Artists First is a group of 16 disabled visual artists with learning difficulties based in Bristol. http://www.artistsfirst.org.uk
We have been working together since 1988. We are used to running our own studios and have organised and been part of many exhibitions, residencies and open studio events.
Artists First includes artists who met while attending Social Services’ Day Centres and artists who have lived in long stay residential hospitals. We believe that as a group we can support each other and that we can do powerful work together, things that we could not do alone.
Since 2005 we have been based in a studio in Southmead, near where most of us live. We are making new work for exhibitions so people can see who we are and what we do.
We’ve recently begun working on one of our biggest projects yet as part of our 25th anniversary year.
To watch a short film introducing Artists First, go to www.redweather.co.uk/artistsfirst
“My art has always been important to me and being seen as an artist first, not just as someone with learning difficulties, or the names they used to call us. Kathy and me talked about it in 1988 and we said, ‘let’s be called Artists First because that’s how we want to be seen.’ Art is important because it shows people what we can do; it changes people’s attitudes. I have been in lots of exhibitions and sold my work. I shall always work at my art because it makes me feel so strong.”
Carol Chilcott, Founding Member
“My work is not bad and it is important to me. I would do nothing if I didn’t do my art; making art is my life.”
Joan Clews has been a member of Artists First for over 18 years.
“I love art. I paint everywhere and I love painting holidays. My dad was an artist; he and I used to paint together. His name was Mike, Michael, and now he has gone, I keep the art going for both of us.”
Sarah McGreevy has been a member of Artists First for 20 years.
“Art is important to me because it is in my heart. We used to go to St. Ives for painting weekends and I love making paintings about St. Ives. I like doing my art anywhere, though, as long as we are together.”
Kathy Stewart has been a member of Artists First for 20 years and creates her work using inks, pastels and different types of paint.
“It is of great enjoyment doing my art and of great interest as well because it makes me feel so good. All the different materials you can use: acrylics, inks, watercolours, oils, pastels. It excites you because of all that comes out of it. I get power out of it – and I feel I could do it forever and ever. I get a great excitement out of it. When I was 5 years old, I dreamt of being an artist but I was limited at school.”
Brenda Cook is 72 and lives in an older people’s home. She has been a member of Artists First for 12 years.
“I think it is great, art. I like doing it at home, anywhere. I do things as I see them – some ideas come out of my head and some ideas come from stories. Male Face is like seeing your self differently in a mirror, it is like a reflection, almost like magic mirrors at a fair. They can change the size of your face. You are gazing into more of your self – that’s what I am doing in Male Face. Art makes you see things differently and that includes yourself.”
“Why are the canaries singing? They are in a cage and they are still singing. They make the people very happy. They are not like my sister’s parrot. They sing. It is a picture about making people happy through a song. It is about the songs we can all sing.”
Lizzy Lane talking about her painting ‘My Singing Canaries’.
“It is important for my work to get out there and be seen by lots of people. The paintings that are in this exhibition, I did them to dedicate the life I had with my partner, Roy, who recently died. I needed to do them because I wanted to show everyone that we were together in life. The pictures are from my head and I want to put my memories and feelings into paint.”
“My ambition is to get my work all around the world so I can share it with others – people can buy it if they want to. It makes me feel great that someone has my work on their wall. I am doing a lot of portraits and still life works at the moment.”
Peter Sutton has created over 400 pieces of art and would like to exhibit them all.
“I like coming to do my art and I’ve done it for a long time. I like working with schools, sharing my art with young people. I like working with other disabled artists like James Lake and Eddy Hardy. Art makes me feel great – great fun doing it but it is hard work.”
Stephen Canby has been a member of Artists First for 15 years.
“Our work is about beauty, being different and it’s about celebration too.”