The latest instalment of Art Life: South of the River comes to you courtesy of Claire Bentley-Smith also known as Poshfruit. More information on her work can be found at http://poshfruit.com/
I’ve started this article several times since being asked asked to write for South Leeds Life about being an artist and designer living in this area. In part I suppose I am pressuring myself not to live up to the bohemian stereotype of an artist and write something clichéd about how deeply considered my work is and that my surroundings hugely influence my creative process…
The truth is that professionally I am mostly a ’Jack of all trades’ commercial artist, who, instead of languishing in the heady mists of my own tangled practice, bring my clients dreams to life in exchange for money, which, is quite refreshing for a creative type. The art fraternity might well consider me a sell out, however, I think of it as a temporary arrangement whilst my son (now 6) is fully dependent, schooling locally at the amazing St Luke’s School and enjoying a growing number of hobbies, sports and leisure pursuits, most of which come at a price. I do indeed dream of a time when I can turn my attentions inwardly and simply produce works straight from my own heart and mind, and believe me, there is an internal volcano of bubbling ideas constantly swirling around and bursting to explode…but that must wait!
Following a tumultuous childhood growing up as an expatriate in South East Asia and attending boarding schools near London, I came to live in nurturing Yorkshire at 16 years old. Throughout the tribulations of my life, my drawing had become my therapy and refuge where I tirelessly practiced, observed and experimented, loosing myself in the pursuit of capturing a moment on paper. I think creative folk of any discipline find times of hardship help to hone their skills, as strong emotion is a great catalyst for the creative process and the production of fresh work a soothing catharsis. With talent of any kind I believe there is no short cut to excelling at your skill. Sporting prowess, writing poetry, playing instruments, creating art, baking cakes…I could go on, but I imagine most successful people have experienced that surge of inspiration to hone their particular activity and become something exceptional at it, not for competitions sakes but because they are driven by an unexplained urge to do it!
I came to university in Leeds at 20 and, like many, loved it so much I stayed. After graduating from BA Visual Communications at Leeds College of Art & Design I attempted a brief and crushing dalliance into office based work, which seemed to shrivel my creative soul to the point of imploding…I soon left and registered as self employed. Having started as an illustrator and watercolor portrait artist I quickly widened my creative horizons as job requests rolled in from all over Leeds and beyond for larger scale paintings and murals, costume and prop making, window displays and event décor. I learned on my feet, I messed things up quite a lot, I REALLY burned the candle at both ends but somehow, thankfully, kept hold of spectacular clients who not only taught me so much about business and gave me several chances when I went off the rails but also trusted me with the best of amazing projects to bring their wildest dreams to life! A creative existence can sometimes be a lonely one, but I adore the fact that commercial art projects for clients offer the chance for me to be in many teams, returning to some consistently over the years and also collaborating with new people all the time.
Now I live on the same road as the Holbeck Cemetery gates and from my hilltop home I enjoy a sweeping view of our entire city. Armley’s imposing gothic church on the crest of the hill to the left, is where the sun goes down over summer and glorious enough to challenge any holiday sunset. From there the city vista sweeps to the right with a peppering of prized landmarks jostling with each other up the undulating slope towards Woodhouse and beyond. The historic dome and clock of the Town Hall peeking inbetween it’s modern neighbors who now tower above it in their modernity. Neon lights on Bridgewater Place, chalky tower of the Parkinson Building, monolithic Quarry Hill and the comfortingly sterile aqua cuboids of new St James’ Hospital wing are all moments of time captured architecturally that stand side by side, contradicting and complementing each other simultaneously. The view changes with the weather, the seasons and time of day so offer a constant catalogue of interesting observations I probably do lend to my artwork.
I feel in many ways that life in Beeston mirrors the Leeds landscape I look out at every day from here. Just in the way that those juxtaposed buildings make up our cityscape so too the myriad of cultural, religious and social groups that make up the community of South Leeds and unexpectedly fit in with each other. When ever the media over sensationalizes the lack of community in this country or tells us we all live in segregated ghettos that are fearful and untrusting of each other, I can just take a stroll to my local shops where so much proves cohesion and multiculturalism is working brilliantly here. There, the African, Polish, English and Asian food shops all bustle beside one another exactly as I often see in areas of London. This is not an affluent area but I find this inspires ingenuity and comradeship between its dwellers and that the colourful clash of mixed communities offer an ever-inspiring narrative that I regularly draw from artistically, much more so than areas of bland affluence. On Summer Sunday afternoons our local Cross Flatts Park kindly puts on a weekly live band and those afternoons bring together so many parts of our community as everyone is united in the wonderful chance to hear real music outdoors whilst children play together. It is an amazing place to people watch and sketch and smashes the negative preconception that many have about this area of Leeds.
So, I could have just made a list of jolly conveniences saying that living in Beeston is great, that I can cycle into the city centre in 10 minutes, close to most meetings, jobs and my partner’s Q Division workshop where I make props and scenic paint, that I’m straight onto the motorways, surrounded by specialist paint and materials suppliers and more, but that’s not what really enriches my life and work here on this hill, it’s this psychedelic cocktail of fascinating people in the ever-evolving cultural mixing pot that is South Leeds.