Lydia Blakeley switches memes for portraiture in her latest series of intimate, joyous paintings

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Lydia Blakeley switches memes for portraiture in her latest series of intimate, joyous paintings


For the Everyday Heroes exhibition at Southbank Centre specifically, Lydia composed three portraiture paintings, the first of her aunt Jaqcui who’s also a nurse for the NHS. The others are of two people, both named Tom, who work in the shop next door to her studio, and who were also working through the lockdowns. These paintings were plastered large-scale across Southbank in celebration of such individuals. “Being included in the show really shifted my creative focus and helped me to reflect on the ways I could continue portraiture,” she says. The show also coincided with her new body of work titled Vocation, a collection of student portraits who are studying further education courses at Leeds City College. “2020 had been such a challenging time for young learners and I had already seen how resilient they had been through lecturing, often remotely, at Leeds Arts University. It was exciting to have the opportunity to meet the students in person; their character and individuality really shone through.”

Painting 19 students in total – some virtually due to lockdown restrictions – Lydia noticed the positivity of each sitter, which seemed refreshing considering the dire circumstances of that particular time. “I really wanted to capture and highlight their individual personalities, and I wanted to feature people who might not normally feature in portrait painting,” she notes. Friendship and connectivity, too, became a prominent cue for the works, which means you’ll often see groups of students enjoying time their time together, huddling and laughing, as they sit or stand around campus.

It’s clear that, even with a new sense of direction, Lydia’s skill in representation, colour and composition reigns supreme. She hasn’t lost touch with her signature style, either, and still manages to bring her playful aesthetic – as seen in the previous meme-inspired pieces – into the more traditional format of portraiture. Perhaps this is aided by her considered use of light, the type that glows and lights up the subjects at hand, or the intimate, joyous moments she captures with her subjects; whatever it is, we’re all for it, and we’re more than excited about her upcoming solo shows and the release of a new batch of paintings. “Not everything is always going to be successful or turn out the way I intended, but I think what matters is enjoying the alchemy of painting and that, through the process, there is the gaining of practical wisdom which manifests in future work,” she says. “I am a lifelong learner, so I have a real hankering to do some more creative courses at college in my region. I also really want to explore different mediums and materials, something that I keep intending but haven’t got around to. But it will be my new year’s resolution for sure!”



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