A Hampshire animal portrait artist whose anticipated London exhibition was closed down by COVID-19, is pledging to raise money for charity with the auction of one of her unique pieces.
Georgea Blakey’s pandemic-inspired Political Animal uses a deer skull sourced from a junk shop as the basis for the artwork adorned with newspaper headlines and Corona bottle labels displayed in a curiosity cabinet.
It is among several of the artist’s animal pieces which were commissioned for a show called Empties Into Art at Soho Sanctum in May, sponsored by Bombay Sapphire.
But she’s now hoping it will raise money for Flora & Fauna International, the world’s oldest international wildlife conservation organisation and biodiversity champions.
She said: “As a reaction to feeling boxed in and caged up like animals I produced my very own ‘memento mori’ -a traditional style of artwork designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the shortness and fragility of human life.
“Having felt bombarded by news and salacious headlines I felt it was important to produce a piece of art that reflected my reaction but also comical take on the pandemic. I took the concept of the pun Political Animal and turned it into a physical piece of art to commemorate the turbulent times in which we live but with my usual humorous twist.
“I tore up pieces of paper with some of the most alarming headlines and buzz words of our time, mixed in with some Corona labels, using a papier maché technique and then sealed the whole thing in resin and mounted the finished sculpture in a Perspex box. I like the synergy between us being penned in with the animal trapped in a cage by politics.”
Georgea, 49, added: “I’d been working for a year on all the collages and then lockdown hit and that was it. We can’t reschedule the exhibition because no one can predict what’s going to happen, so I’ve got these pieces here stuck at home. It was a huge anti-climax after a whole year of work.”
Georgea, who was made a Senior Art Scholar at St Pauls Girls School and studied at Chelsea College of Art, has staged celebrated exhibitions across the country and boasts a Who’s Who of clients from the worlds of British aristocracy, showbusiness and sport.
But she admits, had it not been for a serious accident resulting in half her left wrist being removed when she was younger, her future career would have panned out very differently.
She explained: “I worked as a groom on a polo ranch in Argentina when I was 20 because I got a bit side-tracked by ponies for six months.
“While I was out there I did have quite a serious injury. I got hit in the wrist with a polo mallet so couldn’t work there anymore, and that’s when I started drawing pictures of the polo ponies instead and selling them. Instead of singing for my supper I was painting for it, if you like!
“I underwent several operations over several years and eventually decided to come back to England to study at Chelsea College of Art – while wearing a sling. I couldn’t make up my own canvasses so the teacher had to stretch them for me. I still can’t stretch them to this day.
“I knew then that I was never going to be able to play guitar anymore. Without the injury I wouldn’t be painting now, I’d be in a rock group in Los Angeles or acting or doing something ridiculous!”
She added: “Ever since I was little I have always exchanged pictures for accommodation or payment, like Van Gogh used to do when he handed over one of his paintings in restaurants to cover his bar bill.”
But Georgea’s come a long way since selling her first work to a school friend for just 10p nearly 40 years ago.
Her latest art style is as a result of lockdown – when she became inspired by everyday objects around her including discarded alcohol labels. Many of her pieces are now also available in a range of décor and gifts.
“At the point of lockdown I had to kind of start again. That’s when I started doing these collages using drinks labels. I don’t like to think of myself as just a pet portrait artist. I want to elevate the animal and make it so incredibly beautiful, using unusual materials to bring out its character. And sometimes alcohol labels are really striking,” said Georgea.
“The collages were like a release for me by adding a bit of wit and humour to bring them together.”
In fact wit plays a huge role in inspiring Georgea’s art, but never more so than through her alter-ego, stand-up comedienne Chenille Steele.
Chenille’s musical and Victoria Wood-inspired one-woman shows will be familiar to the London comedy circuit.
She said: “I was always going to be either an actress or an artist and I actually got into the Old Vic musical theatre course but I couldn’t do it because of my wrist. Even though I had to choose art because of my injury, I never lost that yearning deep down to perform.
“My whimsy comes out in these collages. It’s such a wonderful release.”
Art and humour – have proved huge sources of comfort for Georgea in a life’s journey that’s thrown up a series of huge health challenges, including breaking her back in a horse riding accident, a broken shoulder in a skiing accident and surgery to remove her coccyx.
But it was whilst living in America that Georgea and husband Jamie faced their darkest time when two-year-old daughter Romilly was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, eventually leading them to resettle in Britain to be nearer family.
She recalls: “Every time we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge it wasn’t exciting like it is for most people, it was a time of anxiety because we knew we were on our way to hospital. The bridge actually became like the gates of hell for us daily,” said Georgea.
“Our time in America, which should have been this incredible new life for us, wasn’t, and after everything we’d been through, we decided to go back to England because we had a better support network there.”
Romilly is now seven years cancer-free and her mum is determined to focus on a brighter future beyond the pandemic.
Georgea, who cites 19th-century animal artist Edwin Landseer as a source of inspiration, said: “My ambition is to see one of my paintings hang in The National Gallery and have my own TV show where I paint portraits of people’s animals. There’s so many cookery and DIY shows and I’d love to do Animal Artist of the Year or something like that.
“In the meantime I wanted to do create something to mark these historic times we’re living through as well as offer practical support. The donation is my way of helping a charity that stops waste and promotes recycling and protecting animals. It is about creativity beyond consumption and is fitting because I use people’s rubbish to help portray animals. Flora and Fauna is all about the environment saving those very same animals I am recycling and upcycling.”
Bids for Political Animal, which has a reserve price of £2,000, can be made to: firstname.lastname@example.org by December 31st 2020.