Updates from Mall Galleries - the national focal point for contemporary figurative art, and home to the Federation of British Artists. Includes written content and photo essays from our Exhibitions, Call for Entries, Art Consultancy.

Q&A with In the Studio's Maddie Exton

Southwark Foodbank 2, Claire Anscomb

Maddie Exton is a conceptual artist from East Anglia and one of 22 artists from Mall Galleries' In the Studio initiative. During In the Studio's group exhibition in August, Maddie Exton ran a workshop with Central Southwark Community Hub, inviting participants to respond to the artworks. Using recordings of these conversations, Maddie has created a short film: All Philosophy Starts With Wonder. Here Maddie discusses how the project came to be and her thoughts around the accessibility of art.

Tell me about the idea. How did it come about?

I write a lot of exhibition reviews, casually, and for myself mostly. Even as I write them with no intention of sharing, I worry about writing negative things about art, it's like I unconsciously try to write positively even when I don't like the work. I think it is a difficult thing to properly talk about art, there's a lot of psuedo intellect and a lot of passivity. It got me thinking about what would make art easier to talk about and I started thinking about how candid and genuinely children speak about almost everything, really. Children are too young to worry about the social script around art, the connotations of a gallery are much less of a focus, the work is the only thing that interests (or doesn't interest) them.

The title "All Philosophy Starts With Wonder" comes from the idea that a passing thought can grow to be a whole philosophy. In this project, some of the most poignant lines are delivered completely absentmindedly.


Can you give some background on your practice and how this project relates to it?

I'm a conceptual artist which is a blessing because I get to work in so many different ways, but a curse because questions like this are hard to answer both professionally, at times like this, but also when asked by extended family. Sometimes I appropriate materials as sculpture, sometimes I make text drawings and sometimes I run around a gallery with 35 children and £1000 worth of loaned recording equipment telling them to "talk about the paintings please, not dinosaurs".

This project has led me down roads of Tascam recording equipment usage, subtitle formatting and teaching. It relates to my practice because despite my inconsistent style, I am consistently interested in other people.

Workshop participants exploring the In the Studio exhibition

How did you find working with the participants? Were you surprised by any of the responses? 

There was a huge age range from ages 6-16, so it was interesting to see how literally the younger kids worked, trying to copy paintings image for image, and how experimental the older kids were. At one point when testing a pen I scribbled on 16-year-old Barclay's paper and he came back and showed me it boxed off and underneath he had written "Maddie Exton's signature". At that point I thought, hey I've got some competition here.

I was surprised by how equally abstract and realist works ranked for the kids. It makes you wonder at what age do people stand in front of abstract art and say "a 6-year-old could have done that", because to a 6-year-old abstract work is wonderful and very much something they want to do.

Workshop participants drawing beside Celeste C. da Luz's artwork

What equipment did you use to record and edit the piece?

I used 5 Tascam dr-40's loaned by my university (Norwich Uni of The Arts) and Premiere Pro to edit, along with some subtitling software.

What did you learn from this project?

I'm 21 and this is the first time I've really "taught art" which I never thought I'd be interested in, but I found it so interesting. The whole workshop was like research. I feel really lucky to have worked with the team at Mall Galleries, especially Elli Koumousi (Head of Education & Cultural Strategy and Founder of In the Studio) who takes this kind of workshop in her stride.

Do you hope to continue this project, if so where?

I originally proposed this project for The Sainsbury Centre in Norwich, but I didn't have enough time to create the work before a deadline so kept it on a slow burner. This project isn't site-specific, it's about kids thinking about art so it's very malleable. I think the Tate might be a bit exhausting with 35 kids, but degree shows would be really interesting.

Maybe I can start some alternative gallery tours where you're led around by a 6-year-old with a microphone?

What do hope people take away from the film?

I hope people can see that there's no right or wrong way to talk about art. That critique is supportive and not inherently negative. And that the best thing to do in a gallery is to pretend you're not in a gallery and see how your behaviour changes. Just don't touch any paintings.


Content Image

Southwark Foodbank 2, Claire Anscomb

Image credit

Maddie Exton

The Perceptive Portraiture of Kelvin Okafor

Kelvin Okafor selfportrait.jpg

Kelvin Okafor reflects on the milestone moments of his ten-year career so far, ahead of his first ever retrospective exhibiting at Mall Galleries, 11 to 15 September.

It's easy to mistake one of Kelvin Okafor's meticulous pencil drawings for a photograph. So detailed are they, that each and every pore, eyelash and wrinkle is visible on the page. Despite their impressive specificity, the real force of Okafor’s portraits lies in their perceptiveness. Whether it is Naomi Campbell, Adele or Okafor’s friends and family, the essence of the person is always palpable. Each and every one packs a distinct and powerful emotional punch. This ability has won the artist much critical acclaim. Art critic Estelle Lovatt has dubbed his incisive style as “emotional realism”, while The Guardian's art critic Jonathan Jones deemed Okafor “a miraculous artist.”

This month, Okafor will host his first ever retrospective at Mall Galleries. The focus of the exhibition is the unveiling of a specially commissioned portrait of John Lennon, based on a photograph by the famous rock ‘n’ roll photographer Bob Greun. At 215 hours, this is Okafor’s most ambitious portrait yet. Alongside this landmark piece, the exhibition will feature a series of milestone works created over the last ten years.

Kelvin Okafor Timeless, Graphite and Charcoal Pencils on Archival Paper, 42 x 59 cm & Melvin, Graphite and Charcoal Pencils, 43 x 61 cm

Two beloved portraits of Okafor’s relatives will be on view. ‘Timeless’ depicts Okafor’s cousin Jamal. In Jamal's thoughtful expression, Okafor aimed to capture a sense of stillness and presence, something he felt reflects the gracious personality of the subject. This drawing was awarded the 2013 Runner Up Best of Show Prize at Cork Street Open Exhibition.

‘Melvin’ was awarded the prestigious de Laszlo Foundation award for the most outstanding portrait by an artist aged 35 years or under at the 2013 Royal Society of Portrait Painters exhibition. This portrait invites the viewer to see Melvin through Okafor's eyes, as someone who the artist perceives to be “wise beyond his years.” These early works are indicative of a perceptiveness that would endure and evolve throughout Okafor’s practice.

Kelvin Okafor Maya's Interlude, Black Coloured Pencil on Archival Paper, 72 x 67 cm

More recently, Okafor's ability and desire to imbue his drawings with a contemplative stillness has developed into a series titled ‘Interludes’. In these portraits, all of the models have their eyes closed. “The meaning behind ‘Interludes’ for me,” Okafor shares, “is a meditative reflective state. It’s about all the possibilities we have within us.”

The collection began with a piece titled ‘Mia’s Interlude’. Okafor has been drawing his friend’s daughter Mia every two years since he first met her in 2009 when she was just three-years-old. He recalls feeling a sense of awe the first time he met her: “I just saw a beaming light proliferating from her and I was like, dude, I need to draw her.” Since then, he has captured her at the ages of three, seven, nine and eleven. This retrospective is the first time that all of the portraits will be shown chronologically together.

Kelvin Okafor Mia I, Graphite Pencil on Archival Paper, 29 x 40 cm & Sensitivity, Graphite Pencil on Archival Paper, 42 x 59 cm

Okafor's portrait of the late British Labour Party politician Bernie Grant is a source of great pride for the artist, having been commissioned by Parliament to create it in 2017. This piece was important to Okafor not only because of his admiration for the radical figurehead but also for the sense of validation it provided. “It gave me a recognition that felt very integral as an artist, to be commissioned by Parliament and to be recognised on that kind of scale.”

His depiction of Mother Teresa holds particular resonance for Okafor as it signifies a turning point in his artistic journey. “This drawing, on so many levels, but on a deeper emotional level, is very dear to me,” he explains. It was created in 2011, two years after Okafor graduated from university at a time when he had hit a plateau. “I was at a place where it was just really difficult, financially, emotionally, mentally,” he recalls, “my family and society was just showing me that this thing that I'm doing is not proving to be lucrative.”

Kelvin Okafor Mother Teresa, Graphite Pencil on Archival Paper, 41 x 28 cm

During this period of creative block, Okafor was desperately searching for inspiration to start drawing again. It was during a conversation with a close friend when Mother Teresa was mentioned. Okafor, a deeply spiritual person, recalls this moment as a pivotal one. “Before putting pen to paper, I was in quite a depressed state. When I had the inspiration to draw her it felt like it was bigger than me, this thing that I'm doing, it's not just for me,” Okafor explains. Immortalising Mother Teresa in this way prompted a period of reflection for the artist. “I had to go back into myself and really understand why I'm doing what I'm doing in the first place and what is it I truly want to gain out of it,” he reflects, “Ultimately at that time it was to share work, whether it was bringing in income or not.”

Kelvin Okafor Lucid, Graphite & Charcoal Pencils on Archival Paper, 65 x 52cm

Self-admittedly, Okafor has come a long way since then. "I would never have expected myself to be someone who is doing interviews and seminars," he reflects, "I was extremely introverted. It was hard to begin with because it was so out of my comfort zone." He adds, "I want people to feel encouraged to come out of their comfort zone and to do something that they truly love and embrace it."

“I draw not just to enjoy the aesthetics of it, I want to capture something that's in all of us and connect people together,” he explains. What does he hope visitors will take away from the exhibition? "It hasn't just been a smooth sailing journey since graduating university. There has been a lot of trials where there was a real test of faith to see whether this is truly what I want to do." Okafor concludes, "I would really love for artists and people, in general, to be honest with their expression and to keep going, regardless of the resistances we have and the obstacles we have in life."

Kelvin Okafor: Retrospective is on view at Mall Galleries 11 to 15 September

Find out More


Content Image

Kelvin Okafor selfportrait.jpg

Image credit

Kelvin Okafor

In the Studio visits Alex Hirtzel

Alex Hirtzel ITS.jpg

Maddie Exton and Suzon Lagarde reflect on In the Studio’s visit to Alex Hirtzel idyllic studio in Royston, Hertfordshire.

In early July, In the Studio (ITS) made their final studio visit before their exhibition, to Alex Hirtzel’s converted barn in Royston, Hertfordshire. Hirtzel's multimedia work plays with the intersection between art and science, linking references from scientific research with historical artworks in order to create artworks that tell a narrative that references today. From 2015 to 2016,  the artist was appointed the first-ever Artist in Residence for The Royal Parks, London working in partnership with Mall Galleries and the National Gallery.

Encased in wild, meandering gardens, ITS artist Suzon Lagarde described Hirtzel's studio as a “little heaven she has built for herself over time.” Lagarde recalls the artist's incredible generosity: "She had prepared the most delicious and colourful lunch, sprinkled with flowers picked from the garden.” Though it was her honesty and openness regarding "everything from her journey and practice without holding back any secrets," which Lagarde most appreciated.

Over lunch, Hirtzel shared some wisdom with her guests, expressing the joy she gets from teaching, “how it pushes her to go beyond any comfort zone, experimenting with new ideas and materials,” Lagarde says. She also stressed the importance of taking the “time to reflect on the direction you're heading: is this teaching not compromising your own practice? is your practice itself going where you'd like?”

In the Studio artist, Maddie Exton describes Hirtzel's studio as “the sort of place you wander into and wander out of a week later, judging it as hours.” Like Suzon, Maddie found herself in awe of Alex’s energy and passion: “It was infectious to be around someone who is excited about their studio and the importance of its function.” Exton reflects on the sometimes tricky balance of studio visits, in which ‘you can end up lingering too long on someone else's practice.” This wasn’t the case with Hirtzel, who “curated the whole day from the food to the talks, to the flower picking. It all felt so communal and introspective.”

Above all else, the studio visit made Exton feel at ease about pursuing her passion for art. “It's nice to see the art world doesn't cripple every artist within the first few years of their career,” Maddie concludes, “I got hope from Alex, and optimism, and an excitement for the future.”

The In the Studio programme will culminate in a group exhibition, taking place 12 to 17 August. 

Find out More

Content Image

Alex Hirtzel ITS.jpg

Image credit

Alex Hirtzel's studio

In the Studio, Outside Mall Galleries

William GC Brown. Renda _ Mirrored  (1).jpg

As busy as our In the Studio programme is, the artists have a whole lot going on outside of what they do at Mall Galleries. It’s wonderful to see them flourishing and pursuing their own projects. We are so impressed by all of the wonderful exhibitions, projects and prizes they’re cooking up that we wanted to share them with you. Be sure to mark these events in your diaries!

Suzon Lagarde, A Painted Touch of Life, 29 May to 3 June

Alongside her friend Inma Garcia-Carrasco, Suzon Lagarde will be exhibiting over 20 figurative paintings which delve into their immediate world: relationships, universal feelings, inner minds and memories. Both Lagarde and Garcia-Carrasco “use the human figure as a device to explore life’s fascinating experiences.”

These works were created over the course of a year starting when the pair first met. A collaborative work between the two artists, informed by their burgeoning friendship, will be unveiled at the Private View (29 May). This piece is inspired by the legend of the red thread, a story in Japanese folklore which says that individuals who are tied to one another by invisible scarlet string are destined to meet and that this encounter will profoundly affect them.

Anna Kenneally with a recent work The Execution Party II, photographed by Peter Mallet

Anna Kenneally, Unvoiced Group Show, 14 June to 16 June

Anna Kenneally will be exhibiting in a group show at St Augustine Tower in Hackney alongside Pedro Miguel Baeta, Rachel Campbell, Fabienne Jenny Jacquet, Anna Kenneally, Rosielea, Jennifer Smith, Noriko Watanabe and Chloe Wing.

Organised by Tainted Glory art blog, Unvoiced is a multi-disciplinary exhibition featuring emerging UK-based and international artists. The show gives a platform to creative individuals including those who are still under-represented in the art world because of their gender, age, sexual orientation or background.

Painter's Dog Resting by Owain Hunt 

Owain Hunt, Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition, 4 to 14 July

Owain Hunt was recently awarded the Minerva Best Portrait Prize at the 114th Bath Society of Artists Annual Exhibition for his pensive self-portrait, "Reflection at 24". He will also be exhibiting a new work titled "The Painter's Dog Resting" at the RBA’s Annual Exhibition at Mall Galleries in July – of course we couldn’t miss an opportunity to plug one of our own shows!


No 7 by Anna Stevenson

Anna Kenneally and Anna Stevenson, Finalists in The Ashurst Emerging Art Prize

Both Anna Kenneally and Anna Stevenson are finalists in The Ashurst Emerging Art Prize which awards £9,000 worth of prizes and exhibitions to burgeoning artists. 

In Kenneally's selected work, fashion masquerades as meaningful political discourse. Using symbols of wealth to embellish her painting, she raises questions around our definitions of status. "Original imagery is collaged and cannibalized in order to reflect references of both art and fashion within western culture," explains Kenneally, "collaging together different styles of painting ranging from realism to expressive modes of working."

Combining the ordinary with the surreal, Stevenson's "No 7" explores the lines between imagination and realism. Inspired by the artist Paul Nash, Stevenson simultaneously depicts the representation of an area while also evoking the feeling and mood of a place or situation. "Using a simplistic composition plan and a limited range of colour the viewer is led through the painting by visual indicators of blue lines and orange forms that aim to act as signals to the focal point whilst also providing perspective and depth to the piece," Stevenson shares.

Nowy Theatre's Lolita poster, designed by Paulina Kwietniewska

Paulina Kwietniewska, I Long for Some Terrific Disaster, 1 June

Last year, Paulina was contacted by the managing director of Nowy Theatre in Lodz to design posters for the first ever staging of Vladamir Nabokov's Lolita in Poland. “As I love literature and as a fan of Nabokov's work, it was really easy for me to feel inspired by the subject. The chosen poster refers to Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel masterpiece in which God passes on the spark of life onto human,” says Paulina. “In Lolita, Humbert Humbert dreamed of 'converting' a girl into a woman, passing the spark onto her, he was fascinated by how larvas turn into butterflies,” she explains.

The girl in Paulina’s artwork is inspired by Rose Finn Kelcey's 1975 photograph, “The Restless Image - a discrepancy between the felt position and the seen position". I love the playfulness of the pose,” Paulina shares. “It's not obvious if she's doing a handstand or standing on her feet at first. I think it's a good reference to Humbert's uncertainty if Lolita is still an innocent child or a nymphette.”

Lolita opens at Nowy Theatre on May 31. A solo exhibition of Paulina’s work will coincide with the show, exhibiting at Nowy Theatre from 1 June and will feature all four versions of the Lolita poster alongside some other illustrative works.

Renda / Mirrored by Will GC Brown

Group Show, In the Studio Exhibition, 12-17 August

Did you know the In the Studio artists are holding their own exhibition at Mall Galleries this summer?

This group show will feature work by all 22 artists from our In the Studio programme here at Mall Galleries. These artists, all aged between 18 and 26, have collaborated as a group in creating this exhibition. Viewers can expect everything from hyper-realistic portraiture by Will GC Brown to Rebeka-Louise Lee's study of memory and place to feminist representations of the female figure in paintings by Erin Lee and Ottelien Huckin. See you there!


Content Image

William GC Brown. Renda _ Mirrored  (1).jpg

Image credit

The Three Graces by Ottelien Huckin

In the Studio: Sketching the City

ITS cover.jpg


Our In the Studio artists took to the streets of London with their sketchbooks, led by Adebanji Alade, Vice President of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters

On 1 and 15 May, our In the Studio artists ventured across London, armed with their sketchbooks, taking inspiration from Adebanji Alade’s approach of drawing around the city.

A true Londoner, Alade often uses the city as his studio, observing and drawing faces and places – an activity he calls “sketchercise”. Alade finds sketching in urban spaces to be a “fun and relaxing” experience. Not only is it “a great opportunity to practice and improve one’s drawing skills,” Alade also enjoys the public interaction it provokes: “nothing beats a day when you can go out and explore your environment by sketching the things others would just pass by or take for granted, it’s like seeing beauty in everything and representing it in our own unique way.”

Anna Stevenson, Rebeka-Louise Lee and Adebanji Alade outside Sloane Square station

On 1 May, the group met at Sloane Square station planning to board the Circle Line and spend the morning drawing passengers while travelling across the whole line. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Circle Line was suspended that morning! Thanks to Alade's problem-solving skills, the group ended up on the District Line to Upminster instead. Several busy stops later, more seating became available and the group were truly at home sketching not just their fellow passengers but also each other.

Owain Hunt, Adebanji Alade and Rebeka-Louise Lee on the train

Sketching in public is nothing new to Suzon Lagarde, who always has her sketchbook at hand, but she enjoyed the experience of doing it collectively and learning from Alade. “I absolutely loved Adebanji’s first advice: Just Smile! He's so right, and in many ways, this goes beyond drawing merely to practice skills, and extends to sketching for the joy of connecting with life, with the world around us.” Lagarde muses, “As we scribble, most importantly we look more intensely to what's in front of us; and cannot be anywhere else but 'in the moment'.”

Suzon Lagarde sketching on the tube

Rebeka Louise-Lee had never drawn in such a public and confined space before. “Previously I think the closest experience I'd had was drawing sculptures in a busy gallery,” she says. As a result, she felt nervous in the beginning. “You’re stuck with those passengers for around 5 minutes, you can't just walk away if they catch you staring at their facial features.” In order to gain confidence, Lee explains, she started out drawing the backs of people’s heads, their shoes and tracking the movements of their feet, gradually working up the nerve to draw their faces. 

Two weeks later, and the In the Studio artists were invited for a second urban workshop with Adebanji. This time, meeting at St.Paul’s and spreading around Paternoster Square, to capture the architectural shapes and movement of the City. The square’s benches, columns, pavements and very inviting ‘deck chairs’ became their studio equipment. 

Owain Hunt enjoyed observing Alade transform “a public space into a dynamic studio space.” He was also intrigued by the immediate gratification and feedback that dealing with the public provided – a stark contrast to the solitary way in which many artists work from the confines of a studio.

In the Studio artists' sketches of Paternoster Square


Suggested Materials:

  • Black BIC Ballpoint pen and an N75 TOMBOW Marker.
  • Oil-based pencils. One extra soft and one medium.
  • Chunky Graphite and a 0.5 mechanical pencil.
  • Assorted coloured pencils.


1. Make sure you have a nice little sketchbook anything smaller than A4 will be fine.

2. Where you decide to sit in public transport matters a lot, don't be in people's faces or directly opposite them, they may feel intimidated.

3. Sketch with a smile on your face and if anyone asks why you sketch, explain in the most polite manner, the reason for your passion.

4. If you are a bit timid go for people that are sleeping or really glued to their phones and iPads.

5. Make sure you sketch lightly, always focusing more on the person you are sketching than the sketch itself. This would help you to resist sketching from what you think is there.

6. Be ready to seize every opportunity to sketch on public transport, so don't put your sketchbook in your bag, hold it in your hand or get one that fits in your pocket. You must be able to quickly access it when an interesting commuter is spotted.

7. While sketching on the trains, if I get any serious bad looks and I think intuitively that danger is ahead, I'll follow my heart and stop immediately. Also, if anyone tells you to stop, please cooperate and stop.

8. While sketching, don't go for perfection, go out to develop a habit, observe, analyse and respond. 

9. Always have at least two drawing materials for this challenge. One drawing tool for lines and one for tones. It helps you work faster.

10. The human figure is a bit complicated but always think in terms of shapes, lines, tones and structure.

Adebanji Alade discusses sketching architecture with the In the Studio Artists, Paternoster


Suggested Materials:

  • Graphite 2H for construction lines and 2B- 4B for tones and textures.
  • Chunky soft graphite stick for heavier tones and broad strokes.
  • Pen and ink (brown ink on a slightly beige or cream or off-white paper has a nice appeal)
  • Fine liners. 0.3-1.0 would make interesting lines.
  • Watercolour wash and lines with coloured pencil.
  • Three coloured pencils-black, brown and red on white sketchbook sheets.
  • Ball point pens/pen and ink.
  • Watercolour or gouache.
  • Pastels on coloured paper.
  • A simple pencil. Whatever you use, enjoy the process and make something ordinary look exciting!


1.  Make sure you focus on the overall structure of the building

2. You can't escape the dreaded perspective here, so make sure you have a keen brush- up on your perspective lines- which mainly converge to a vanishing point which is always on your eye level.

3. Buildings always look more interesting when there is a play of light on them.

4. It's not necessary that you put every little detail in, do your best to edit the unnecessary information.

5. Use powerful construction lines, which are very light lines to get the windows and doors in the right alignment if they come straight under each other.

6. Make sure you give the building a variety of textural effects to depict the different bricks, glass or wood used in the building.

7. Think of how you can abbreviate, edit or make simple, everything that may seem complicated. Simplicity always tends to excite as we see too much detail in real life.

8. The use of shadows can really make a dull building look phenomenal, make sure your shadows are not all too heavy but have a transient and light touch to still reveal what is hidden.


Find out more about In the Studio here.


Content Image

ITS cover.jpg

George Jackson wins the Hermione Hammond Drawing Award 2019

Jackson-George-Black Dog Bite (cover).jpg

Established in 2012, the Hermione Hammond Drawing Award was created in memory of the artist Hermione Hammond (1910-2005) to encourage young talent to develop their drawing skills.

George Jackson, 21 years old and studying at Wimbledon College of Arts, has won the first prize of £2,000 in this year’s Hermione Hammond Drawing Award for his ink drawing of a ‘man having his arm ravaged by a black dog’.  

Dominika Wroblewska, 26, studying at Manchester School of Art has won the runner-up prize of Cass Art vouchers worth £250 for her drawing Mine Shaft Lid Hauling, which documents the Technical Speleological Group hauling an 800kg steel lid to be secured on a mine shaft on top of a hill in winds of up to 40 miles per hour.

 ‘Black Dog Bite’ by George Jackson, Ink on paper, 59 x 42 cm, 2018

Guest Judge Charles Williams led the panel of four judges representing Hermione Hammond’s family and Mall Galleries. Charles is a member of the New English Art Club, the Royal Watercolour Society and the Small Paintings Group. He teaches drawing and has begun his own PhD studies at Canterbury Christ Church University.

The panel awarded the first prize to George for Black Dog Bite, about which Charles says, “It’s great to see the spirit of British satirical pen and ink work, the tradition of Gillray, Rowlandson, Searle and Scarfe, is still going strong in young, contemporary visual art. The whole set of work that George submitted was excellent and bodes well for the future and it was hard to make a choice!”

‘Mine Shaft Lid Hauling’ by Dominika Wroblewska, Technical pen, 13 x 19 cm, 2019

Charles says about runner-up Dominika’s drawing in technical pen, “Dominika submitted a fascinating set of ethnographic drawings, recording caving activity in adverse weather conditions by specialist engineers, drawings that can function as data as well as aesthetic objects. Drawing is used for all sorts of things; what we tend to think of as the traditional skill of life-drawing, for example, was only really formulated as part of the eighteenth-century Academic project of making history-paintings, and this work reflects that.”

Charles went on to say, “Judging this competition was particularly difficult. There were some excellent examples of what drawing can be and another set of judges could have chosen two completely different and equally compelling winners. In the end one has to go with one’s own interests and fixations, though.”


In the Studio visits Tina Jenkins & Mark Nader

ITS Main Image.jpg

Our In the Studio artists visited the workspaces of Tina Jenkins and Mark Nader, where they explored the relationship between art and music through a series of live musical interpretations.

In a little nook off an unassuming Wandsworth road, the studios of Tina Jenkins and Mark Nader can be found. During our visit, two musicians, Lucas Polo and PJ Ciarla, responded to the artworks of Jenkins and Nader, creating an “eclectic sound which mirrored Tina’s experimental visual works,” noted In the Studio artist Jonathan Farningham.

Jenkins is a mixed media artist working primarily with acrylic paint which she uniquely applies to plastic sheeting rather than a canvas. In 2014, she won the prestigious Threadneedle Prize for her piece “Bed Head” which was praised by judges for its "bold approach to the human form and clever use of material." Jenkins continues to create striking works on plastic, painting in a way that is at once freewheeling and restrained – her graphic compositions are created through a series of cutting, tearing, peeling and scratching paint away and then building upon it again. The cacophonic nature of her work is underlined by the artist’s interest in the relationship between painting and hysteria, an area she has pursued in her PhD research. “I was amazed by a combination of visual elements created on plastic sheeting which offer a contrasting glossiness to the frenetic visuals of the works,” said Farningham.

In the Studio artists visit Tina Jenkins' studio

Influenced by his mixed British-Mexican heritage, Nader’s work explores iconography and ideas of exchange and theft, appropriating and subverting imagery drawn from historical references to produce collage style paintings. His work deliberately misinterprets cultural stereotypes challenging the cultural ignorance brought about by our reliance on social media platforms and the blinkered view of the world they create.

Mark Nader's studio 

In Nader’s studio, the artists sat on the floor surrounded by bold and colourful canvases depicting “a mixture of different cultures and societies both ancient and modern from Japan to Mexico,” as described by Farningham. The group listened as the musicians interpreted Nader’s paintings. Farningham recalls the way the combination of sound with visual stimuli brought a new level of awareness to the art viewing experience: “I found it an amazing way to absorb myself in the paintings, to find their translation in music.”

I found it an amazing way to absorb myself in the paintings, to find their translation in music. 

The multi-sensory experience generated a level of intimacy to the group art viewing experience that was felt by all. Jenkins commented on the electric atmosphere in which “you could breathe the creativity filling the air in that space." She continued, "such a lovely and attentive audience really helped to make us feel comfortable as well, and allowed us to get lost in our little world and think of the artworks and the sound only.” While Farningham concluded, “I thought to myself that this is an experience we must strive for more, where do the arts meet and where do they separate, and what can we learn when we unite them?”

Find out more about our In the Studio programme here

Musicians Lucas Polo and PJ Ciarla in Mark Nader's studio

Interview with Ed Burkes: Winner of the Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award 2019

Hug Until We Catch On Fire.jpg

On April 10, we announced Ed Burkes as the winner of the eighth Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award. This biennial award, established by Foundation Derbyshire in 1998, will see Burkes take up a nine-month residency in Derbyshire from October 2019, where he will produce work inspired by the county’s landscape, heritage and people, under the broad theme “Sense of Place”. 

Since graduating from Falmouth University in 2016 with a BA in Fine Art, Burkes’ work has been selected for a number of group exhibitions, including Saatchi Invest in Art and FBA Futures 2017, shortlisted for Bloomberg New Contemporaries and exhibited at London Art Fair with Arusha Gallery. In 2016, he won the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Travel to Italy Award.

Burkes is currently living on the secluded Isles of Scilly, located 30 miles off the southwest coast of Cornwall. We spoke to the artist, between capricious WiFi-connections, about island life, how it's influencing his artistic practice and his plans for his upcoming residency in Derbyshire. 

Ed Burkes, His Master's Voice

Tell me about what you've been up to on the Isles of Scilly? 

Ed Burkes: There are five islands on the Isles of Scilly and the island I'm on is called Tresco. About 150 people live here permanently. There's only one pub, and there's no roads or street lights. There are these sub-tropical gardens here called the Abbey Gardens, which is where I'm living. I'm also working three days a week within the gardens. I'm not paying rent and I've got studio space, so it's an opportunity I had to take really because it's a wonderfully peculiar place. 

How has being on the Isles of Scilly impacted your artwork?

Ed Burkes: There are a few prongs to that actually. I'm big into my history and a lot of my paintings over the last year or so have come from various fifteenth and sixteenth century tapestries and things like that. So coming to the Isles of Scilly has been interesting. In about 500 AD, it was a single island but since then the waters have changed, so now you have this cluster of islands. It feels like you're still living on ancient Celtic hilltops. The landscape is very sort of rugged. 

Being outside is fruitful for art making. As a contemporary artist, I don't sit outside with an easel and paint a landscape, but there are definitely artistic secrets to be unlocked here. Traditionally all of these Old Masters and Impressionists and guys like that, just by being outside they’d take in the environment. Having that kind of response to work is really intriguing to me. There are all kinds of little weird flowers here. There's one called a yellow horned-poppy, another called a dog-rose and there's also a flower called love-in-a-mist. So there's all this language and the poetics of language is very anchored to how my images come about. There are so many visual stimuli but also just reading into things and looking into the history of the place. There's so much to latch onto.  

Ed Burkes on the Isles of Scilly (2019)

Have you thought about the Derbyshire residency and what you're going to do there? The "Sense of Place" theme ties in nicely with the Isles of Scilly. 

Ed Burkes: It ties in beautifully. Some of the works on paper, the "Dance Like a Lioness" ones, a lot of the motifs are from a tapestry in the V&A made by Mary Queen of Scots when she was under house arrest from Queen Elizabeth. She did these tapestries of elephants and fish and birds. In Derbyshire, there are lots of National Trust properties and museums. So I'm keen to explore all of that and find a peculiar little corner of history there. 

Can you talk a little bit about your creative process?

Ed Burkes: The work comes about in quite a hodgepodge. It's like a patchwork blanket and through the process of painting, images and text all lock into each other. It's something I can't quite articulate, but I think that's the magic of it. It's like music, when you listen to a song and it hits you in the feels and you can't quite explain it to someone. That's what really fascinates me: the problems of articulating things. 

I also enjoy contradictions. For example, one of my paintings is called "Hug Until We Catch On Fire". That is just one sentence but it could mean the seductive heat of a relationship or the impending implosion of one.

The titles of your paintings are very evocative and often humorous too. How do you name your works? 

Ed Burkes: I just write sentences and then maybe put two sentences next to one another. The title of the work changes as the work changes, and then it gets to a point where it doesn't change anymore, and that's when the work is finished. 

The text is just as important as how the work looks. I'm quite keen, when people look at a work of mine, for them to read the title. It's a little snippet, a little whisper. I don't want to tell the viewer anything, I just want to give a little hint. 

Ed Burke, Hug Until We Catch On Fire

There's a real sense of spontaneity to your paintings. How planned are they? 

Ed Burkes: I wouldn't really plan a painting. The work comes from drawings and sketchbooks, but there's very much a vacancy when I start making an image. The whole process is art making for me. It's almost like a stage waiting to be filled. I enjoy when an image comes about as if from nothing at all, from the subconscious. I listen to music a lot and I just zone out. One thing I like to do is have quite an eclectic playlist of music on. So one minute I'll be listening to Ozzy Osbourne and next thing it'll be Prince. This creates a contrast in the mood of how I apply brushstrokes. It's all very intuitive. I'm not thinking about what I'm doing. It all just feeds in. 

How long do you spend on a piece, or does it vary?

Ed Burkes: A lot of the time the work is in my studio and they won't get touched for two or three weeks, then they might change completely or they might change slightly. There's a recent cluster of works on paper, titled "Dance Like a Lioness". That's the most recent body of work and they're all 15x20cm works on paper, so they're really quite intimate. 

With the residency I’ll be starting in Derbyshire, I'm hoping to keep that intimacy but transpose it onto a larger scale. It varies with works. The larger paintings I do which are 2mx2m, they take quite a while, but I never just work on one thing. There are usually around six canvases I'd be working on alongside smaller things. 

Ed Burkes, Your Kind of Necklace

There is an immediacy and freedom to your work that is reminiscent of Rose Wylie's paintings. Are there any artists that you're influenced by? 

Ed Burkes: Yeah, Rose Wylie is amazing. I had some works in the London Art Fair in January and there were three or four people who had feedback and said it's like Rose Wylie, which is something I'm working on – developing my own voice, to a point where I own what I make visually. Not ownership in terms of copyright but “owning” in terms of doing something very well. I'm quite aware of that and that's something, talking to artists who are older than me, that just takes time to achieve. It's mad that she's 85 and she's making these huge paintings. They're just so visceral, aren't they? 

In your artist statement, you point to "the pitfalls of language" as a source of inspiration for your painting practice. You define your work as being "anchored around that inability to articulate, or at least the attempt to articulate." It seems you really understand what your practice is about. How did you come around to that realisation?

Ed Burkes: I think I came around to that realisation because I find it really difficult telling people what the work is about. I find that really frustrating when people ask, "What does this bit mean?" and then, "What's that?" So I tried to pin it down and ask myself what is the premise of my work and yeah it's trying to articulate things. Even just the attempt to articulate that is enough for me. 

Ed Burkes' Studio on Tresco, Isles of Scilly (2019)

The nine-month residency runs from 1 October 2019 to 30 June 2020.  The final exhibition will be held at Derby Museum and Art Gallery in late 2020 and at Mall Galleries in January 2021. Watch this space for updates as Ed’s residency unfolds.

Find out more about the Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award

Ed Burkes has been awarded the Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award


Foundation Derbyshire and Mall Galleries are pleased to announce Ed Burkes as the winner of the eighth Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award. The biennial award brings a rising artist to Derbyshire to produce work inspired by the county’s landscape, heritage and people.

As one of the largest art awards in the country, the Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award provides the successful artist with a nine-month residency, a bursary of £18,000, a studio, contribution to the cost of materials, ongoing support and mentoring from the University of Derby’s College of Arts, and two solo shows in Derby and London.

Artist Ed Burkes will take up his residency in Derby in October 2019, when he will be based in Banks Mill Studios, working towards a solo exhibition at Derby Museum and Art Gallery in 2020, which travels to Mall Galleries in 2021.

Since graduating from Falmouth University in 2016 with a BA in Fine Art, Ed’s work has been selected for a number of group exhibitions, including Saatchi Invest in Art and FBA Futures 2017, shortlisted for Bloomberg New Contemporaries and exhibited at London Art Fair with Arusha Gallery. In 2016, he won the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Travel to Italy Award.

Ed Burkes on the Isles of Scilly (2018)

Ed has said that his work “is sparked from a commonplace situation: A friend drinking coffee, a buddy pulling up his socks, someone browsing the fruit and veg section of Tesco Express. Through the process of painting, these preliminary considerations begin to wobble out of sync to a point where their distinctiveness as a primary source slip away.” The bright colours and bold compositions give the everyday scenes a mythic and heroic air.

During his residency, Ed will contribute five days of teaching at the University of Derby’s College of Arts and lead a series of educational workshops in the community, supported by funding from Rolls-Royce plc. The collaboration with the University of Derby’s College of Arts will enable art students to gain valuable insight from the experience and practices of a working artist.

Ed said, “I am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to spend nine months delving into the historical intrigues that Derbyshire has to offer. Engaging with the wider community of the contemporary art world with a teaching fellowship at Derby University is something I am incredibly excited by and can’t wait to get started. I am going to produce a large, ambitious, and historically grounded body of work from the premise ‘sense of place’ and will be looking to concretise and foster long term connections and relations.”

Ed Burkes Old Boy (Red and Blue)

Rachael Grime, Chief Executive of Foundation Derbyshire said: “We are delighted that Ed is joining us at this really exciting stage in the Award’s development. We can’t wait to see how he responds to our county and brings his exceptional talent to bear on the residency”.

In 2019, in a new collaboration between the Award and Mall Galleries, past exhibitors of FBA Futures, the UK’s largest annual survey of emerging figurative art, were invited to be considered for this exciting residency.

The nine-month residency runs from 1 October 2019 to 30 June 2020.  The final exhibition will be held at Derby Museum and Art Gallery in late 2020 and at Mall Galleries in January 2021. Watch this space for updates as Ed’s residency unfolds.

In the Studio Artists Feature on Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year


Suzon Lagarde and Yevhen Nahirnyy feature on Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2019, painting the British actor Geraldine James OBE. Suzon tells us about the experience. 

'I had a brilliant time participating in the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year; it was an incredible experience! A friend encouraged me to apply, so I happily gave it a go, but it was a real surprise when they invited me to be part of the show. I would never have expected to get that, so my friend's encouragement meant a lot. One of my tutors at the time, James Bland NEAC, was particularly supportive.'

'I was nervous on the morning of the filming, but everything was so well-organized and everyone so friendly that I couldn't help but feel enthusiastic from the first moment. The conditions for painting the portrait are very different from the usual classroom set up, which made the challenge even more exciting. I had no choice but to take a playful and intuitive approach. The day was very moving for me, because it brought to the forefront how much I love painting and how much joy it brings me, even under stressful circumstances.'

'For my episode of the programme, I was painting alongside two talented artists who are my age, and also now my friends; Kelly Frank (who just exhibited with the Society of Women Artists), and Yevhen Nahirnyy who's part of Mall Galleries In The Studio project with me. Also painting were Geoff Harisson (recently showing in ING Discerning Eye) and Dorian Radu (who exhibits with the ROI); we're hoping to meet up to sketch together soon.'

'My sitter was the wonderful Geraldine James. I was struck by her beauty and incredible stillness. The way she sat for us had something profoundly generous, and even though she and I didn't know each other, a special connection forged between us while I was painting. I felt so happy when Geraldine chose my portrait to take home with her.'

'I also met an even younger artist; the talented Nua, who is six-years-old. Nua made me feel very emotional when she offered me a beautiful drawing she had done of me while I was painting. Her mother and I keep in touch, and I was very happy to be able to make a drawing for her in return.'

'This experience was as amazing as it was unexpected. It brought me a lot of joy, and I met many wonderful people. I would definitely encourage anyone who feels like they would enjoy such experience to give it a go. There's nothing too loose, and many beautiful things to get out of it! Applications for Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year are open until 22 February.'

Find out more about Suzon and her practice

Image credit

Photo by Suzon Lagarde