Painting Snowden: An interview with Sarah Lynn Mayhew // SLM Art
There have been two big pieces of Manchester street art doing the rounds on Facebook and Twitter in August – the Walter White as Heiseinberg piece by Akse, and the Edward Snowden portrait by Sarah Lynn Mayhew and D7606. Both form part of the ongoing Out House project in the city, with these two on opposite sides of a newly acquired site for the collective, an electricity substation that is also home to a tourist attracting mossy plastic protected Banksy. I got in touch with Sarah to find out more about her thoughts behind the piece, and why she chose Snowden in particular.
Have a look at more of Sarah’s work on her website – find more links at the foot of our interview.
Not unexpectedly, you seem quite passionate about the subject of your latest piece – bang in the middle of the city centre. Why Snowden?
Edward Snowden selflessly stood up, conscientiously led, to reveal the truth regarding US NSA (National Security Agency) surveillance and British GCHQ (Government Communications HQ) and its implications regarding human rights internationally, all under the banner of the ‘war on terror’ yet the governments are violating our basic liberties and destroying privacy.
I chose to paint Edward Snowden not only to show my support but to encourage the public to engage and become aware of where our country is being led at present. The Guardian has recently exposed files leaked from Snowden on the mass surveillance of Facebook, Google and Microsoft and eavesdropping by Britain’s GCHQ on foreign politicians at G20 summits in London. GCHQ have stated that their secret operation, codenamed ‘Tempora’ and involving mass interception of cable traffic, is designed to “master the internet”.
Soon we will have no human rights at all. If the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill goes through we will be living in a police state, unable to protest or campaign with the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill also on the agenda.
Whistleblowers are not criminals. They are defenders of our human rights and we need more conscientiously led people to stand up for what is right – whilst we still have the freedom to do so and make changes for the better. I believe that Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning are heroes. People need to read about them before passing judgement – the mainstream media does not tell us everything.
What have been your proudest artistic moments?
I once was the in-house Scenic Artist at Colchester Mercury Theatre. They put on the play ‘The Lady Killers’, which consisted of a large house on the skew. Production was late, my job was the last in the queue – I was left with 4 nights to paint; a room with stencilled anaglypta wallpaper, fake wooden floors, stone tiled floors, a stencilled mosaic floor, cement street tiles and one hell of a load of brick work. The actors were rehearsing in the day time, so it was just me in the theatre, running up and down the auditorium to check if it worked from the back row. It was like one huge 3D canvas. I did it! A lot of work but great fun!
The actress Annabelle Apsion, who played Monica Gallagher in Shameless, bought one of my 100 squares interactive paintings. She was so happy with it she took me out to the preview of ‘Control‘ and dragged me onto the red carpet to get snapped by the paparazzi! It was a fun experience… it’s amazing where art can take you!
I think my most proudest moments have been of recent though, painting Edward Snowden – chatting to people in the city as I painted, opening peoples minds as to what is going on in the world….
What’s the artistic community in Manchester like? Have you found any kindred spirits?
Manchester has so much energy and talent with regards to creativity. I have been fortunate to meet so many different artists, each with their own unique skills. I am forever meeting new artists – I love the vibe. I have found many great friends through my work. It was great getting D7606 to collaborate with the Edward Snowden piece. His work complimented mine by adding contrast and food for thought, I think it really worked.
What are your feelings on street art in Manchester?
We need more! It’s great what we have, and so varied. I hope that more legal spots will become available. Street art not only enriches Manchester’s broad culture but also gives a voice to the people. The Out House project is an amazing project for artists. I only hope that the council and other businesses start to recognise the true value that this project brings to the city and start to give financial support. At the moment artists have to pay for their own materials and time. In fact, the Edward Snowden piece has seriously jeopardised paying my rent this month! It’s painting with passion!
Are you a Manchester native or were you brought to the city for a reason?
I moved to Manchester in 1989 – for the music and to study. Yes, I’m a cockney up north! I have considered moving back to be near my family, I feel quite torn at times, I probably will one one day. But I’m a Northerner at heart. I love the people and what Manchester has to offer. It has me in it’ grips!
What was your route into art?
Apparently I defiantly told my mother that I was going to be an artist at the age of four. I didn’t learn to read or write until I was seven. I didn’t want to know. Luckily, I had a hippy teacher who just let me draw all day at school for three years! Later it was a BTEC Diploma in Fine Art. Then I went to MMU (Manchester Metropolitan University) to do a BA in Educational Media Design – which got me into multimedia in the nineties. I won an RSA award (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) and continued working in website design and computer animation. I later moved south for a few years where my job was to paint 16m x 11m back drops and sets at the theatre. This got me back into painting, my vocation. I’ve been a self employed artist since 2005.
You make portraits and abstract pieces in a variety of media. Could you talk me through what inspires you to do a new piece? Do you have several ideas going on at once, or focus on one thing at a time?
Haha. My head is forever creating – it’s a carousel I can’t get off! I have a back log of things I want to paint and create. It’s difficult keeping up with myself. I’m forever scribbling notes down all over the place with ideas. I have had a variety of part time jobs to help pay the bills…. from being a picture framers assistant to working as a chamber maid. I collect things and pick up ideas wherever ever I am. The idea of interactive mini canvases that you can rearrange came from working at the picture framers in 2003. Playing around with the mitre saw – seeing how small a frame I could make. It’s 7.8 cm! My ‘interchangeable squares’ series took off from that point. From working as a chamber maid I collected small empty shampoo bottles and then created ‘bottle shot’ paintings. I enjoy painting portraits the most though and it’s the human spirit which I find most inspiring.
Do you keep an ideas journal of some sort?
I have a collection of ‘stuff’: objects, and bits of paper with doodles on and notes. I’m pretty disorganised! I try and keep a sketch pad – but more often than not once the idea has formulated in my mind I’m straight onto canvas.
Which cities do you consider to be the best in terms of street art?
Berlin must be at the top of the list! I’d love to paint there some day. Brazil is another top contender. I think that Bristol is leading the way in the Uk. Manchester has some catching up to do.