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Southend BID celebrates ‘Essex Birds’

17th April 2019
Posted by Johnny Jenkins

Paintings of six of Essex’s most successful and instantly recognisable stars have gone on display in Elmer Approach, just off Southend High Street.

Collectively titled Essex Birds, A Celebration the colourful portraits of actresses Dame Helen Mirren, Dame Maggie Smith and Nathalie Emmanuel, reality TV stars Stacey Solomon and Gemma Collins and contemporary artists Grayson Perry (as his alter-ego ‘Claire’) are intended to be a playful and satirical riposte to the stereotype of ‘Essex Girls’.

The paintings are the work of four local street artists, who each chose their own female Essex icon to go into the display. John Bulley created his own tributes to Gemma Collins, Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith. He says

“I deliberately chose TOWIE’s Gemma because she’s regarded as ‘common’ but is still hugely successful in her own right. She embodies an attitude that confronts other people’s snobbery with a sense of ‘Yeah, I’m common but what’s wrong with that?!’ And who can forget Helen referring to her home town as the ‘armpit of the world’? It would be interesting to see how she regards her portrait appearing in this street exhibition.”

Game of Thrones fans will instantly recognise Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays Missandei in the smash TV series. Her portrait was created by Scotty Brave – AKA Brave 1 – whose work is well known to visitors to Southend, as his work has graced the front of the BHS building as part of last year’s hugely popular Paint Jam event, organised by Southend BID.

Andy Downes, from Leigh-on-Sea, perfectly captures the famously bubbly and ditzy character of former X Factor finalist Stacey Solomon, while Hattie Mitchell’s somewhat lugubrious depiction of Chelmsford’s Grayson Perry as ‘Claire’ is, like the character herself, a riot of pinks, blue, purple and gold.

Aside from his penchant for cross dressing, Perry is also known for his ceramic vases, tapestries and for challenging “prejudices, fashions and foibles” -making him an ideal person to include in the pop-up gallery.

Southend BID commissioned the new artworks to replace Luke Bryant’s 60-foot Salvador Dali-inspired surrealist mural which had become heavily weathered since it was unveiled in 2017. Each of the six new paintings – measuring approximately 4-foot by 4-foot (or over 1-metre by 1-metre) will feature a gold frame and sit against a striking black backdrop.

Alison Dewey, who commissioned the artwork in her role as Southend BID Manager said:

“Back in 2017 I wanted to transform a relatively dull side street and create something that would attract attention. Luke’s artwork certainly did that and the reaction to it inspired me to forge links with John, Scotty and other leading street artists to bring their skills to events such as the Southend Festival and create new images, such as John’s much talked about Keith Flint mural on the High Street.

She added

Now we’re celebrating homegrown female talent and success with these terrific new paintings. I’d love to know what the subjects of the portraits themselves think. So, I hope visitors to Elmer Approach will take selfies, use the hashtags #essexbirdwall, #essexbirdandproud and #essexbird to share on their social media pages. There’s also plenty of space on the wall for people to stick up photos of the Essex women who have inspired them. They don’t have to be famous, it could be your grandma, mum, a teacher or someone you admire for what they do and have achieved.”

The paintings will be installed overnight on Tuesday 16 April 2019.

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