Zara Slattery, 44, lives in Brighton with her husband and three children. Having grown up on the North-West coast of England, in a place called Marshside, Southport, Zara gained an Art Foundation at Hugh Baird College in Liverpool after leaving school, going on to study Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art. Zara has a love of Theatre and is also inspired by illustrators such as, David Hughes and Ralph Steadman.
Zara completed a Master’s degree in Communication Design at Manchester Metropolitan University. There she investigated the relationship between the illustrator and theatre design and character development. We at ART SAVES LIVES INTERNATIONAL found Zara to be a particularly inspirational artist having dealt with a great deal in her life but finding humour and strength through art, with her imaginative illustrations and intriguing subject matter this artist is contributing a real voice in our culture, so we decided to ask her a few questions:
What motivated you to deal with the subject of womanhood and in your art?
Klimt Soup was simply inspired by a conversation in which a friend offered to send me a bowl of Klimt soup. ‘Wow’ I thought, ’what would it be like to consume a painting?’ And in turn considered how we are consumed by the power of paintings.
In Klimt’s work it is evident that he adores women, primarily young women.
As a student I had a poster of ‘The Kiss’ hanging on my wall. At the time, to me, it represented the relationship ‘ideal’. I wanted to take his image of woman and reclaim her for the older woman, demonstrating that passion and intimacy are not wholly to be found in the realms of youth.
Everlution is the story of my own evolution. Again taking a popular image, ‘The Evolution of Man’ and using it as a base, I wanted to document my journey from crawling child to striding woman to the suddenness of my contracting Necrotizing Myositis, losing a leg as a consequence and my subsequent recovery. This is my forever, and by representing myself in a white dress I wanted to show that I am the same person regardless of what life throws at you.
I have a tendency to make light of situations, probably to make it easier for other people. Everlution was an opportunity to share my reality in a way that people could relate to, identifying themselves somewhere in the journey and hopefully have greater understanding and empathy.
Tell us why you chose these submission?
Both these submissions represent women and the image of women. My aim is give an honest account of the multidimensional forms femininity takes.
Why have you chosen the medium you use for your art?
I love working in comics because I love storytelling, sequential art allows me to explore subjects further, inviting the viewer to come on a journey with me. When drawing, each panel is like opening a door into another room. I’ve always loved illustrations that suggest there’s something hidden around the corner – comics take you there.
What is your process when creating?
I keep sketchbooks and scribble down ideas, some for later use and, if inspired, I jump on an idea immediately. I’m rather impatient, so my roughs are very rough. I want to keep the story fresh so, although I’ll have planned my comic in terms of page number and panel sequence, I always leave room to wander off on a tangent if so inclined.
Pencil is my first love followed by ink, I love the honesty of a pencil drawing and I swear by mechanical pencils. It always has a point, so there’s no need to stop mid-sketch to sharpen. I ink my lines with a fine brush, it slows me down and allows me to consider where I put my marks, and also I think a fine brush moves elegantly across the paper.
I think a lot about the colour and the mood it portrays. On occasions I still colour with paint, however, increasingly I use Photoshop, it allows me to play more. Having said that, Klimt soup was something of a departure, I picked up a packet of coloured pens and just wanted to doodle.
Who are you influenced by? What inspired you and your art?
When I was younger, I was primarily influenced by the pen work of David Hughes; the craftsmanship of the Pre-Raphaelites and storytelling of Hogarth. My father-in-law was a children’s antiquarian bookseller and some years ago he introduced me to early and mid C 20th European children’s illustrators. That helped shape the direction my drawing took. And, I guess now, as my interests have developed I tend to be influenced by a vast range of contemporary comic artists.
Life inspires my art, it helps me understand the world and people and allows me a platform in which to share ideas. Music also plays a part, I rarely work without listening to it. All sorts of music inspire me, I love how so much is freely expressed and felt through music – I aim to attempt the same through drawing. And I have to add, landscapes. I was fortunate to grow up by the coast next to the marsh and down the road from a stunning dune landscape.
Back home, the land is flat and the sky is vast, I think it’s safe to say this landscape has appeared a few times in my work.”
What does feminism mean to you and do you consider yourself to be a feminist?
I don’t think I’ve ever not thought myself a feminist. I believe it’s always been integral to my identity.
What made you want to get involved with our non-profit ART SAVES LIVES INTERNATIONAL mission?
“I wanted to get involved with Art Saves lives because having run comic art workshops for the British Council and taught pen and wash skills to adult learners at the Friends Centre in Brighton, I’ve witnessed first-hand how we can inspire and share ideas through art. It benefits people and brings them together.
On a personal level, I wanted to be involved because after the trauma of Necrotizing Myositis, art gave and continues to give me the platform on which to explore and share my experience. Hopefully it may help and inspires others.”
Do you feel women have to conform to social norms and stereotypes to be taken seriously? Do you have any experiences of this?
“I lost my leg in May 2013, it’s taken a while to come to terms with the new normal. Within a year of losing my leg, it was suggested that I should get a prosthetic limb on the grounds that it would make me look more ‘ladylike’. There’s nothing like losing a leg to challenge the social norms! At this stage I’m not sure how helpful a prosthetic limb would be, I was told that I’d only ever be able to amble along with it. I know for certain that I’d rather embrace life with one leg than sit on the side-lines watching it with two.
When it comes to stereotypes, as a parent, we’ve constantly had to navigate our way through a bombardment of gender stereotyping different from the ones I encountered as a child, but no less confining.
Some ‘norms’ are deeply engrained, and the actions of women and girls are still judged harshly. As a women and a mother I believe it’s my duty to challenge these pre-conceptions by encouraging respect and tolerance.”
Do you think that women and men are equal in today’s societies around the world? Have you any experience of this?
“There are so many societies around the world where women and men are not equal, where the lives of women and girls are constrained. I know the Britain of my youth was less equal than it is today, however, it was the women of my youth who were dominant. Some were more conservative and cared about status quo, while others actively challenged it. I know I loved them all, but it was the later that gave me the confidence to want and expect more.
In modern Britain we are fortunate, there’s an abundance of opportunities out there, however, gender inequality still exists. Sometimes it’s subtle and sometimes not so, I know women still challenging for equal pay.”
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for etc…..?
“I’ve always been passionate about animal welfare and the environment. I have three children and I’d like them to live happy, healthy lives in a sustainable world. As a family we support environmental charities, try to limit our use of throw-away goods by reusing and recycling as much as we can, and take our responsibilities as consumers seriously.”
How can your art be used to create change and is this something you want for your art?
“I started dabbling in Comics about five years ago when I realised that the places I wanted to venture into where better served with pictures rather than words. Comics have a subtle way of making some of the toughest subjects accessible. With so many comic artists out there, it’s a vibrant and exciting art form. With my own comics, I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface, right now I see my art as a gentle nudge. Most of the time I like my art to give people a warm glow, however, at some point I’d like to add my creative voice to bigger environmental issues.”
What does the statement ART SAVES LIVES mean to you and has art in any way “saved” your life in any way?
“ART SAVES LIVES, for me really means having the freedom to express and share views and ideas for the enrichment of others. There’s honesty in what we lay down through art, it can embody a truth and humble us.
Has art ‘saved’ my life? Art has been ever-present in my life, both in appreciation and practice. It’s been the means in which I could identify myself and share emotions not easily conveyed in words.”
What are your goals as with your art?
“The main goal of my art is to engage people, make them smile or make them think – open a dialogue.”
What is your next project or piece that you are working on?
“At this moment in time I’m juggling a number of projects:
I have a wonderful creative partner, writer Kirsten Wilde. Together we’re collaborating on a number of children stories, some of which deal with gender identity; ethnicity and cultural diversity.
Significant people are missing from my ‘Everlution’ comic, namely my family, so next I’m planning to write a comic called, ‘When She Came Home’. After the initial trauma and months in hospital, this is the story of us as a family coming to terms with our new normal. Hopefully it will be endearing and a little bit funny.”
Find out more about Illustrator Zara Slattery: