Welsh artist has first solo show

Around Town meets Cardiff artist Zena Blackwell who’s about to have her first solo show at Cardiff MADE after winning their summer arts prize last year. Seen Not Heard is on until Nov 25th and showcases a selection of brightly coloured paintings exploring motherhood.

What’s the best thing about living in Cardiff?

House prices! I moved to the Penylan area three years ago after spending 19 years in London. For the price of renting a tiny two bed in London, we could afford a delightful Victorian terrace here. Then there’s also the fact that Cardiff is super-chilled out.

Do you have a studio where you work and what’s a normal working day like?

I’ve just moved into Arcade Studios near Fairwater. Prior to that I had a home studio but it was in our loft and the pitched roof meant I banged my head at least 5 times an hour. As for my working day, I waste no time, it’s amazing what having strictly limited time can do for your productivity levels. There is no time for procrastination!

What inspired you to become an artist?

Around the age of eight I remember visiting an artist’s studio above Cardiff Market and she was painting the concrete floor white and I thought, this is the life I want!

You are about to have your first solo show, what can people expect?

My paintings are brightly coloured, have a sense of humour and are open to interpretation. I love it when people see things in them that I hadn’t even noticed. You will see a lot of faces and people (mainly children) but they aren’t straight up portraits. Oh, and quite a few plants.

What’s the best piece of art you’ve ever seen?

Not sure about the best piece, but the exhibition that will always stick in my mind was Sensation at the Royal Academy in 1997. It was so exciting to see Charles Saatchi’s collection of art by the YBAs. People may mock Damien Hirst nowadays but seeing that shark in formaldehyde at the time was downright thrilling.

What couldn’t you live without?

Well apart from the internet, Netflix and good, strong coffee, I really couldn’t live without really good quality food. I am an out and out food snob and I ain’t ashamed.

What arty places in South Wales should we be visiting?

Well apart from my current exhibition, there is g39 just off of City Road, Glynn Vivian in Swansea and Artes Mundi at the National Museum, to name but a few. Commercial galleries such at Ten and Martin Tinney have some great shows too.

Zena Blackwell

Who’s your ultimate Welsh hero?

I think I’ll have to say Augustus John. I adore his paintings.

Where’s your favourite place in Wales?

Oh gosh, tricky question. I love Cardiff because it’s home but for escape time, I love the Gower. I’m not choosy – any of those gorgeous beaches will do.

The last arts show you went to?

It was the immersive theatre experience Now the Hero by Marc Rees. It started off on Swansea Bay beach and ended up at Brangwyn Hall and was just so unbelievably amazing. I just cannot stop thinking about it.

What do you think of the arts scene in South Wales?

I love it. What I love most is the amazing sense of camaraderie. There are some amazing artists here such as Ashley Trimm, Rhiannon Davies and Lara Davies.

Where are your favourite places to eat in Cardiff?

I love Penylan Pantry’s home-cooked delights; Cardiff MADE offer outstanding cakeage and sandwiches; I love Jalan Malaysia’s Nasi Lemak and Bully’s in Pontcanna for an extremely tasty splurge.

Favourite film?

ET. I named my son after Elliot.

What’s the best Christmas gift to buy you?

Probably some Dr Martins or Miss Patisserie acai berry facial oil.

Christmas pudding or chocolate log?

Definitely Christmas pudding. My parents still ridicule the gross giant chocolate logs I used to make in secondary school cookery classes. We seemed to make them all the time, not just at Christmas. A few ended up swished into the school bus floor.