The East London-based artist on social media, sexism and Pamela Anderson’s breasts.

A quick scan through the Instagram profile of East London based artist Lynnie Z, and it’s a vibrant shock to the system.

An electric colour palette. Thick strokes. Blocks of polka dots, checkerboard or animal print. And androgynous outlines kneeling in foliage with shocks of blue hair. The women in her artwork – her primary focus – are playful and striking, side-eyeing the viewer, or turned over their shoulder at us, hinting at a mysterious “who, me?”

Hailing from the Scottish Borders, Lynnie takes inspiration from pop culture, perceptions of desire, and ideas about femininity. Currently, she is working with premium water bottle brand Arto LIFEWTR to celebrate and champion emerging artists, giving them a platform to display their art. Her work will stand alongside pieces by Yinka Ilori and Craig & Karl at the free, pop-up Arto LIFEWTR Public Gallery – in Brick Lane Yard at East London’s Truman Brewery.

We sat down with the artist and talked about sexism in the art world, Pamela Anderson’s breasts, and the impact of social media on art…

How did you first get into art?
I grew up in a very creative home with an artist mother, so there was no doubt art would become part of my life. Although we lived in the Scottish Borders, my mother was born in Africa and my father always travelled to faraway places. So as a family we had a great love for culture and the world. I didn’t fit in much at school but drawing was my favourite thing to do, I could simultaneously escape and connect with myself. I studied illustration at Kingston where I ultimately found my people. It was there I met Hattie Stewart and Alice Hartley, who I still share a studio with today. 

What is it that drew you to illustration, in particular that of people?
I think I was naturally drawn to illustration because it is so accessible, it’s application is so very versatile and I love how it has the ability to develop into endless forms. I have always been fascinated by people and by the endless possibilities of expressing emotion and atmospheres in faces.

A lot of your work looks at the female form – what do you find so alluring about it?
My drawings have always featured people, predominantly women. Being a child of the ‘90s, I was fascinated by the “heightened femininity” I found in pop culture. The Spice Girls, being borderline drag queens, Pamela Anderson’s sensational fake breasts and PJ Harvey’s androgynous guises all contributed to providing strong visuals that fascinated me, and they have infused into my work ever since. Femininity is subjective, I just enjoy the power of it in whoever it beholds, whatever physicality it takes. There is an androgynous guise that is prominent in my work that shakes up and provokes the shape of desire. I want to create a sort of magnetism between my characters and the viewer. Sometimes there’s nothing more intimate and direct than the gaze of a face.

What is your experience of being a female artist in the world of illustration – is it still very male dominated or improving?
I believe we still have long a way to go. The fact we are called “female artists” proves there is an issue. I share a studio with 4 other female artists and illustrators, and this is still a reoccurring conversation. It’s plain to see that our male peers are getting more campaigns than our female peers. It is changing and I’m hopeful, but we’re not there yet.

I think most of us have been educated by an art world dominated by men and their work has filled these galleries, museums and books for centuries. Female art has been so poorly represented and so very few female artists have been allowed to have an impact on the status quo.

Hilma aF Klint, Yayoi Kusama, Lee Krasner are all examples of artists that earned their way decades or centuries ago, and it is only fairly recently that they have been given the overdue retrospectives they deserve. 

Your work varies from paintings to line drawings and even large-scale murals – what’s your preferred medium and why?
There is an impulsive nature in how I approach my work, so for this reason I would choose sketchbooks as my favourite medium – they give the most true depiction of who I am as an artist. The pieces have an honesty, by their unpretentious born beginnings, and I want all my work to reflect this raw uncontrived state of mind that is created in the initial medium. I work across many sketchbooks at time, and pick one according to my mood, using paint pens and thick calligraphy inks with brushes or pens.

How did you first get involved with the Arto LIFEWTR exhibition?
I was approached by Arto LIFEWTR (known as LIFEWTR in the US) back in 2016 and our relationship has been evolving ever since. My bottle design was first released in US as part of the “Women In the Arts” series, highlighting the small representation given to women artists in the art world, so this message particularly resonates with me. My bottle design has had a second lease of life, being re-launched as part the series “Contemporary Art in the UK” along with two other bottle designs by fellow UK collaborators Yinka Ilori and Craig & Karl.

This goes hand in hand with the opening of the London exhibition that has been commissioned to highlight our own personal work, which will be free and accessible to the public between 16-18 August at Brick Lane Yard, Truman Brewery. The connections made with these artists have been golden, and the concept of a free public gallery for people in the capital and beyond to experience art in a more accessible setting is an exciting one.

What piece(s) did you create for this exhibition – what was your process?
I wanted to create three enormous sculptures that would serve to illustrate the human need to connect to a higher spiritual plain and reaching for ‘The Divine’ in whatever form that may be. These would interpret three objectives; striving for balance, striving for love and striving to better ourselves. 

I wanted to use symbolism, humour and irreverence to create a playful and metaphorical experience. Utilising the style of my bold graphic motifs, I aimed to represent a stacking of offerings or aspirations, by incorporating hands, eyes that carry a multitude of messages that would connect to the human experience. Scale became an important factor in getting across this message, so they needed to be as large as possible.

After fully drawing these ideas up, they were converted into 3D CAD drawings, which were then scaled up, formed, carved and hand-painted into statues, up to 3 metres tall.

Why do you think it’s important for brands to bolster and champion emerging artists?
 I believe brands have the capacity to create a stage for emerging talent, and need to take a supportive role rather than an exploitive one. Emerging artists are in their nature more fresh and innovative, producing work that comes from a new perspective, in response to the current world we live in. I think it’s important that brands trust and champion emerging artists so they can prosper and develop more freely. That exchange of trust always elevates the outcome, something I’ve definitely experienced with Arto LIFEWTR.

What is the aim of your work?
My aim was to create a piece that would be aspirational and in some personal way, an uplifting energising experience. I would like it to somehow celebrate the human spirit and what we are capable of. It was important to me that it should be interactive and on a great scale; something that social media cannot encapsulate.

What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever had on a piece of work you’ve done?
It’s hard to single out one piece of feedback because I have to embrace a detachment after creating a piece of work then launching it out to the world. But I created an artwork for the New York Times Sunday Review front cover for the article “What biracial people know”. The response was immense and appeared to resonate with great deal of people. So many stories were shared and I felt the artwork took on a whole new life through this. Commissions that allow you to lift up the mirror to diversity is of incredible importance, representation across the board can never be underestimated. 

You’re quite active on social media – how do you feel about the way this has democratised art?
I have a lot of mixed feelings about social media, it’s been the most incredible platform for my work, however, its unnatural pace can make the content more disposable and contrived. I think social media has democratised art, but it is still modelled on a hierarchal system which is a distorted way to experience art. I look forward to Instagram removing the “likes” ideology altogether. I think art in this particular form will evolve for the better.

What’s next for you – what are you excited about next?
Hopefully more work in the 3D realm. This collaboration has been a great ride and I’ve loved the challenges sculpture presents you with. It’s unleashed so many new ideas and ways or thinking, it’s now just a matter of connecting the dots.

The pop-up gallery runs from Friday 16 – Sunday 18 August, 10am – 6pm


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