After applying last minute for the televised Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2018 competition and winning, Addo followed the yearning she had for painting, leaving her job in engineering to pursue art full-time. Now, her striking abstracted portraits have depicted the likes of designer Zandra Rhodes, Rankin, Prince and Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall. With her signature style, as if gazing at her subjects through a frosted window, Addo encapsulates their spirit through a minimal palette of contrasting colours, applied with the bold, expressive strokes of her paintbrush.
Tom George: You studied civil engineering at University College London – what made you change lanes and become a full-time artist?
Samira Addo: It really happened organically. After university I got a job in quantity surveying but it didn’t satisfy me. So I started renting a studio, I guess as another outlet, and would paint at the weekends and after work. I decided to leave my job and then applied for the Sky Arts competition Portrait Artist of the Year and won.
TG: Much of your art is quite geometric – do you think your degree influenced this?
SA: When people find out I did that degree they say they can see it in my art. It wasn’t a conscious decision and I don’t remember ever deciding to do geometric, civil engineering, architecture-type drawings. Maybe it’s been with me from the very beginning.
TG: Individuals like Kim Cattrall, Rankin and Zandra Rhodes have all already sat for you. When painting a public figure, how much of their background influences the portrait?
SA: When it comes to sittings, I do the portrait from the moment that I’m with them and base it on our interactions and what expressions they’re giving me on the day. That way it’s a representation of them, or a part of them. I don’t like to let the news or anything I’ve read about them influence my portrait.
TG: One of the first things people notice in a portrait is the likeness. How do you navigate that within a more abstract painting style?
SA: I describe my style as contemporary realism. It’s abstracted but comes together to form the person, their face and the likeness. But I would say it’s 55 per cent getting the proportions right. The rest is getting the feel of the person. Their energy and substance. I tend to absorb the face and the vibe I’m getting and let that flow through me and the painting.
TG: As a final question, has the past year and a half of lockdowns, protests and politics changed your art at all?
SA: I wouldn’t consider most of my portraits as political statements, they’re more about aesthetics currently – the actual moment and flow of creation and the enjoyment of painting. But the Black Lives Matter movement did instigate a really reflective period in my art and what I potentially want to say in the future.
This story is taken from our Taking Back Control issue. Order your copy here.