POP-UP and Project Beginnings

My first I LOVE THIS CITY / COLLECTION POP-UP SHOP opened this week at Thought Foundationa contemporary art gallery in Birtley, near the Angel of the North. Here's what you will find in store and a little more about the project, its inception and where my inspiration came from. Most importantly, huge thanks to Thought Foundation Shop Manager, Charlotte Hanford for her amazing work designing the shop layout so beautifully! 

NEWCASTLE  Women's Organic Cotton t-shirt

The pop-up includes men's and women's 100% organic cotton t-shirts featuring my original Biro drawings inspired by the cities of NEWCASTLE and SUNDERLAND. These cities are North East beacons, and although renown rivals, displaying Newcastle and Sunderland artwork side by side, demonstrates the rich cultural heritage and epic landmarks both cities possess. Two large format limited edition prints are exhibited as part of the pop-up with SUNDERLAND panthers escaping from an unframed print, while the magpies of NEWCASTLE are encased in a white frame.  There are also framed posters and loose rolled posters in stock.

SUNDERLAND 2018 Limited Edition Print

The initial idea for the project was formed several years ago. I wanted to create a Newcastle inspired t-shirt design for my husband, a passionate Newcastle United Football Club fan. Personal experiences and a love of travel saw the idea develop over the years into a commercial project to include global cities. 

Being dual hearted, I am both a townie and a country girl with an appreciation for metropoles and wildernesses. Living in London in the 1990s, I became a Guard / Emergency tube driver on the Northern Line to fund my art practice. I chose to be a tube driver because I wanted to experience being at the beating heart of London. In my mind London is an entity. I saw life at its best and at its most desperate. I was in awe of London, its history, its community, its beauty and its innovation and proud to be a small cog in its wheel. Likewise with great pride I love my hometown Edinburgh and my new home city, Newcastle. Having lived in and explored many cities taking in the good, the bad and the awe-inspiring, I forever find myself throwing back my arms in my mind (or in an empty street, I'm shy!) and saying ‘I love this city!’ Every city I visit, no matter how small or big has beauty, accomplishment and always spirit in abundance.

Extracting personal and inclusive perspectives from my city experiences, my aim is to create artworks that represent each city's cultural individuality. City drawings are often inspired by heraldic coats of arms and are woven with layers of imagery depicting treasured landmarks, associated animal mascots, as well as references to heritage industries and exciting facts I uncover.

Robert Lee wearing Newcastle t-shirt

All those years ago, I carried in my head the idea to create a Newcastle drawing for my husband.  The imagery always included two flapping magpies, the Tyne Bridge, mythical seahorses and somewhere the musical notes of Newcastle anthem The Blaydon Races.  But I didn't dare sketch the idea until I actually embarked upon the project, so its first physical impression would be wild and fresh to me. I don't use sketch books, preferring to sketch initial ideas on my iPad or on loose pieces of paper.  As soon I embarked on the project I made the first NEWCASTLE sketch. 

First iPad sketch idea for NEWCASTLE drawing

It was also an exciting opportunity to explore the city of Sunderland and research its rich cultural and industrial heritage, epic landmarks and revered football club, Sunderland Association FC. I loved drawing those panthers!  As each Biro drawing involves weeks of research and several months to draw, it has taken eight months including drawing and organising the manufacturing of products for the project to become a reality.

 SUNDERLAND 2018 red Bic Biro drawing

As my art practice explores loss generated by human destruction, I wanted to stay true to my explorations with this commercial project.  I LOVE THIS CITY / COLLECTION therefore seeks to communicate, through the inclusion of animal imagery, that humanity is entwined with the animal kingdom. With the growing global realisation that we need our wildlife, I hope this project will also raise awareness at a local and global level, to conserve wildlife residing in our cities and surrounds. Since completion of the first two cities to join the collection I have already taken the project to two local schools, Jarrow Cross CE Primary School and St Mary Magdalen R.C.V.A. Primary School, and delivered workshops where students celebrated their home towns of Jarrow and Seaham as well as indigenous wildlife. 

I LOVE THIS CITY / POP-UP opening 9 August, Thought Foundation

The project was formed through love, pride and passion on many levels and it is with great pride that it began with cities of the North East and is also participating in the Great Exhibition of the North ‘Inspired By’ programme. 

I am already planning work for new cities coming soon...

The full I LOVE THIS CITY / COLLECTION can be viewed here.

Many thanks to Thought Foundation customers for supporting this project and a huge thank you to Thought Foundation for hosting my first pop-up shop!

Thought Foundation, Clarity House, Durham Road, Birtley DH3 2TB

Opening times: Mon - Fri 0900-1600, Sat & Sun 1000-1600






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