists, the curators kindly included our work!
I entered four artworks into the exhibition which were included: three portraiture ink paintings and one illustrative piece. Plus I also snuck in another ink painting when Sarah and Julie were scavenging for more artwork on the day of the opening night, since Prettys opened up another room for them to fill!
The private view
The opening night drew in loads of interesting people from the local area, including Prettys staff and contacts, friends and family of the artists, creative people from around Ipswich, and even the Major of Ipswich! There was a lovely buzzing atmosphere as people discussed the artwork and their connection to the event, and despite the amount of rooms which the work was spread between, there were many tight squeezes through doorways and quite a queue at the buffet table.
It was lovely to see my pieces integrated into the exhibition among some outstanding work from the Waterfront Studios artists. There was such varied and high quality work throughout the exhibition, and I found it especially nice to see people’s artwork which I had seen in-the-making now finished and out of the studio context. Having them displayed on walls around the office really brought them to life: Sarah and Julie did an amazing job of matching complementing artworks together and arranging the exhibition so that it seemed both professional and homely.
Ten pieces of works were sold that evening alone, the first one being a stunning portrait of Frida Kahlo by portrait artist Adam Riches (see it on Twitter here). My co-workers and I actually bet on Adam that he would be the first to win – which obviously means we have excellent taste! A few artists also got commissioned that night from visitors of the exhibition looking to furnish their lobbies with some fine art.
A huge congratulations to my boss Oliver Squirrell too, who won the ‘Best in Show’ award for his photographic print (below). This is an award with a paid prize, given out twice a year by Prettys Solicitors to the favourite piece of artwork as selected by their staff.
How this benefits the artists
As an artist, one of the key things to grow (both in terms of developing your practice and your creative career) is through exhibition exposure. Being involved in exhibitions like the Echo Exhibition is a really valuable experience which connects you to people in the community who you might not have the excuse to talk to much before – as well as a means to meet loads of other art lovers who may be interested in your work and want to support your progress. The biannual opening event by Prettys is looked forward to by lots of people in Ipswich – after all, who doesn’t want to spend an evening drinking wine and looking at artwork?
This valuable exposure of your pieces to like-minded people, and space to mingle and chat, is really what makes exhibiting work in professional ground exhibitions so exciting! The award from Prettys is also a lovely added touch since it is a great way of rewarding an artist for their merit whether their piece is sold or not.
A win-win situation
In my opinion, getting the art world and the business world talking is very important. Being an artist is a not an easy profession or hobby – especially when trying to make a worthwhile living out of your creativity – and it can be difficult to get on the first stepping stone of your creative career without support from the community.
No matter what we do as our day jobs, we should all support the things we are passionate about wherever possible, which is just what Prettys has done. The office has now been furninshed with some diverse and skilful artwork for half a year, and the artists have had their work seen by loads of people and even sold due to this. This win-win situation is a fantastic way of making art relevant and commercially viable; I definitely think that other companies should follow their lead and bring the arts as a significant aspect to their business to improve their own workplace and the creative industries too.
I have been living in Cambodia for over a month now and have been sketching happily during my time off. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my oil paints (my luggage allowance was already teetering over the limit) which is a shame since the sunsets here are remarkable, and any other medium wouldn’t do them justice.
Every time I try to find a shady spot to draw to have some peace and quiet, I only need to sit down for three minutes when a tentative but curious child on a bicycle will suddenly appear beside me. After peering at my notebook for a few minutes they will leave, and I will momentarily breathe a sigh of relief and settle down to the next section of detail, when he will be back – only with four friends and a football. They will crowd around behind me (at this point I’m very worried about headlice and am practically bent double over my notebook) fighting for space as slowly more children come to see what the fuss is about. Last week I had twelve children around me, their attention riveted to my drawing despite my growing discomfort, until the original boy finally got bored. The rest of the children followed his example and left me, with a few backward glances, to finish the background of my picture in peace.
By the reaction of the children, I don’t think that drawing is widely practised by adults here – the only paintings I have seen were in the market at Siem Riep being sold to tourists. It is probably another luxury that mainly westerners, with ample time and money, can afford. When I told my host sisters that I studied Fine Art at University they were rather bemused by the idea.
For souvenirs I am giving drawings to my fellow volunteers for the price of an ice coffee, which is 2000 riel (50 cents) and have got a small queue forming already of commissioned artwork. One of these days I’m going to get a caffiene addiction. I’m looking forward to whipping out the oil paints again when I’m in the UK and painting some glossy Cambodian sunsets, pagodas, monks, Angkor Wot, and all of those stereotypical and very-Cambodian icons.
Below are a few of my drawings here. You can see more of my artwork on my Facebook page, Etsy and Twitter @KarisL_.