Mixed media artist Chess lives in fear that, one day, the world will run out of old newspapers.

Mixed media artist Chess lives in fear that, one day, the world will run out of old newspapers.

Mixed media artist Chess lives in fear that, one day, the world will run out of old newspapers.

The Wiltshire-based painter creates meticulous portraits of 20th-century icons from newspaper cuttings about them – and they’re all originals. So how does she source them?

“Very expensively!” she laughs. “I’m always on the lookout from online stores and collectors. I buy from people who have collected around a certain person. I do worry, though, that one day they’ll just run out!

“But for now, I have a room that’s stacked full of newspapers with stories relevant to certain people.”

The prototypes of her current collection of portraits, Legacies, were created way back when she was a teenager doing A levels and exploring typography. A writer herself – she studied English at university, followed by an MA in creative writing – she would draw pencil images using her own words.

“It then seemed like a logical next step to start using other people’s word about the subjects,” she says. “It gives a new texture to the pieces. At first, I was strict about only using clippings with just words on them, no images, but at the pieces developed and got bigger, I’ve gradually started using images too.”

Chess starts each artwork by drawing out the image in pencil onto the canvas, and then painting in the background colour.

This not only allows her to check that she’s happy with the colour but also minimises the risk of getting any paint on those precious, often unique, cuttings.

She then tears up the clippings (“I don’t like to cut them – I enjoy the rough edges”) and applies them to the image using PVA glue in a technique similar to collage or decoupage.

The details are then painted on using calligraphy ink. “It’s very similar to the ink used to print the newspapers, so a really nice touch,” Chess says. “I finish by using a gloss varnish, which really brings out the colours in the paper.”

Her subjects, she says, are famous people that ‘people have a powerful reaction to’.

“David Bowie and Audrey Hepburn have proved very popular,” she says. 

Chess Artist Bowie artwork

Chess enjoys creating a narrative with the words on the newspaper cuttings, and is currently considering focusing in on a particular period or event in a subject’s life – so all the clippings used might come from one specific decade, or relate to the release of a new album or film.

And, of course, the nature of iconography means that many of her subjects have passed on – a recent piece depicted George Michael and comprised cuttings about his untimely death in 2016.

Each image is hand-finished with her signature – a chess queen piece with her name scrawled across it.

Chess is currently hard at work on eight original new pieces for the Artmarket, all depicting David Bowie at various stages of his career, and looking forward to seeing her work in the Cottingham gallery.

“I’m super-appreciative of the Artmarket Gallery getting behind my brand,” she says. “It’s really encouraging.”
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