‘Count to Four’, the third and final installation for the 2019 Artist’s Artist Project in Seven Dials has launched with a striking piece of artwork supporting World Mental Health Day 2019.
The Artist’s Artist Project is a local initiative launched at the beginning of 2019, and aims to showcase free public art and the creativity of London’s artists in the vibrancy of Seven Dials. The third piece to be displayed on the billboard in Shorts Gardens has been created by emerging British artist, Lee Kay-Barry, and endeavours to convey a powerful and topical message that raises awareness for the conversation around mental health.
Q&A with Lee Kay-Barry
How long have you been artist, and why did you pursue a career in it?
In a general sense, I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember. My mother who studied fashion would set-up still life compositions for me to draw and paint as a child, but I was more concerned with drawing action figures and superheroes from the front covers of VHS tapes. But professionally, my career started when I was 18. I have always had an interest in art, and I listened to my intuition to follow a degree in Fine Arts, which led me to live in Spain for one year and focus my abilities on abstract expressionist painting. I am a very visual person and learner; aesthetics has always interested me because it can speak volumes for what can’t be expressed in language or the physical.
For this reason, I am on my own personal journey to discover myself through art and in particular, I am painting to capture the fluidity of life through abstraction. Companionship is an integral theme in my work as I am fascinated by how our bodies interact, transition and turn with each other in the space around us.
Although my work is not factual, it aims to seek a higher truth in the human condition. There are no boundaries to surface, shape or form and leans on the side of absurdity. I treat my work as an ongoing series of autobiographical documents that share moments and memories which can be lost or forgotten in time.
Why were you so interested in taking part in the Artist’s Artist Project?
This project is completely unique as it offers artists a platform to have their artwork on show to the public to interact with and convey a message. Not only is this opportunity completely original, it provides a chance to open up discussion around certain topics and themes which the average person might not come into contact with during their day-to-day.
Furthermore, it is an honour to be working with such an iconic and widely recognised area in London which attracts millions of tourists per year.
I think what makes this project so interesting is that each chosen artist then selects three new artists to put forward their proposals for the following project. This may help as a steppingstone for emerging artists aiming to break into the industry. I feel truly special to be part of this incredible and exciting moment in Seven Dial’s history and look forward to seeing how the public interact with my artwork.
How did it feel to be recommended by Rene to be the third artist commissioned for the project?
Rene and I had met back in February this year in an artist residency based in Baker Street, whereby we shared a house and studios for six weeks with six other artists from all over the world ending with a group exhibition. This was an incredible opportunity for us all to expand our understanding of art, culture and philosophy, exchanging techniques and methods in art with particular emphasis on painting. In this time, he had mentioned he was working on a piece for Seven Dials and I was interested to find out more about the project.
Fast forward six months and I receive an email saying I have been selected among two other artists to put forward a proposal for the next project by Rene and I was overjoyed. As this highlights the importance of networking and opening up your wider world to new people and opportunities because if we did not meet on the residency, we might not have come across each other’s work.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity from both Seven Dials and Rene to have my work up on display for the next few months as I really hope people will resonate with the theme and take time to deconstruct the image and find meaning both in the artwork but also reflect on themselves and those around them.
What served as the inspiration for this piece, and why is this artwork so important to you?
This project is incredibly close to me, having directly experienced some anxiety in the past I understand how it can affect your daily life, career and relationships. Therefore, I cannot express how excited I am to have my artwork on display to spark conversation around mental health and open up debate for the importance of raising awareness around mental health.
As someone who managed to resolve my anxiety through more self-care and cutting out negative people and/or unhealthy lifestyle choices, I created a piece of artwork that highlights there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I want to shock people and make them stop in their fast-paced lives to look inwards on themselves and reflect. I want to evoke a feeling of hope and positivity to highlight that there are support networks out there and people who can help you and those affected through turbulent times.
A shocking proportion of 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Therefore, I want to drive this statistic to the public by presenting four people sat down in a recognisable domestic environment. Having this sofa imagery can also be symbolic of therapy as the figures are sat down comfortably and look to be aiding the blue figure who is in need of support. In this painting, the centred figure with their arm around the figure in blue represents the reach of support there is for people in need, whether that’s therapy, CBT or medication. Or even that one person you confide in to get your feelings out and open.
Furthermore, having the image take place in a domestic setting presents an aspect of familiarity amongst viewers as you can imagine yourself in your own living room surrounded by your family and friends.
Discuss some of the meanings and thoughts behind the colours, objects and mediums used in your piece.
There are four figures sat down on a couch, one of which is experiencing a mental health issue. To show this, the character is made up of deep blues with closed body language and their head next to their hand as if in a constant sigh. To contrast against the deep blues, the other three people sat on the sofa are be made up of vivid bright and bold colours - the other 75% of the population. The hero character in blue will have the person positioned next to them with their arm around their shoulder. This is symbolic of the support networks that exist in the public domain i.e. NHS, Samaritans helpline and also quite literally the people that are closest to the person providing support. This can be seen as people they’ve confided in, family members and partners.
The figure with their arm around them is feeding their saturated colours into the heart of the blue figure. The idea is that the blue figure has colourful aspects deep within them and are slowly being funnelled by their comforter. This signifies that there is hope and it should inspire those in need to those who know people in need to reach for support.
The figures are made up of bright colours which harmonise with each other and pay tribute to the pop-art movement with clean lines and bold outlines. This was achieved through using a mix between acrylic and oil paints.
To show that anyone can be affected by mental health the colourful figures all have small aspects within themselves which will have subtle traces of blues.
It is also important for me to portray a non-gender specific selection of people in this painting as mental health can affect anyone, this is achieved through painting androgynous figures and not focusing upon showing a specific set of facial features, body parts or even gender.
What impact do you hope your artwork will have on the Seven Dials area?
More than half of young people link mental illness with alienation and isolation, and a staggering 56% believe that anyone their age diagnosed with a mental illness would be treated differently and would lose friends. We need to break this mindset and show that anyone at any age can be affected directly or indirectly by mental health.
London is also the most popular tourist destination in the whole world, attracting around 30 million visitors from other countries every year. Some of those tourists may not speak English which means that having a clear, bold and most importantly accessible image is key to promoting conversations around mental health because it is a subject that affects all of us in one way or the other.
Therefore, the familiarity of the setting will be so striking to the public as it directly ties in with the notion that anyone can be affected. The composition will also be facing the public with the figures directly addressing the viewers, in this direct approach it will catch people’s attention through this confrontational element of the painting which should in turn provoke a reaction to make people think, talk more openly about mental health and take action. 1 in 8 adults with a mental health problem are currently receiving treatment, we need to change this, and I truly believe my piece will deliver this message to the public and break down the stigma attached to talking about feelings alongside making a statement about opening up conversations around mental health.
What other projects are you working on or have planned for the future?
This year has been extremely busy, and I am astounded by the art community that has opened up in London since moving here and I am looking forward to the next few chapters to come. I have two exhibitions in London and one in York and I am building up a body of work an exciting duo show at the moment which will be opening in January next year!
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