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A Magazine for Sheffield

Zoe Genders L A Y E R S of life

Mural artist and paper sculptor exhibits new collection of work at Artcade Gallery throughout August.

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I first met Zoe Genders three years ago. I was fascinated by her ability to create big, bright and beautiful murals, while also working deftly at small scale, making intricate paper sculptures of insects, animals and plants.

Recent months have seen Genders unveil ‘Chromabear’ as part of the Bears of Sheffield trail, along with a new mural at DINA. This weekend she opens an exhibition titled L A Y E R S. I chatted to her to find out more.

Hi Zoe. It's been a couple of years since we last spoke. Where has your artistic practice taken you since then?

Hey Flick. Great to talk to you - thanks for having me!

Yes, it's been quite a couple of years. Nothing like a pandemic to mix things up a bit. I've been mostly painting murals. I think people wanted something bright and cheerful to look at while working from home. There’s been a lot of time for contemplation and making different choices than expected. It's really fascinating how it has affected people in different ways.

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L A Y E R S opens at Artcade on 7 August. What's the concept behind your new collection?

I've had an interesting time with my practice and have definitely been trying to understand myself and where what I make comes from. The work in L A Y E R S reflects the layers of life and how different layers interact together. I’ve also gone back to where I started - with the paper butterflies. They were one of the first things I made when I started cutting and now they’re back - with a few beetles!

So much change and transformation has happened over the last two years for everyone and everything. Tiny things can have a huge impact - one being insects in steep decline. We have to look after the little things to keep the big things going.

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How does it feel to be bringing together the two worlds of mural art and paper sculpture?

It's really good to work on both aspects of my practice at the same time, switching from one to the other and seeing what comes from that. It's definitely something I want to explore on a larger scale too, to use my prop-making skills and create some really exciting installations.

Tell us more about the process of designing and creating the exhibition pieces. Where did you draw inspiration from?

There were a lot of solo and socially-distanced walks during the pandemic. They are reflected in the paintings - the loss of connection, but also enjoying being quiet. The weirdness of being at home and so close to your neighbours and friends, yet not being able to go near them.

I love the texture of the wood peeping through the paint work and the sense of depth that negative space can give you. The majority of the wood used in the exhibition is from local street chat groups that were created during lockdown. So many people were offering different things and a real sense of community has come out of it.

I spent the first two weeks of lockdown on my own and it was nice to have a reason to get out and meet some of the neighbours I hadn't met before. It also provided a solution to not being able to get materials. The little house came from a skip in a playground in Barrow-in-Furness at the last mural I painted - it’s had its own transformation!

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The last 15 months have been undeniably turbulent. How has the pandemic impacted on your work as an artist?

For sure, it's been a really turbulent time and the pandemic has certainly hit some people very hard. It's not been easy for many.

I think for me, I found some clarity and understanding, which has been incredible. I received some funding from the Freelancers Fund and was able to do some work with a professional executive coach called Haseena Farid. This has helped me to have a greater understanding of what I'm trying to achieve and also to look at the direction I want to move in, and the work definitely reflects that.

L A Y E R S is open at Artcade Gallery from 7-31 August. Free entry.

by Felicity Jackson (she/her)

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