Trailblazers Arthur Kleinjan and Juliana Kasumu win Aesthetica Art Prize awards at York Art Gallery in timely ‘call to action’

Arthur Kleinjan’s Above Us Only Sky: Winner of the 2021 Aesthetica Art Prize Main Prize

ARTHUR Kleinjan has won the 2021 Aesthetica Art Prize Main Prize and Juliana Kasumu, the Emerging Prize, in York.

The winners were announced in a virtual private view and awards ceremony online, ahead of the public opening of the exhibition at York Art Gallery, Exhibition Square, that will run until September 5.

Both artists’ moving-image works question the world in which we live, diving into some of today’s most pressing topics, from the construction of complex identities to notions of truth and storytelling.

Dutchman Kleinjan’s winning work is Above Us Only Sky, a compelling film wherein a narrator leads the viewer into a magical-realist history bereft of fabrication. The story begins with an investigation into a plane crash in communist Czechoslovakia, when one woman survived after an unlikely fall from the air.

“This event becomes the point of entry to a dense web of seemingly unrelated events that question the logic of chance and synchronicity,” says Aesthetica Art Prize director Cherie Federico.

Technical gremlins with the sound prevented Kleinjan from making an acceptance speech from his home, but he could be seen on screen, cupping his hands in thanks, making heart signs and giving thumbs-ups.

British-Nigerian artist Kasumu’s winning Emerging work, What Does The Water Taste Like?, was prompted by intimate conversations, “questioning the production of identity as it relates to her own personal affiliations with the complex ways where past and present remain in constant dialogue”.

“This engages in interpersonal speculation regarding identity production and sentiments of ‘home’,” says Cherie. “Juliana’s work presents perspectives on the intimacy between kith and kin.”

Juliana Kasumu’s What Does The Water Taste Like?: Winner of the 2021 Aesthetica Art Prize Emerging Prize

“I’m honoured, I’m excited, I’m grateful, so excited that the project is being seen in this way, as it’s so meaningful, not just to me, but to my family,” said Juliana, in her digital livestream interview with Cherie, later revealing she happened to be “in York right now”.

What inspired Juliana’s artist film? “My practice has been such a long journey of questioning, asking questions and wanting to resolve my feelings about my identity as a British Nigerian, the disconnection, when I’m here, or in Nigeria, or travelling the world,” she replied.

Kasumu is resolving her journey to her identity, such as the matter of her name, and trying to understand that path as a “second generation child of two immigrant parents”. “Even people who are not second generation will understand it,” she said.

The straightening of hair was central to the film, noted Cherie. “I guess for me, in retrospect, I feel that even in the pain and the frustration, there is also love,” Juliana said. “You will see she [the mother] is nurturing the hair as a labour of love, even though the things that have brought it about are painful. There is a tenderness that can exist, where love can exist, but pain can also exist.”

What’s next for Juliana? “I’m in post-production for a short documentary I made in New Orleans about this amazing woman who runs the Baby Bangz hair salon [at 223, N. Rendon Street],” she said.

Cherie describes the Aesthetica Art Prize as a place of discovery, sculpting the future of the art sector through supporting the most talented new practitioners from across the globe, from the UK to the USA, Italy to Norway, Germany to Brazil, Singapore to Mexico, Taiwan to Australia: “trailblazers who digest the very nature of life in the 21st century, further questioning and making sense of a rapidly changing world”.

In all, more than 4,000 artworks were submitted for the 2021 prize; 125 entrants making the long list; 20, the short list of “new luminaries and chroniclers of our times”, chosen for their originality, skill and technical ability for the exhibition at York Art Gallery.

Cherie says: “Life was complicated before Covid-19, and the pandemic has placed a new set of constraints and challenges on society. The question that runs through all of our minds like a ticker tape is: ‘where do we go from here?’

Straighten, from Juliana Kasumu’s prize-winning art film What Does The Water Taste Like?

“The winning works are just that: a call to action. These works are covering themes such as the climate crisis, colonial histories, racism, new technologies and the impact they have on our lives. Both Juliana Kasumu and Arthur Kleinjan draw on personal and universal narratives, with immediate artworks that reflect on the times in which we live.”

Hosted by the York-published international art magazine Aesthetica, the Aesthetica Art Prize was set up 14 years ago to provide a platform for those redefining the parameters of contemporary art.

It has since supported practitioners to gain funding, residencies and commissions, while finalists have featured in exhibitions at The Photographers’ Gallery, V&A, MoMA, Barbican and the National Portrait Gallery, in London. Winners receive prize money, exhibition and publication opportunities , plus further opportunities for development.

The 2021 shortlisted artists with work on show at York Art Gallery are: Kleinjan; Kasumu; Monica Alcazar-Duarte; Andrew Leventis; Chris Combs; James Tapscott; Alice Duncan and Cesar & Lois Collective; Carlos David; Seb Agnew; Kitoko Diva; Christiane Zschommler; Henny Burnett;   Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard; David Brandy; Shan Wu; Cathryn Shilling; Dirk Hardy; Gabriel Hensche and Erwin Redl.

The work spans painting and drawing; photography and digital art; three-dimensional design and sculpture; installation, performance and video art. As with each year, the selected pieces push the boundaries of form and genre, inspiring viewers to see the world in new ways.

“Their works cover pressing themes, from the climate crisis and colonial histories to racist bias and new technologies,” says Cherie.

“The pieces draw on both personal and universal narratives, unearthing the intricate layers of what it means to be alive today. These works are immediate, compelling and highly relevant works reflecting on a new zeitgeist.”

Among the featured artists, Kitoko Diva’s The Black Man In The Cosmos is a poetic and experimental art film created as a part of a video installation, mixing new forms of Afrofuturism, cyberspace imagery and poetry, that addresses the contemporary identity crisis issue among European Afro-descendants.

Winning work: Dutchman Arthur Kleinjan’s Above Us Only Sky

Henny Burnett’s 365 Days Of Plastic takes a critical look at plastic consumption, moulding a year’s worth of packaging into sculptures that comprise a four by three-metre wall. “The scale of food packaging, recycling and waste disposal is there to be seen in plain view,” says Cherie.

Andrew Leventis’s Freezer Box (Vanitas) and Refrigerator (Vanitas) tap into the material realities of the Covid-19 pandemic. His paintings transform Dutch vanitas into 21st century works that consider the experience of mass panic and how the idea of “stocking up” on items became crucial, almost primal, in a notion to survive.

Monica Alcazar-Duarte’s photography series, Second Nature, looks at how algorithms are used, through search engine technology, to support and maintain biased thinking. “These images are an amalgamation of re-staged moments from stories of discrimination gathered from algorithmic search results on the internet,” says Cherie.

In Gabriel Hensche’s Almost Heaven, the artist performs and dances to a song he does not like, Take Me Home, Country Roads. “The result is unnerving and unsettling; the piece demonstrates a perpetual layer of disconnect that we experience through the lens and daily on the internet,” says Cherie.

Reflecting on running such a prestigious prize, the director says: “I’m honoured to have the opportunity to engage with, and support, so much talent. Every day, I am inspired by these artists. I can only thank them for giving me the opportunity to experience such captivating work.

“Curating this year’s exhibition was infinitely rewarding. The process is rigorous because there are so many talented artists that apply.”

Cherie told the awards-ceremony online audience she ‘could not tell you’ how happy she was that the show would be opening in “real life”. “I’m talking tears of joy,” she said. “It’s just so wonderful to be able to put these works on display at York Art Gallery for the world to see.

“Life was about finding a new balance. It was strange and odd, but I’ve learned so much,” says Aesthetica director Cherie Federico of her lockdown experiences

“Art is the mechanism by which we can begin to make sense of the world. If there has ever been a time that we need art in our lives, it is now. The world has been permanently changed by the pandemic. We are living history.

“This is the moment that will alter the way we live, communicate, work, play, socialise, travel, experience the joys of culture, forever.”

In many ways, the pandemic has opened up a new set of possibilities, suggested Cherie: “I lament the loss of some things, while other changes, I welcome. It’s the permanent sense of the real and virtual, the ease and unease, presence and absence. I feel so emotional when I see footage of life in 2019; I well up and my brain starts to access the enormity of the situation.

“I work through all the details. The fears, anxiety and worry. These are feelings that are going to take a long time to understand.”

On the one hand, Cherie had to slow down in the three lockdowns; on the other, ironically, she found she had to “speed right up”. “Life was about finding a new balance. It was strange and odd, but I’ve learned so much,” she said.

“Art is the thing that holds everything together for me. It’s what helps me to work through the sense, anxiety and worry. Art reminds me of our humanity, encourages me to take risks and bold steps forward.

“I see this as a chance to improve, to take this experience and do something with it: rebuild a better, greener and equal society. These are noble aspirations, I know, but the opportunity is here and waiting for all of us to act upon.”

Prize winner Arthur Kleinjan

Nothing happens without action, asserted Cherie, pointing to the exhibition being a rallying call. “So much of it focuses on the very fabric of our lives and the possibilities that are there for the future,” she said.

“The thing about this pandemic is that it has affected every single person on planet Earth. Just think about that for a moment. We have had this enormous shared experience – and there is something very special about that. In many ways, it means you are not alone, and with that comes great comfort.”

Summing up the exhibition, Cherie posits: “The shortlisted artists speak to each other about what it means to be here, in this moment. The dialogue is robust, urgent and necessary. Race and identity are key themes.”

The Aesthetica Art Prize exhibition runs at York Art Gallery until September 5. Tickets are free but booking is essential at

The 2021 Aesthetica Art Prize anthology, Future Now: 125 Contemporary Artists, is available to order for £12.95 at

Entries are open already for the 2022 prize at

Malcolm Ludvigsen captures spirit of John Ruskin in Village Gallery’s breath of fresh air

Scarborough, by Malcolm Ludvigsen, at Village Gallery, York

PROLIFIC plein-air artist Malcolm Ludvigsen is the focus of Village Gallery’s new exhibition from tomorrow in Colliergate, York.

“The last year has been extremely hard for everyone, not least of all for artists, with many exhibitions and events being cancelled,” says gallery owner Simon Main. “So, we’re thrilled to announce our first show of 2021.”

Erstwhile maths professor Ludvigsen spends much of his time on the beaches and headlands of his Yorkshire homeland, fascinated endlessly by the sea and sky.

“I think the thing that first attracted me to painting was John Ruskin’s exhortation that all men, as part of their morning salutations, should go out and paint a picture of the sky,” he says.

Malcolm Ludvigsen painting in the bracing air of Scarborough

“This sounded like a very nice thing to do, so I decided to give it a go, and I’ve not really stopped painting since.” 

In 2013, Ludvigsen won the Oldie British Artists Award – a major competition for British artists aged 60 or over – for his landscape entitled Filey.

“Ironically this accolade came in the same year that my work was rejected by the Royal Academy for their summer exhibition,” he recalls. 

Malcolm Ludvigsen’s Art, a show of familiar Yorkshire landscapes and seascapes in oils, will run from tomorrow until Saturday, June 19, with Covid-secure, socially distanced measures in place. Opening hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm.

Cayton Bay, oil painting, by Malcolm Ludvigsen

Hurry, hurry! Last chance for artists to pitch up for York Riverside Art Markets 2021

ONLY ten pitches are still available for York River Art Market in the final call-out to artists for this summer’s riverside events on Dame Judi Dench Walk, Lendal Bridge, York.

This award-winning art and design market had to cancel its fifth summer of weekend stalls last year when council officials advised that the space besides the River Ouse was unsuitable for social distancing.

“See you all in 2021 for the best year yet,” said the official notice at the time. True to that promise, York River Art Market has announced plans to return for markets on June 26; July 3, 24, 25 and 31, and August 1, 7, 14, 21 and 28.

Hence the call-out for applications to participate in a market that will host 30-plus artists at each event, selling original art and hand-crafted goods.

Those applications should be emailed to with the following information:

* Three quality images of your work;

* A few sentences about your work;

* Links to digital platforms where you show or sell your work (if you have any; if not, do not worry);

* Preferred choice of dates, listed in the YRAM biography on its Facebook page.

“I look forward to your submissions,” says organiser Charlotte Dawson, who oversaw York River Art Market going online for #yramathome virtual winter art markets last November and December. “Email me at as soon as possible to grab a pitch while you can.”

Pitches cost £40 per day with no commission taken.

Emily Stubbs and Lesley Birch to exhibit Muted Worlds pots and paintings in online Pyramid Gallery show from tomorrow

Between Rock And A Hard Place, mixed media, by Lesley Birch

EMILY Stubbs and Lesley Birch are teaming up for Muted Worlds, a lockdown exhibition launched tomorrow by Pyramid Gallery, York.

Pots & Paintings will begin as a digital show from the York artists’ studios before moving to the Stonegate gallery once Lockdown 3 strictures are eased.

“We’re delighted to have been invited by Pyramid Gallery owner Terry Brett once again to create another Pots & Paintings show for 2021,” say exhibition curators Emily and Lesley.

A pot by Emily Stubbs for Muted Worlds, her joint exhibition with Lesley Birch

“This time we shall be online and it’s a more muted edge – winter is here and with it, Covid, and another lockdown – so we feel the need for simplicity. We have collaborated to produce monochrome pieces inspired by the winter season.”

Terry says: “Expect exciting expressive mark-making, beautiful soft greys, earths, charcoals and sage greens with occasional pops of colour in winter landscape and abstract pieces with the forms and lines of the natural world.” 

Emily works from Pica Studios, in Grape Lane, where she creates contemporary ceramic vessels that explore the relationship between colour, form and texture.

Lesley Birch at work in her York studio

Fascinated by the juxtaposition of contrasting elements in her work, Emily makes conversations between vessels by placing them together or in groups.

Constantly sketching, drawing and collaging to experiment with line, colour, texture and mark making, Emily translates this process into clay, building up layers of ceramic slips, glazes and stains.

“Stepping away from my usual brightly coloured glazes, Muted Worlds has allowed me to really focus and concentrate on creating rich layers of mark making,” she says.

Flood, mixed media monotype, by Lesley Birch

“Bold brush strokes, blocks of monochrome and areas of scraffito, inspired by the wintery walks around York through lockdown, feature in a new collection of vessels created alongside and inspired by Lesley’s paintings.”

Scottish-born painter and printmaker Lesley interprets feelings and emotions connected to time and place in her works. Calligraphic scribbles and expressive, sweeping brush marks flow on paper and canvas, straddling the boundary between abstraction and figuration.

“The fact that certain combinations of colours, certain marks and movements can convey an atmosphere, that is the joy of painting for me: that exciting moment when materiality and emotion meet,” she says.

“Muted Worlds has allowed me to really focus and concentrate on creating rich layers of mark making,” says Emily Stubbs

The Pots & Paintings go on sale from tomorrow and purchases will be delivered by courier or by the artist if the buyer is in York. Anyone needing further information can contact Terry on 07805 029254.

Looking ahead, Emily will be taking part in the 2021 York Open Studios, showing her ceramics at 51 Balmoral Terrace, York, on April 17, 18, 24 and 25, from 10am to 5pm.

Exhibiting there too will be textiles artist Amy Stubbs, making her Open Studios debut after relocating to York.

A ceramic for Muted Worlds by Emily Stubbs

York’s indie galleries are ready for end-of-lockdown green light for Christmas

Proprietor and curator Craig Humble outside the new home of the Art Of Protest gallery in Walmgate, York

YORK’S independent art galleries are ready to reopen for business as soon as Government guidelines allow, asserts According To McGee director Greg McGee.

“The most accurate litmus test of a city’s cultural health is the amount and state of its indies,” says Greg, “And going by that gauge, the city is culturally doing fine, despite the most challenging year in living memory.” 

Culture being consigned to quarantine for the majority of 2020 means creative outlets have been forced back to the drawing board. “But now they await the moment when they can resume doing what they do best: celebrating unique, idiosyncratic items,” says Greg.

Art Of Protest gallery director Craig Humble concurs: “There are over a dozen of us, and, as varied as we are, we add a crucial element to the city-centre experience. I’m sure I speak for the rest of my contemporaries when I can confidently say we are doubly committed to bringing top-quality art to the browsing and buying public.”

Although the doors are closed at his gallery, newly relocated to Walmgate, Craig has not stopped working. “All the galleries in York are available now for enquiries and website sales. We are all of us often working in the galleries or on our computers, closely monitoring incoming questions and requests. Click and Collect pertains to independent galleries too.”

At present filling his gallery walls with Richard Barnes’s new works of York and the North York Moors, Greg wants to assure collectors and buyers that the art and crafts available for purchase will make for ideal gifts and stocking fillers.

“We can never rival the mainstream behemoths that have continued to churn through sale and demand, even in the middle of lockdown,” he says. “But there’s an undeniable magic in visiting indie galleries.

“The customer knows that the financial transaction will benefit the city directly, and the individuality of the items purchased makes for more memorable gifts.”

“There’s an undeniable magic in visiting indie galleries,” says According To McGee co-director Greg McGee

Craig believes the enjoyment of mooching on the streets of York and experiencing independent galleries, either coming across them by chance or intentionally making a visit, is a key part of the value of galleries.

“No-one wants a city centre that has been given over solely to the most mainstream outlets,” he argues. “In that sense, Indie York, who have helped us on social media and on their increasingly important maps, have brought awareness to this issue for years.”

Sara Amil-Smith, of Indie York, says: “York has a vibrant and diverse mix of long established, independently owned galleries, offering traditional and contemporary work. These galleries often collaborate and have good relationships with local makers and artists. 

“When you support a local gallery, you are supporting a wider community of local artists and makers, which is particularly important during these challenging times.” 

Greg points to the groundswell of support found for the galleries on social media and in the houses of the patrons who support them. “The list is growing: Art Of Protest; Blossom Street Gallery; Blue Tree Gallery; Braithwaite Gallery; Corner Gallery; The Crescent community venue; Gillygate Framing; Holgate Gallery; Janette Ray Booksellers; Kentmere House Gallery; Lotte Inch Gallery; Pyramid Gallery; The Hilt, and According To McGee,” he says.

“If we can ask people who love art and are passionate about starting or augmenting a collection, please wait until the doors of these galleries open again in December or take advantage of the online experience and make queries or make purchases.”

Greg continues: “Every gallery director I know is keeping on top of the online requests and sales that are coming in. Culture is just as open to the click-and-collect experience as anything else.

“There’s something for everyone; you will genuinely be helping to maintain the local cultural economy, and York will be one more step away from subscribing to the anonymity that has bled other cities dry. The best place to start is to grab an Indie York map. See you on the trail!”

Ceramicist Barry Stedman’s terracotta vessels go on show at Pyramid Gallery

One of Barry Stedman’s terracotta vessels from his new collection at Pyramid Gallery, York

CERAMICIST Barry Stedman is completing a hat trick of exhibitions at Pyramid Gallery, Stonegate, York.

On show are 12 distinctive constructed terracotta vessels, complemented by a few from the gallery’s own collection.

“All are available for purchase from our website,, but we would not want to distract anyone from coming to the gallery to see them on display,” says owner Terry Brett. “The gallery is open with restrictions to one or two groups at a time.”

Ceramicist Barry Stedman: Explores contrasts of light and shade, hard and soft, warm and cool, rough and smooth

Stedman’s studio in his Buckinghamshire home is “the place where clay, colour and ideas come together”. “My intention is to use the vessel forms that I make, loosely thrown and altered on the wheel or constructed from slabs, as vehicles to explore contrasts of light and shade, hard and soft, warm and cool, rough and smooth,” he says.

“I’m interested in the way edges meet and overlap and the rhythms, tensions and harmonies created between colours, spaces, lines and textures in form and surface.”

Stedman tends to work in series influenced by natural phenomena, places and emotions, developing ideas from drawing, painting and previous firings. “I like the warmth and brightness of earthenware, using slip, oxides and underglazes over a red clay body,” he says.

“The surfaces are created in layers, firing in between, using thin washes, wiping back and building up rich zones of colour. I then glaze chosen areas to add further depth, tone and texture.”

One of a dozen: Another vessel from Barry Stedman’s latest Pyramid Gallery collection

Stedman came to ceramics later in life after a career in retail. “I’ve always been interested in drawing and mark making and when I discovered ceramics at evening class, I was seduced by the possibilities of clay as a way of expressing abstract ideas of colour and form,” he says.

“I completed an HND in 3D design at Barnfield College, Luton, and was lucky enough to be accepted on the ceramics degree course at the University of Westminster in Harrow.  It’s here that I was encouraged to really explore and develop my ideas.

“I now have work in various galleries in the UK and abroad and have taken part in many ceramic shows and exhibitions, and I’ve done some teaching and technician work too.”

Barry Stedman: Ceramic Vessels will run until the end of October and is open from 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday.

Sharon McDonagh finds beauty in decay in a city where buildings are losing their soul

Shades Of Decay 1, by Sharon McDonagh

SHARON McDonagh cannot recall any past Urban Decay exhibition in the historic city of York.

“So, this show will be quite unique and probably a tad controversial for York,” she says, introducing her Fragments artwork as lead artist in the Urban Decay winter show at Blossom Street Gallery, in the shadow of Micklegate Bar, York.

“With the new development plans being released late last year for Piccadilly and the public view on the design of the new hotel, especially the Banana Warehouse façade, I’m exhibiting my paintings of these buildings, as well as a new one of the lovely derelict ‘Malthouse’ building in The Crescent that was, up until recently, taken over by Space Invaders as a pop-up arts, craft, food and drink space until its demolition.”  

Sharon is drawn to painting the “darker side” to York, in particular to its derelict buildings, against the backdrop of her high-profile past career as a police forensic artist. That work required her to draw dead bodies, creating artist’s impressions of unidentified fatalities from mortuary photographs and crime-scene information, and you can make the psychologist’s leap between death and decay if that is your Freudian wont.

“It might seem mad going from being a forensic artist depicting bodies to doing paintings of decay, but I suppose it’s all an organic path of death and destruction,” she says.

Driven by a passion for a nostalgia and a fascination with urban decay, the Holgate artist sees both dereliction in York and now dereliction of duty among the city’s architects and developers.

Switched on but empty: one of Sharon McDonagh’s Fragments at Blossom Street Gallery

“Redevelopment, if it’s done in the right way, is fine, but I don’t think they’re empathetic with what the building was originally. They’re too consumed by money, not by aesthetics, which is ironic when we’re living in a beautiful city like York.”

Sharon took part in York Open Studios for the first time last spring – and will do so again at Venue 57 in April – when her exhibition of derelict buildings had the title of Transition. “What’s been lost in York’s buildings is soul,” she says.

“Like when Space Invaders took over the ‘Malthouse’, different organic communities came together and gave it soul – it was always busy, it had such a good vibe, and because it was off the beaten track, you didn’t get stag and hen party groups going there – and it makes me mad that other places in York are not doing the same.

“So, when I saw the plans for Piccadilly, I thought ‘here we go again’. It’s not about being radical; it’s about being in tune with how York was.

“I think of all of York’s forgotten buildings that people walk past but don’t give a thought to, but people worked in those buildings, lived in those buildings, had businesses in them, and we need to utilise what’s been left derelict. But, as I said before, it seems to be York is becoming soulless.

The Front Elevation, The Malthouse, by Sharon McDonagh, the latest addition to her Transitions series of derelict York buildings

“The opportunity to make something of York’s old buildings is wasted by lack of creativity and empathy for what was there before, and I just don’t know what designers, planners and architects are going to do with the city next.”

You will not be surprised that Sharon is a supporter of the somewhat contentious Spark:York small business enterprise in 23 “upcycled” shipping containers in Piccadilly. “I love it! People who don’t go there are the ones who criticise it, saying it’s an eyesore, but there was nothing there before, and yes, four of the businesses that started there have moved to bigger premises,” she says.

Sharon has another reason for “always loving” derelict buildings, she reveals. “I enjoyed the rave scene of the late Eighties and early Nineties that took over derelict places, though I was more intent on looking around the buildings than dancing!” she says. “I know it was illegal, but you could walk around these amazing old buildings, which was fantastic.”

For her Fragments show, she has complemented her 2019 Transition buildings with new paintings inspired by her work in end-of-life care, personal experience and working with dementia patients.

“The Fragments series is an exploration into the fragility of life,” she says of her tactile paintings that evoke emotion, nostalgia and intrigue. “The vintage light switches and sockets symbolise the person, while their last moments and memories are represented by the fragments of wallpaper and tiles. The last glimpses of life, the last remaining fragments before they die.

“I thought of light switches and sockets, because of the act of switching on and off lights and then life finally being switched off.”

In her artwork, she creates highly textured acrylic and multi-media paintings that examine “the beauty that nature makes through decay”. Basing her Fragments designs on vintage wallpaper, she makes and hand paints all the pieces of wallpaper and tiles separately. She then distresses them to look old and decayed before adding them to her paintings.

“When you see a derelict house, there are so many levels of paint and wallpaper, so many different lives have been lived there, so many layers to those lives, that it’s akin to your own life, which has many layers,” she says

Analysing her subject matter, Sharon notes: “I always have a bit of a dark side, don’t I? People think I must have a broom and cauldron at home and fly around at night! But I love how natural decay can cause beauty.

“It’s about change; urban decay is about natural change, but we don’t like change, or people or things dying, but we can’t shy away from it.

Miss You, by Sharon McDonagh, dedicated to her late father. Note the receiver, dislodged off the hook

“It’s that simple. We’re here and then we’re gone, but people don’t like to talk about death – but it’s been in my working life for a long time, first as a police forensic artist and then at the hospital.”

Her artistic outpourings have helped Sharon deal with her own grief. “When a parent goes – my dad had cancer – that grief changes you forever, you feel it every day, but you grasp at what keeps them alive in your thoughts, you grasp at what reminds you of them. That’s why there’s nostalgia in my paintings,” she says.

“I’ve dedicated the painting of a telephone in the Fragments series to my father, so I’ve called it Miss You, and symbolically the receiver is off the hook to signify the last missed call.”

Sharon always paints “from the heart, not from the bank balance”. “That’s the right way. If someone stands in front of one of my paintings and gets an emotional response, that means more to me than money in the bank,” she says.

Shades Of Decay 2, by Sharon McDonagh, at Blossom Street Gallery

“When I’m painting, it has to mean something to me, or it won’t mean something to someone else when they look at it.

“I also like my paintings to be tactile. If you can touch something, it evokes memories, and that’s why I like doing 3D pieces and collages, so you can touch them and all your senses are working at once. I love touching paintings, though I once got chucked out of a gallery for doing that!”

From paintings, to prints and cards, Sharon’s Fragments are in touching distance at Blossom Street Gallery until the end of February. “It’s great to be invited to do an exhibition on Urban Decay, which I don’t think has been done in York before, and it’s been really good to get  feedback on it,” she says.

What would York’s planners, designers and architects make of it, you wonder.

York artist Sharon McDonagh, standing by her Fragments artwork at Blossom Street Gallery’s Urban Decay exhibition in York

Did you know?

FOR many years, Sharon McDonagh created artist’s impressions of unidentified fatalities from mortuary photographs and crime-scene information.

She gained recognition for her work within this field on television, as well as in the media, on account of her unusual work and experiences.

She was commissioned as an artist by the BBC to produce the drawing of a late relative of footballer-turned-television-presenter Gary Lineker for BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are?. 

She has been involved in community art projects with disadvantaged young people and now works with teenagers from challenging backgrounds, promoting art as a way to express themselves. 

At York Hospital, she is delivering a unique project on the dementia ward, using art as a way to encourage patient interaction and alleviate anxiety. 

The Banana Warehouse, Piccadilly, one of Sharon McDonagh’s Transitions series, to be exhibited at City Screen, York, in May and June

Sharon McDonagh’s exhibitions

Urban Decay, Blossom Street Gallery, Blossom Street Gallery, York, until February 29. Joint show with Fran Brammer, Linda Harvey, Simon Sugden and Jill Tattersall.

York Open Studios “Taster” Exhibition, Central Methodist Church, St Saviourgate, York, April 3 (private virew), 4 and 5.

York Open Studios, Venue 57, Holgate, York, April 17, preview evening 7pm to 9pm; April 18, 19, 25 and 26, 10am to 5pm.

City Screen café bar, Coney Street, York, May 19 to June 15, featuring six Piccadilly paintings. “The café has soul,” she says. “The wall is exposed brickwork, which is a perfect backdrop for my work.”

Resonate solo exhibition, Basement Arts Project, Beeston, Leeds, June 22 to July 21. “It really will be in a basement,” she says.

Lesley Birch marks the moment with Musical Abstract show at Partisan

Flurry, mixed media on canvas, one of the pieces from Lesley Birch’s new Musical Abstract Collection at Partisan, York

LESLEY Birch’s exhibition Marks & Moments at Partisan, the boho restaurant, café and arts space in Micklegate, York, is a feast of colour and imagination. 

Filling two floors, more than 50 paintings are on view, 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.

Reverie, mixed media, by Lesley Birch, who says: “Ethereal energy in expressive brush marks – another from the Musical Abstract Collection”

Lesley’s paintings capture an atmosphere of place and moment with her own personal language of mark-making, whether on paper or on canvas, and this newly opened display showcases it all.

“When Florencia Clifford at Partisan invited me to have a show, I thought it was a grand opportunity to bring a lot of paintings into a buzzy space, where food and art are key,” says Lesley, who works out of PICA Studios, an artist collective space in Grape Lane, York.

The Old Town, oil on canvas, by Lesley Birch: scratches and atmosphere from Lesley’s Italian Collection

“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.”

Divided into colour and spring moods upstairs and dramatic landscapes downstairs, the marks and moments of Lesley’s artistic journey can be seen at Partisan until March 31. All paintings are for sale.

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Be good to see Jonny Hannah’s Valentine artwork in York, wouldn’t it? Now you can in his Songs For Darktown Lovers shows at FortyFive Vinyl Cafe and Lotte Inch Gallery. UPDATED

Dead Men’s Suits, 2019, by Jonny Hannah

CULTURE vulture artist Jonny Hannah is teaming up with Lotte Inch Gallery and FortyFive Vinyl Café to bring “a unique Valentine” bond of music and love to York.

Songs For Darktown Lovers, his exhibition of Double A-sides, will be split between the two independent York businesses, on show from February 8 to March 7.

Having exhibited with Lotte Inch Gallery, in Bootham, over the years, one-of-a-kind Scottish artist, designer, illustrator and all-round creative spark Hannah is returning to York for his music-inspired collaboration with gallery curator Lotte Inch and her friends Dan Kentley and Dom White at FortyFive Vinyl Café in Micklegate.

Shoe by Jonny Hannah

“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.”

The exhibition in two places will combine newly reinterpreted vinyl sleeves on display at FortyFive Vinyl Café with prints and hand-painted wooden cut-outs at both venues.

Harmonium by Jonny Hannah

“This will be a rich double-exhibition of work by a highly respected and totally unique artist,” says Lotte, curator of both displays. “It will definitely not be your usual Valentine’s cliché,” she promises.

BAFTA award-winning Jonny Hannah was born and raised in Dunfermline, Scotland, and studied at the Cowdenbeath College of Knowledge, Liverpool Art School and then the Royal College of Art in London. 

Pepe Le Moko by Jonny Hannah

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

Hannah 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.

“Many local visitors to next month’s York shows will recall Jonny’s Darktown Turbo Taxi solo exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, in 2018,” says Lotte.

Shoe by Jonny Hannah

“For those curious to find out more, we recommend looking out for the Darktown Turbo Taxi  – a must see, even if only in retrospect, through the website for his London and New York illustration agency, Heart Agency.”

A preview evening to launch Songs For Darktown Lovers will be held from 6pm to 9pm on February 7 at FortyFive Vinyl Café. “You can join Jonny, who will perform an acoustic set with friend, artist and illustrator Jonathan Gibbs before taking to the decks to celebrate our exciting collaboration,” says Lotte.

“It’s a chance to get lost in a world filled with art, music and just plain lovely people, with tickets available at”

Confederacy Of Dunces by Jonny Hannah

The exhibition’s Double A-side opens on February 8 at Lotte Inch Gallery, now moved to the first floor at 14 Bootham. “With coffee for those with sore heads, and art to further soothe the soul, the gallery will be offering up a selection of new and recently produced work from Jonny’s abounding studio in Southampton,” says Lotte.

“Coffee by FortyFive will be available that morning from 10am at the gallery for those needing some solace from the previous night’s escapades! Jonny Hannah will be in residence for the morning too, so be sure to drop by.”

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.