The last few months have been super busy for me. IKEA, is opening a new store at Greenwich North in February and, because this one is going to be very green and sustainable, they decided to find an imaginative way to use old IKEA catalogues to express this and, yes, could they find an artist who can create portraits of Greenwich people made entirely from catalogue paper?
The clever people at Mother London, a whizzy advertising agency, were tasked with finding the artist who could do this. They asked The Mall Galleries who knew about me. And, voila, the question was put: ‘Would I care to make some large format portraits of Greenwich celebrities, past and present, and also create ‘live portraits’ of locals in a Greenwich gallery?’ Of course I said yes to everything. I love tearing up paper but I’ve never used catalogue paper like that – I generally use the pages of art, architecture or design magazines which are printed on high quality paper and are covered with gorgeous colours, textures and patterns. However, I have learned to love my IKEA catalogues. And I’m full of praise for the stylists who have found ingenious ways to incorporate all manner of products in the photography and I clever little motifs which pop up right through the publication – a spotty blouse a striped towel, jazzy mugs. The pages of the catalogues are very cohesive and pleasing to browse. I now have my favourite, go-to pages for tearing up!
Before and after Christmas I was hard at work on some large, and very detailed portraits. I made 10 in total and four were selected for the main display. The ones which made the walls of the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, which is part of the University of Greenwich, were Boy George (local lad) , Sir John Flamsteed (first Astronomer Royal), Queen Elizabeth I (born in Greenwich Palace) and Admiral Lord Nelson (based at the Admiralty in Greenwich).
Last weekend I was based in the gallery space with piles of catalogues, glue, scissors and pens and worked my way through a series of ‘live portraits’ of people who perched upon a very uncomfortable stool in front of my easel and allowed me to scrutinise their face, rip up bits of paper and create a very immediate, and extremely quick, paper portrait. The results have been really fun and everyone seems delighted with them.
There will be another weekend of live portraits at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery which will fill the space with around 48 paper portraits. The ultimate solo show! As soon as each portrait is finished and the varnish is dry, they are popped into IKEA frames and hung on wall. It’s been exhausting but exhilarating and I so enjoy the privilege of gazing at people’s faces, listening to their stories and recording a moment of their life, in paper.
The lucky subjects will be able to come to the new store in Greenwich North and see the final collection on display at the opening and, in due course, will be able to take their portrait home.