Doors shut on York Open Studios as Coronavirus scuppers artist showcase

The brochure cover for the now cancelled 2020 York Open Studios

NEXT month’s 20th anniversary York Open Studios has been called off and will not be rearranged for later in the year under the ever-darkening shadow of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Launched in 2001, when only 20 artists took part, Britain’s longest-running Open Studios event was to have showcased 144 artists and makers in 100 studios and workplaces over two weekends, April 18 and 19 and April 25 and 26.

The York Open Studios logo

Event chair Beccy Ridsdel says: “It’s been a very difficult decision to make, but the safety of visitors and participating artists is our priority, and with Coronavirus advice currently changing daily, we have sadly decided we are unable to proceed with this year’s event. However, York Open Studios will be running in 2021.”

Now the focus turns to still highlighting the work of the 144 artists, makers and designers, whose full details can be found at yorkopenstudios.co.uk and in the newly redundant 2020 brochure that can be found around the city.

“It’s been a very difficult decision to make,” says York Open Studios chair Beccy Ridsdel after Coronavirus forced the cancellation of next month’s event

“These small creative businesses are in need of support during these volatile times, so please take time to take a look at their work, websites and social media pages and contact them directly to purchase works,” advise the event organisers.

On show and for sale would have been ceramics, collages, digital works, illustrations, jewellery, mixed media, paintings, prints, photography, sculpture, textiles and wood works.

Thought for the morning after…Was this the day the music died?

Just what exactly did happen yesterday?

HAS there ever been a more cynical, anti-arts, pro-insurance industry posh pals statement from Prime Minister Johnson than yesterday’s first Coronavirus daily briefing?

For one so notoriously careless with words, despite his love of a luxuriant lexicon, his careful avoidance of enforcing a shutdown of pubs, clubs, theatres etc, in favour of merely recommending “avoiding unnecessary social” interaction, effectively amounts to washing his and his Government’s hands of the future of one of the power houses of British life: the entertainment industry.

No formal closures means no chance of insurance pay-outs. In an already increasingly intolerant, Right-veering Britain, with its Brexit V-sign to Europe, could it be this is another way to try to suffocate and stifle our potent, provocative, influential, politically challenging, counter-thinking, all-embracing, anti-divisive, collective-spirited, often radical, always relevant, life-enriching, rather than rich-enriching, font of free expression, protest and empowerment?

Was this the day the music died?

History shows that the arts, the pubs, the theatres, the counter-culture, has always found a way to bite back, to fight back, often at times of greatest repression and depression. No Margaret Thatcher, no Specials’ Ghost Town.

We and our very necessary social interactions shall be back, hopefully after only a short break. Meanwhile, we are all in the hands of science, that equally progressive bedfellow to the arts.

Rhea Storr and Chris Yuan win Aesthetica Art Prize awards at York Art Gallery

Aesthetica Art Prize main prize winner: Rhea Storr’s A Protest, A Celebration, A Mixed Message

RHEA Storr has won the 2020 Aesthetica Art Prize main prize at York Art Gallery for her work A Protest, A Celebration, A Mixed Message.

The Emerging Prize was awarded to Chris Yuan for Counterfictions at Thursday evening’s award ceremony, hosted by York’s art and culture publication Aesthetica Magazine.

The winners were selected from a shortlist of 18 artists for this annual competition, a first look into new creative talent that showcases works that redefine the parameters of contemporary art, with artists reflecting on the global situation.

“They offer us insight into how we can encourage positive change,” says Aesthetica director Cherie Federico. “The exhibited works explore themes such as race and identity, technology, dataism, surveillance culture, geopolitics and the climate crisis.”

Mad Mauve, from Patty Carroll’s series Anonymous Women – Demise, one of the finalists in the 2020 Aesthetica Art Prize

British artist and filmmaker Rhea Storr’s A Protest, A Celebration, A Mixed Message considers cultural representation, masquerade and the performance of black bodies.

Her winning work is concerned with the ability of 16mm film to speak about black and mixed-race identities, using moments of tension where images break down or are resistive. “Images that deny access – fail to articulate what they represent or don’t tell the whole story – provide significant starting points,” says Rhea, who began her PhD in media and communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, last year.

Through video, fiction, sound, design and performance, British artist Chris Yuan examines the messy web of human construction. His Emerging Prize winner, Counterfictions, constructs alternative realities of ecological collapse after the construction of President Trump’s border wall proposal.

A still from Chris Yuan’s Counterfictions, winner of the 2020 Aesthetica Art Prize Emerging Prize

His film weaves together information from scientific facts and quotes from the president, as well as references to literature and mythology.

The Aesthetica Art Prize provides a platform for practitioners across the world, supporting and enhancing their careers through global recognition and new opportunities.

“Since its establishment 13 years ago, the prize has supported a vast number of artists who have progressed in their careers, gaining funding, residencies and commissions,” says Cherie. “Finalists have been featured in both group and solo exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery, The Photographer’s Gallery, V&A and MoMA, among others.”

Soft Takeover, by Andreas Lutz, among the 18 Aesthetica Art Prize finalists

This year’s shortlisted final 18 artists were: Andreas Lutz (Germany); Andres Orozco (USA); Bill Posters (Barnaby Francis) & Daniel Howe (UK); Chris Yuan (UK); Christiane Zschommler (UK); Christopher Stott (Canada); Erik Deerly (USA); Fragmentin (Switzerland); Emmy Yoneda (UK); Geoff Titley (UK); Kenichi Shikata (Japan); Laura Besançon (UK); Natalia Garcia Clark (Mexico); Oliver Canessa (Gibraltar); Patty Carroll (USA); Pernille Spence & Zoë Irvine (UK), Rhea Storr (UK) and Stephanie Potter Corwin (USA).

“The Prize has two layers: one dedicated to supporting artists; the other for presenting ideas to global audiences to initiate change,” says Cherie. “Curating this year’s exhibition was immeasurably satisfying and I’m privileged to have the opportunity to see so much talent, drawing on both personal and universal narratives.”

The Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition, featuring work by the winners and shortlisted artists, runs at York Art Gallery until July 5.

A still from BobSink, Pernille Spence and Zoe Irvine’s piece in the Aesthetica Art Prize final

Looking ahead, submissions are open for next year’s Aesthetica Art Prize with a deadline of August 31 2020. To find out more, visit aestheticamagazine.com/art-prize.

Move over floods and storms, Full Sunlight spotted in Piers Browne’s Pyramid show

Dales Lambs, by Askrigg artist Piers Browne, at Pyramid Gallery, York

WENSLEYDALE artist Piers Browne bathes his travel-inspired exhibition of paintings and etchings in Full Sunlight at Pyramid Gallery, Stonegate, York.

Piers has put together a show that celebrates the bright light of Morocco, the South of France and the Italian Lakes, alongside landscapes in the Yorkshire Dales, where his home studio overlooks Askrigg.

“This rather special exhibition of small spontaneous acrylics and watercolour crayon works is  the result of happy, more frivolous days abroad in sunshine,” says gallery owner Terry Brett. “The flow of inspiration to paper is easy and the results are fresh and uncomplicated.

Peaceful Moment In The Sun, by Helen Martino

“Piers had great success with the show Call Of Celtic Seas in Highgate, North London, this January and regularly shows at the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition. He now finds the painting of large canvasses to meet his high expectations more effort than ever before. In contrast, creating the Full Sunlight collection has been a pleasure for him.”

Piers, who has exhibited at Pyramid Gallery for 25 years, is joined in the Full Sunlight show by Holtby potter Hannah Arnup, Cambridge figurative sculptress Helen Martino and Stroud glassmaker Fiaz Elson.

Hannah Arnup has been making a new collection of sgrafitto decorated bowls and tripod vessels at her studio in Ballimorris, County Clare, southern Ireland, and at the late Mick and Sally Arnup’s former studio at Holtby, near York.

One of Hannah Arnup’s studio ceramics in her latest collection of tripod vessels and plates depicting the Yorkshire Wolds and gothic windows at Pyramid Gallery

Inherited by Hannah, the Holtby studio has been re-opened to provide studio space for a group of artists.

Terry Brett views Full Sunlight as a “new start” to the gallery year after several challenges to trading in York. 

“Although we had our best Christmas season in 38 years, there have been several challenges to the first two months of the year,” he says.

Pyramid Gallery owner Terry Brett holds one of Piers Browne’s Full Sunlight works as he stands on the newly repaved Stonegate

“I think shoppers took a break between New Year and Brexit [January 31], and then we had Stonegate being completely repaved, along with severe storms, floods and the effects of Coronavirus, which has affected tourism.

“Thankfully City of York engineers and the contractors really worked hard and finished repaving our end of the street four weeks ahead of schedule. I’m very grateful for their efforts and very pleased with the result. Stonegate looks amazing now and the slabs will be less likely to crack under the weight of delivery vehicles.”

Full Sunlight runs until April 26, open 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday, and 11am to 4.30pm on Sundays, including over Easter. More images of the work on display can be found at pyramidgallery.com.

Sue Clayton to lead World Down Syndrome Day event at Pocklington Arts Centre

York artist Sue Clayton with odd socks for World Down Syndrome Day’s event at Pocklington Arts Centre

YORK artist Sue Clayton will mark World Down Syndrome Day at Pocklington Arts Centre on March 21 as her Downright Marvellous At Large exhibition draws to a close that day.

Sue’s portraits of adults with Down Syndrome and a giant pair of hand-knitted socks will provide the backdrop for the 11am to 1pm event featuring children’s craft activities, music, cake and a pop-up exhibition.

That show, This Is Me, will be running in the arts centre studio during the final week of Downright Marvellous At Large from March 14 to 21. On show will be self-portraits by members of Wold Haven Day Centre, Pocklington, and Applefields Special School, York, created at workshops led by Sue. 

Sue put her exhibition together in honour of her son, James, who has Down Syndrome and turns 18 this year. “Downright Marvellous At Large is a true celebration of adults with Down’s at work and play, and I hope it has made a real impression on visitors,” she says. 

“I can’t wait to bring what has been a really busy, successful exhibition to a suitable close in spectacular style with a celebration to mark World Down Syndrome Day. 

“Everyone is invited to come along, enjoy some children’s crafts, a pop-up exhibition and a free piece of cake, as well as a few surprises along the way”

Sue’s portraits, presenting the “unrepresented and significant” social presence of adults with Down Syndrome, is complemented by a giant pair of odd socks created using hand-knitted squares donated by members of the public. 

Many people wear odd socks on World Down Syndrome Day, a global event that aims to raise awareness and promote independence, self-advocacy and freedom of choice for people with the congenital condition. 

Socks are used because their shape replicates the extra 21st chromosome that people with Down Syndrome have. 

Scarborough: the poster magnet to penguins, courting couples and tonic seekers in nostalgic exhibition

Penguins at Scarborough? Anything is possible in a tourism poster

VINTAGE posters from a golden age of travel and tourism will go on display at Woodend, The Crescent, Scarborough, on Saturday.

Dating from the 1910s to the 1960s, the posters in Scarborough: A Day At The Seaside were issued by the-then Scarborough Corporation’s tourism department and by rail companies operating in the area.

Just the tonic: taking a holiday at Scarborough

On show from the coming weekend to April 26, they will include such nostalgic images as a family of penguins seeking shade under a parasol on Scarborough’s South Bay beach, alongside other bright and idyllic scenes from a bygone era.

The prints are all taken from the 200-plus original posters held in the Scarborough Collections, under the care of Scarborough Museums Trust.

Scarborough Open Air Theatre…as it was in 1938

Andrew Clay, the trust’s chief executive, says: “This will be a vibrant and colourful exhibition recalling an age when travelling by train for a holiday at the seaside was the height of sophistication.”

Limited-edition prints of the posters on display will be available to buy, all at the actual size.

Scarborough: the essence of coastal sophistication for courting couples in 1932

Woodend is open Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 5pm, and Saturdays and Sundays, 10am to 4pm. Entry is free.

Jonny Hannah’s Songs For Darktown Lovers have their Valentine swansong at Lotte Inch Gallery and FortyFive Vinyl Cafe this week

Dead Men’s Suits, 2019, by Jonny Hannah

JONNY Hannah’s Songs For Darktown Lovers is the Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever of exhibitions.

His music-inspired Double A-sides show is split between two independent York businesses: Lotte Inch Gallery, at 14 Bootham, and gallery curator Lotte’s friends Dan Kentley and Dom White’s FortyFive Vinyl Café in Micklegate.

“Songs For Darktown Lovers roots itself in all things music, and of course, love,” says Lotte. “With Sinatra’s Songs For Swinging Lovers playing in the background, this exhibition is an alternative Valentine for the creatively minded.

“It’s also a love letter to ‘Darktown’, a fictional place that Jonny refers to when modern life becomes too much, a place with countless retreats, all revealed in his book Greetings From Darktown, published by Merrell Publishers in 2014.”

One-of-a-kind Scottish artist, designer, illustrator, lecturer and all-round creative spark Hannah has exhibited previously at Lotte’s gallery, and she contacted him last spring with a view to him doing a show for FortyFive.

“She told me about this vinyl café because I like to go to charity shops and buy old vinyl albums that I know will be awful but have striking covers, and then I create my own newly reinterpreted vinyl sleeves from that,” says culture-vulture Jonny, who attended the exhibition openings at FortyFive, where he span vintage discs and played an acoustic guitar set with fellow artist Jonathan Gibbs, and at Lotte’s gallery amid the aroma of morning-after coffee the next day.

Dance Stance Shoe, by Jonny Hannah

“What’s been nice with this show is having the chance to do the more informal works for the café and the formal pieces, such as hand-painted wooden cut-outs, for the gallery.”

Happenstance led to the Darktown Lovers theme. “Originally, I was going to do the show before Christmas but time ran out, and then I thought Valentine’s Day would be a good setting,” says Jonny.

“So, the work is inspired by love songs and songs I love – as they’re not all love songs. Country rock; a bit of classical; some French chanson; rockabilly. The café exhibition has become this imagined playlist of vinyl that never will be, but I’ve made it as the perfect playlist in my head.”

Growing up in Dunfermline, before studying at Cowdenbeath College of Knowledge, Liverpool School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London, Jonny recalls how he would pick out album covers such as Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell.

“Everyone had that album in Dunfermline! Then, as I became older, and I like to think more sophisticated, I was drawn to those wonderful Blue Note jazz covers. I loved the 12-inch format; going to the record shop on Saturdays with your pocket money was so exciting,” he says.

“Then it became CDs, and now downloads, but it’s great that vinyl has made a comeback. My sons play music, but I’ve no idea what, because it’s all on headphones. In fact, they complain I play my music too loud, which is surely the wrong way round! But music should be a social thing, bringing you together to see a band or enjoy a DJ set.

“Music that matters to you is as important as buying clothes or a pair of shoes or the first time you saw a film like Kes. You remember the mood you were in when you first heard it.”

Harmonium, by Jonny Hannah

Since graduating in 1998, Jonny has worked both as a commercial designer and an illustrator and printmaker. He lives by the sea in Southampton, where he lectures in illustration at Southampton Solent University.

He boasts an impressive list of exhibitions, advertising projects and clients, such as Royal Mail, the New York Times, the Guardian and Conde Nast, and he has published a series of “undeniably Hannah-esque” books with Merrell Publishers, Mainstone Press and Design For Today.

You may recall his Darktown Turbo Taxi solo exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, in 2018, and Darktown lies at the heart of his latest works too, but what is Darktown, Jonny?

“It started off as my idea that it was on the edge of any city that had a collection of odd characters, that had places they frequented, maybe shops too,” he says.

“The inspiration came from Fats Waller, the jazz singer, singing Darktown Strutter’s Ball, and C W Stoneking replying Don’t Go Dancin’ Down The Darktown Strutter’s Ball. So, Fats is saying ‘go’; Stoneking is saying ‘don’t go’, and you think, ‘oh god, what should I do?’!

“I decided I should go down there and it’s become my alternative reality to my reality, as opposed to one of my great hates: Star Wars fantasy.”

Defining that alternative reality, Jonny says: “It has to be urban, ever since I left home in Dunfermline; it has to have a lot of concrete, like there is in Southampton, my home now.

Pepe Le Moko by Jonny Hannah

“You’re cherry picking from what you do and don’t want to experience, including shops, characters, streets.”

One street, in particular: Shirley High Street, where Jonny lives in Southampton. “I take some of the characters from there and mix them in my head with historical characters,” he says. “But it all has to have that dollop of reality; if you go too far off on fantastical bent, it isn’t Darktown.”

How did Jonny develop his distinctive style? “You have to be patient, to make things work, for your style to appear. I’d start from other artists and do my own versions, and after a decade, maybe a couple of decades, I’ve found my own style with life’s experience feeding into it: who you are, where you live. Whereas if you force it, that’s when it becomes disingenuous.

“The more you do it, the more those things inside you, what’s internal, becomes external and is expressed in your art. That’s when you overtake your influences and your voice becomes the significant voice, not the ones that inspired you.”

Jonny Hannah’s pricing policy is admirable. “The idea of my work being available potentially to almost anyone is exciting, so I’ve sold it for as little as £5. I price it for what I think it’s worth; even if people say I undervalue it, I don’t think I do,” he says.

“I love the idea that my art is distributed rather than being stuck in my lock-up, so the possibility of it being someone’s home, office, or place of work, is important to me.

“I also like to think of myself as being like a medium holding a séance, where my art is telling you about Fats Waller and Jacques Brel, if you don’t know who Jacques Brel is; I’m contacting their spirit, so I’m doing my job as a conveyor of popular culture that you can connect with.”

Cakes & Ale Shoe, by Jonny Hannah

Jonny acknowledges the significance of art that provokes and can change opinions in the world, “but I don’t need to be one of those people”, he says. “I like the idea that art is entertaining. I’ve always opted for entertainment, for enjoyment, for making people happy with what I create. I have fun making them, and that notion of enjoyment is so important to me.”

Jonny’s palette of colours exudes that element of enjoyment and fun too. “I don’t say that it’s specifically down to my colour blindness – I’m colour blind for green and blue – but I did start by using primary colours, then varying their brightness,” he says.

“You can try out endless variations and for me now it’s always blue, red, yellow, black and white and variations on that,” he says. “I’ve tried to be subtle with colour but it just doesn’t work for me!”

His Darktown Turbo Taxi, first exhibited in his Yorkshire Sculpture Park show, and now acquired by Southampton Solent University for permanent display there, is a case in point. “It was my agent’s idea that I should buy this Saab 9-3 Turbo off Gumtree and paint it. Afterwards, someone said ‘you can’t miss it in a car park’, and he was right! That notion of not being able to miss it is part of my painting philosophy.”

That said, Jonny reveals: “I don’t think too much. I say to my students thinking can be a bad thing. If you face a blank canvas, then start creating, you come up with something better. Drawing is a form of thinking in itself; you start drawing, you are thinking.

A Confederacy Of Dunces, by Jonny Hannah

“You find that certain things keep coming back in your work, and what I know I can be guilty of is laziness, when I need to find new inspiration or find new ways of expressing things. It’s always that thing of challenging yourself creatively. There’s nothing worse than repetition.”

After releasing his latest book, A Confederacy Of Dunces, for The Folio Society, Jonny is now working on a commission for Museums Northumberland on Northumberland folklore that will run from May to September at Woodhorn Museum, Ashington, Hexham Old Gaol, Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum and Berwick Museum and Art Gallery.

He is also creating a set of woodcuts for The Skids’ frontman Richard Jobson’s book of short stories set in an imaginary bar in Berlin called The Alabama Song. “Richard lives in Berlin for half the year now, and the woodcuts will go on show in an exhibition at events where he’ll sing and I’ll play guitar,” says Jonny.

Also bubbling up is a book on the history of pop culture, as his prodigious productivity continues unabated, with a mischievous spirit at play. “When you’re young, you get told to tidy up, but as you get older, mess is a creative thing,” reckons Jonny.

“If you’re creative, there’s an immaturity to you that never goes away. You don’t have to tidy up until it really does become too much!”

Jonny Hannah’s Songs For Darktown Lovers runs until March 7. Lotte Inch Gallery is open Thursday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, or by appointment on 01904 848660. FortyFive Vinyl Café’s opening hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm; Saturday, 10am to 6pm; Sunday, 10am to 5pm.

York artist Lesley Birch responds to the Forces Of Nature in Glyndebourne show

York artist Lesley Birch at work in her studio

YORK artist Lesley Birch will exhibit at Glyndebourne, the Sussex opera house home to the Glyndebourne Festival, from May to December.

“I’m very proud to have been invited,” she says. “It’s a huge privilege and rather daunting too. I’m working on pieces now.”

Lesley has been chosen for the Forces Of Nature exhibition of paintings, prints and ceramics in Gallery 94, located by the stalls entrance to the auditorium at the country house in Lewes, East Sussex.

Curated by Nerissa Taysom, the exhibition was inspired by the strong women on stage in this year’s upcoming six festival operas, so all ten artists will be women. 

Exhibiting alongside Lesley will be Michele Fletcher, Tanya Gomez, Rachel Gracey, Kathryn Johnson, Rosie Lascelles, Kathryn Maple, Tania Rutland, Katie Sollohub and Hannah Tounsend.

The Old Town, by Lesley Birch, part of her Marks & Moments exhibition at Partisan, York

Forces Of Nature will explore how artists represent their feelings or memories of natural phenomena, its forms and sounds, while questioning how we confront nature in an age of climate change.

Lesley works out of PICA Studios, the artist collective in Grape Lane, York, and in this typically busy year, her new Marks & Moments paintings can be savoured at Partisan, the boho restaurant, café and arts space in Micklegate, York, in a feast of colour and imagination until March 31.

Filling two floors, more than 50 paintings are on view, ranging from Lesley’s Musical Abstract Collection – large canvases expressing music and movement in nature – to little gouache gems created en plein air in the remote village of Farindola in Abruzzo, Italy.

“Partisan is a sort of emporium full of collectable stuff, such as vintage lamps and the like, and it’s so exciting to see my paintings in this bohemian setting, reflected off the old French mirrors and hung high and low,” says Lesley, whose works are divided into colour and spring moods upstairs and dramatic landscapes downstairs. All paintings are for sale.

Forces Of Nature at Glyndebourne: Artist open houses, Sunday, May 17, 10am to 1pm, open to the public; May 21 to December 13, festival and tour ticket holders only.

Come and see beauty in Chin We’s Nigerian portraits at Fossgate and Micklegate Social

Photographer Chin We at the launch of her Ife Nkili exhibition of Nigerian portraiture, running at Micklegate Social and Fossgate Social, York. Pictures: Mike Stubbs

PHOTOGRAPHY and dance artist Chin We is the first beneficiary of Foto/Grafic At The Social, a new bi-monthly, dual-venue initiative for emerging talent in York.

 “At Fossgate Social, we’ve been supporting local artists for five years with monthly exhibitions, but we’d like to up our game and include our sister venue, the Micklegate Social,” says bar owner, general manager and urban designer Sarah Lakin.

 “To this end, we’re developing a programme of exhibitions of original artwork for display and sale.”

 Explaining her reasoning, Sarah says: “We live in a society drenched in imagery, but where can we find social spaces to connect and discuss what images are relevant and why?

Two of Chin We’s Nigerian portraits at Micklegate Social, York

 “There is no dedicated photographic gallery in York since Impressions moved to Bradford in 2007, but we hope to plug that gap with artwork that is strong and meaningful covering graphics, photography, print and electronic art.”

Noting how Micklegate is at present playing host to Chin We’s photos at Micklegate Social, Lesley Birch’s Marks & Moments at Partisan and Jonny Hannah’s Songs For Darktown Lovers at FortyFive Vinyl Café, Sarah continues: “As York develops its contemporary visual art scene, the Social hopes to feed that cultural ecology, helping to raise the bar – pun  intended – and encourage cutting-edge contemporary work that explores new narratives, forms and politics.”

First into the spotlight is Chin We, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, who was born in Manchester and spent her formative years in Nsukka, eastern Nigeria, and her adolescence in London, where she started her photography through a lifestyle blog.

I found a creative outlet to share candid conversations on pop culture, art, fashion, travel, food, sex and lifestyle,” she says. “As the photography requests and referrals grew, I knew straightaway that my passion was photography. That was when I learnt that documentary photography was my calling and leapt fully into documentary photography in January 2018.”

The launch night of Chin We’s exhibition at Micklegate Social

Chin We is “fascinated by portraiture, capturing people’s essence and visual storytelling”, leading to her work exploring themes of identity, culture, representation and heritage.

At Fossgate Social and Micklegate Social, this is represented by her Ife Nkili photographs, Ife Nkili being a phrase from the Igbo tribe in Nigeria that means “Come and see; come and see beauty”. 

 Her series of portraits was captured during Chin We’s journey through Nigeria in West Africa; they speak to ideas of representation and identity through their unequivocal depiction of her sitters, spanning northern, south-western and south-eastern Nigeria.

Chin We’s photographic style is described as “direct, raw and unique in its all-embracing sweep, from different walks of life and social circles” as she documents her fellow men and women.

One of Chin We’s Nigerian portraits

“Some live as Christians, others are Muslims or pagans; some are urban socialites, others provincial farmers, traders, warriors and local chiefs,” says her exhibition briefing. “And, of course, there are queens and kings. These compelling portraits betray intimate expressions and tender exchanges. They invariably bring us closer to this diverse culture through their visual storytelling.” 

Chin We’s photography has been published widely and she was featured on CNN as a leading African woman photographer to follow. She was nominated for RPS 100 Heroines by the Royal Photographic Society and won an honourable mention award in the People-Portrait Category in the 2018 International Photography Awards. 

Later this year, the British Museum, in London, will present her new exhibition celebrating the presence of Nigerians in the UK, marking 60 years of Nigerian independence from Great Britain.

 Welcoming Chin We to York, Sarah says: “Still in her twenties, she is a young woman to watch and we’re privileged she has agreed to exhibit with us.

“Her black-and-white photographic portraiture is strong and meaningful; the portraits are direct and challenging, covering topics such as religion, class, work and child brides.

“Through presenting the work of Chin We, we want to increase the diversity of artists’ work, locally and further afield, and provide what we can for arts to gain greater exposure and engagement in a social setting.”

Chin We’s Ife Nkili exhibition runs at Micklegate Social, Micklegate, and Fossgate Social, Fossgate, York, until March 31.

Only one question for York tragicomic Pop artist Harland Miller…

York artist Harland Miller stands by his York, So Good They Named It Once mock book cover at York Art Gallery on Friday morning. Picture: Charlotte Graham

AS his biggest-ever solo show, Harland Miller: York, So Good They Named It Once, opens in his home city at York Art Gallery, what is Harland saying about York in that picture title on a retro book cover, now replicated on posters, mugs, key rings, fridge magnets and tote bags?

“People have thought ‘York, So Good They Named It Once’ must be satirical, comparing York to New York, whereas I thought I was riffing on York being first; being very important way before New York – and a Roman capital.

“It was also a place of so many firsts for me; where I did my first paper round, and through these streets I can go and remember things that happened to me. Like my first kiss on same old wasteland on Taddy Road [Tadcaster Road], that’s now a Tesco.

Back to front: Harland Miller walks towards his Pelican Books spoof cover York, So Good They Named It Once. Picture: Charlotte Graham

“And just round the corner from here, behind the library, I smoked my first joint. That’s why I got hooked on books…because I was by the library!

“This gallery is where I first saw paintings. Is it a dream to be back here? The answer is ‘No’, because, as a boy, it would have been foolish to dream of such a thing.

“But unless I’m about to wake up back behind the library, I sense this is the moment to thank so many people. I certainly wouldn’t be here without my mum [now 95], who’s travelled all the way from Dringhouses to be here tonight, but I want to thank everyone not once, but twice.”

Harland Miller: York, So Good They Named It Once, featuring his Penguin Book Covers, Pelican Bad Weather Paintings and Letter Paintings and Recent Work, runs at York Art Gallery until May 31.