The Federation of British Artists presents an exciting new exhibition ‘Winners | Award Winning Artists 2020 - 2022’. This exhibition brings together acclaimed artists from the nation’s leading art societies, and it spotlights an exciting array of work from artists who won the attention of prize givers over the last two years.
Mall Galleries spoke to three of the featured artists, Nneka Uzoigwe, Curtis Holder and Halla Shafey who work in varied mediums and across broad subject matters, about their work, influences and inspirations, and about their favourite works in the exhibition. Keep on reading to find out more.
Nneka Uzoigwe is a figurative artist who often creates oil portraits inspired by magic, dreams and the imagination. She has exhibited at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, winning The de Laszlo Foundation Award in 2020, and The RP Award earlier this year.
Q: What is the story behind this self-portrait and what do the objects represent?
I’ve been ruminating for a while, sketching ideas for a painting of objects balanced on my head or serving my head on a plate. I was then encouraged to explore the idea after seeing a fantastic painting, ‘Heads of the Family’, by Vlaho Bukovac when I was in Vienna. I also am a still life teacher, and it’s really a painting of ideas, showing myself thinking of compositions! I was concentrating on building up interesting textures. I wanted everything to mirror the calcium feel of the shell and it to feel like everything was nearly one connected object, like a piece of coral.
Q: Your work often has themes of magic and dreams but is grounded in realism - are you able to elaborate on this?
When I paint scenes that veer away from reality, the set-ups include as many elements as possible that can be painted from life to help create a tangible feel. It is useful for me to work this way so I can deliver my vision.
Q: Have any particular opportunities opened up for you since you previously won the award at the RP exhibition?
Being an award-winning artist through exhibitions at Mall Galleries definitely helps in terms of general commissions, and it has meant that clients approach me with an extra layer of trust when they come to me with projects.
Who are your favourite artists and biggest artistic inspirations?
My top two artists are Dorothea Tanning and Antonio Mancini. Henri Fantin-Latouris is another great inspiration for me. I have also recently fallen back in love with Klimt and I am currently looking at Puvis de Chavannes and Hieronymus Bosch.
Do you have a favourite piece in the exhibition?
‘Rose with Crescent Moon’ by Saied Dai
Curtis Holder was an award winner at the Pastel Society's annual exhibition earlier this year. Curtis draws on paper with graphite and coloured pencils and through his work, he observes life, conveys emotions and tells stories, including explorations of the complexities of black masculinities.
Q: You say your drawings often start by having conversations and you are set on portraying the emotions these conjure up - are you able to talk about the story behind ‘Will You Hear Me?'?
I prefer to start every drawing with a conversation while I’m sketching the subject. I translate their emotions and the mood of our encounter onto paper, along with my own feelings and observations. 'Will You Hear Me?' is from an ongoing series of drawings titled ‘The Talk’ in which I distil complex conversations with my sitters about our shared experiences as black men. The subject, Mike, is sensitive, ambitious and wise beyond his years. Over several sittings we unravelled our similar, often challenging, experiences of living in Britain at the age of 21, albeit thirty years apart.
The work features three portraits of Mike distracted from the viewer, avoiding their direct gaze. The first figure is in an assertive stance preoccupied with his phone, maybe connecting with the world outside to avoid the conversation. The middle figure is more tentative, tenderly touching his own hand in the third pose where he is more relaxed and open, hugging himself and thinking deeply, perhaps about the dialogue in flow. For me, these images portray a complexity of emotion that our society often fails to recognise in young black men.
Q: Who is the person in ‘Sunday 5:04 am’ and are you able to talk about what brought about this piece?
This piece was created as part of a series of works for my first solo exhibition ‘Something Unspoken’. I normally work one-on-one with a sitter, however, this project was an opportunity to step back as an observer. The works are set in the 45, Park Lane hotel. I wanted to investigate hotels as intimate, private spaces that are also public, and to understand how this setting influences the behaviour, interactions and relationships of visitors. I spent several days sketching and photographing three models, who were initially strangers, throughout the hotel. It was important to me that the models hadn’t met before because I wanted their responses to each other and the environment to be instinctive and honest.
The final series of drawings show their discovery of the hotel, each other and themselves over a weekend. In ‘Sunday 5:04 am’ it’s the early hours of the morning and Jason stands proudly in only his dress shirt. The viewer cannot tell if he is alone or with somebody. His stance is confident and the view shows he’s high above the city landscape. The American and British flags are flying in the distance, symbols of national pride which feel somewhat insignificant in the face of this man.
Q: There is so much energy, movement and emotion captured in your line work - can you talk more about this and what your artistic process is?
Observing me drawing is probably a bit like watching a fencing match; the movements are usually dramatic and staccato. I’m a physical mark maker, and I work quickly using my whole body rather than just my hand. This perhaps gives the lines a spontaneous energy.
I use conversations with my sitters and sketches I make to get a sense of how I want a piece of work to feel, so it’s an emotionally driven process. Whatever feeling I settle on influences all the key decisions: the composition, colours and the intensity of the marks. I then make a thumbnail sketch of the composition before getting the model in position for the main piece. I work partly, if not completely, from life. When using photos, I’ll select several images of the subject in slightly different positions to retain the energy of a live sitter. Life is never still and I want that to be reflected in my work. I start with an underdrawing, usually using a red pencil, and then I build up the features and contours of the subject using instinctive and complex layers of coloured pencil, varying the marks to emphasise form or emotional intent. I add stronger lines to complete the work, adding structure and detail which pulls everything together.
Q: How has your experience been exhibiting at Mall Galleries?
I’ve shown my work several times now at Mall Galleries with the Pastel Society, Royal Society of Portrait Painters, and Society of Graphic Fine Art. I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed the process. The different art societies work closely with the gallery to promote different mediums and subject matters, so the content of each exhibition always feels distinctive and unique. The shows are also really well organised, from submitting your work online, to the selection days and private views. I’d encourage anyone to submit their work, especially if you are an emerging artist as I know the gallery is keen to support and showcase new work.
Q: What other works are you excited about seeing in the Winners exhibition?
I always make a beeline to works that use dry mediums or have a strong sense of drawing. I enjoy seeing pieces that are experimental or take risks, whatever the medium. A work that poses more questions than it gives answers is what really excites me. I’m also looking forward to taking my time and having a good look around the show, as I know that there are going to be a lot of very engaging pieces.
Halla Shafey PS
Halla Shafey is a member of the Pastel Society and has been exhibiting at Mall Galleries for a number of years winning a variety of awards. Her work is bright and eyecatching, as she explores vivid colour, form and portrayals of nature and imagined landscapes.
Q: What draws you to working with pastels and what are your favourite pastels to work with?
Pastels have enraptured me since I started my art career ten years ago. Soft pastels have intense hues and luminosity because they are closer to pure pigment than any other material. The immediacy of their colour delivery is magical and instantaneous. Their earthy texture and the fact they are both a drawing and painting material appeal to me. I have many favourite pastel brands including Henri Roché, Sennelier, Unison, Terry Ludwig and Schmincke.
Q: Your use of colour is always so striking, are you able to elaborate on your colour choices?
Colour is such an important part of my being, it’s the oxygen I breathe. From a very young age, I was surrounded by sumptuous colours and it has always been part of my upbringing. I thus trained as a colourist without even knowing it. Being Egyptian, my colour palette also reflects the rich, warm and earthy colours of my sun-soaked country!
Q: What was the inspiration behind these two pieces ‘Rivers of Paradise’ and ‘Gardens of Paradise 2’ - are they based on specific places?
The inspiration for my two paintings is that they are my interpretation of some of the Quranic verses that reference the physical appearance of heaven.
Q: As a member of the Pastel Society, what benefits does this and regularly exhibiting at Mall Galleries give you?
Having my works exhibited annually with the Pastel Society at the Mall Galleries has greatly enhanced the visibility and appreciation of my art, as an international artist specialising in soft pastels. I have a number of dedicated followers and collectors thanks to my affiliation with the Pastel Society. I was delighted that my painting featured on the cover of the 2022 Pastel Society Catalogue in February was acquired by an English collector. I am yet again very happy and grateful that one of my paintings has also been selected for the cover of this exhibition’s catalogue!
My affiliation to the FBA has enabled me to closely follow the amazing work produced in other media by artists in societies that exhibit at the Mall Galleries. This has been a tremendous learning experience and a pleasure over the years. I always look forward to receiving news on current exhibitions and I make a point to visit them whenever I am in London. I also like to browse through your art book stands.
Q: Which other pieces of work are your favourite within the exhibition?
This FBA exhibition highlights beautiful work by many artists whose work I have admired over the years. In this exhibition, I was particularly drawn to Teresa Lawler’s ‘Ark 2: On the Edge of the City’, Peter Wileman’s ‘Something Deeper’, And Lesley Hilling’s ‘Ubik’. The entire exhibition is stellar! Well done to the curator and the Mall Galleries.
We hope you enjoyed reading about the featured artists and feel inspired to visit ‘Winners | Award Winning Artists 2020-2022’ which opens on Wednesday 27 July until Saturday 6 August. You can follow the link below to browse and buy the works online.