YORK artist Sue Clayton will unveil a new collection of portraits at Pocklington Arts Centre ahead of World Down Syndrome Day in an exhibition inspired by her son.
Running from January 14 to March 21, Downright Marvellous At Large celebrates adults with Down Syndrome and comes on the eve of her son James turning 18.
Look out too for a giant pair of hand-knitted odd socks, made using hundreds of knitted squares donated by the public after an appeal last year.
Sue, who lives in Wigginton, will introduce the 12 new portraits and the giant socks in a preview event open to the public on Thursday, January 16, from 6pm to 8pm.
The portraits feature what Sue sees as the “unrepresented and significant” social presence of adults with Down Syndrome, each one depicting a person with the genetic disorder at work or play.
“I put on the original Downright Marvellous exhibition in 2015, which mainly depicted young children who have Down Syndrome, but this time I wanted to make it more a celebration of adults as 2020 is a milestone year for us as James turns 18,” she says.
“A lot of the pieces also feature siblings, as I wanted to highlight the importance that siblings play in the lives of those with Down Syndrome too.”
Sue is planning to hold a celebratory event at Pocklington Arts Centre on World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD), Saturday, March 21, the last day of her exhibition. Watch this space for more details as they emerge.
Many people wear odd socks on WDSD, a global day that aims to raise awareness and promote independence, self-advocacy and freedom of choice for people with the congenital condition.
Should you be wondering “why socks?”, they are used because their shape replicates the extra 21st chromosome that people with Down Syndrome have.
“I hope the socks installation will add an extra fun dimension to the exhibition, which the whole community can get behind, while importantly raising awareness of – and celebrating – the uniqueness and diversity of Down Syndrome,” says Sue.
She made a radical change mid-career to become a self-taught, full-time artist. Soon she achieved recognition from Britain’s Got Artists in 2012 and as Outstanding Visual Artist in the 2018 York Culture Awards for her Heroes Of York project in 2017-2018.
Those heroes were York Theatre Royal pantomime dame Berwick Kaler; singer, writer and motivational speaker Big Ian Donaghy; animal welfare practitioner Mary Chapman; the late Suzanne Asquith, of North Yorkshire Police; Andrew Fair, from Sainsbury’s, Monk Cross, and Professor Steve Leveson, of York Against Cancer.
Sue is drawn to painting portraits because: “It insists upon the idea that the more you look at a face, the more you see.
“Every single aspect – the eyelids, the nostrils, and the complexion – reveals the personality and character of every individual person,” she says. “I feel it’s especially important to represent those who are sometimes socially ‘unseen’.”
Influenced by Rembrandt, York artist William Etty and more contemporary painters such as Jenny Saville and Tim Benson, Sue enjoys working with dynamic colours to make marks “that should not be there but somehow work”.
“My approach to portraits not only apprehends the likeness of my subjects, but their inner life too,” she says.
To find out more about World Down Syndrome Day, visit worlddownsyndromeday2.org.