Drawing Acts IV: Olivia Sterling




Drawing Act IV is the latest in a series of live projects that connect artists with local community groups, bringing new and alternative perspectives to our exhibition programme. 

We commissioned Olivia Sterling to lead Drawing Act IV, in response to the exhibition If there ever were an end to a story that had no beginning by Vanessa Baird. The exhibition displayed a series of vivid, vulnerable and expressive self-portraits of family and domestic life, depicting Baird’s experience as  mother, daughter, carer and artist. The work used strong colours and the stylistic languages of folk art and fairy tales to express subjects that are generally introspective, such as  intimate bodily functions and the ageing female body.  

Olivia Sterling’s work uses folklore and the everyday to illustrate and investigate  otherness, a subject based on her own life experiences. Both Baird and Sterling use humour, strong colours and playful drawing techniques to depict  social dynamics within the everyday.

The project was a collaboration with Coin Street Community Centre and their art group for local residents over the age of 50.  

Drawing Act IV began towards the end of lockdown when in person-activities were disrupted. The sessions took place in person, at the gallery, and online, so that all participants of the group could be involved which the participants mentionned felt like a solace after lock-down.

Each week the group came together around a long table, similar to one that features in many of  Vanessa’s work, to share memories and experiences related to each person’s cultural identity. The table, the blanket and the book became the anchor to exploring forms of memory through domestic objects.

The final session culminated with a tea party, which brought together work that participants produced during the project. Cyanotype and drawings of nostalgic objects were transformed into a book;  childhood food dishes constructed in felt were transformed into a table cloth; multi-patterned family fabrics formed a blanket .