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When Tech Meets Art | An Interview With Leila Johnston

Posted in Art Speak 101 by Teddy Hall on 24th April 2017

This week's guest curator is writer, digital artist and curator of Sheffield's Site Gallery, Leila Johnston. We caught up with Leila for an interview in the run up to the gallery's very first "STEAM" event, to chat about how digitalisation is evolving the art world, and how she works creativity into her everyday life. Discover her top 5 Rise Art picks, and her full Guest Curator Picks collection showcasing stunning contemporary works with a distinct new media focus.



Tell us about you & what you do

I am an artist, writer and now Digital Curator at the Site Gallery, a contemporary art institution in Sheffield.

I started out as a writer and editor for magazines, but always made fun, collaborative things with technology on the side (mostly websites). By 2012, I was working as a copywriter for a digital agency in London and was actually quite unhappy -  I've lived in the North most of my life and really wanted to get away from the rat race. One of my jobs at the London agency had been to develop an internal 'labs', so I started applying for creative technology opportunities.

I won a place on the Happenstance Project, an experimental residency scheme set up to put three pairs of technologists into three different arts institutions to see what cross-influence might occur. I was teamed up with Sheffield technologist James Jefferies and allocated to the Site Gallery. It was an amazing three months, and five years on I'm still here.


Site Gallery in Shefflied


What inspires you in your work and life?

My surroundings are really important to me. I need space and calm around me in order for my brain to function.

Last year I did a residency at Rambert, the UK's leading contemporary dance company, and I was absolutely rocked by the experience. Being confronted every day with the extreme possibilities of human attitude (dance isn't really about the body, to me) was overwhelming. It hugely expanded my perspective. My friends and family are a great inspiration to me, too. 

What do you surround yourself with at work or at home?

Space. Colour. Half-full cups of tea.


Left: Dorman Long South Bank Coke Oven Tower by Theo Simpson, available at Site Gallery

Right: Strike by Anna Barham (2013), available at Site Gallery

Images courtesy of Site Gallery


Is art & design important to you and why?

I've always been interested in art from every side really; the maker, the receiver, the critic all get something from creative work, and I have been all of those people. I think it's important to have things in the world which can't be questioned by language too. Because language is so acutely cultured; it comes with tonnes of baggage. It doesn't make sense to speak of art 'meaning' something in the same way that other things map to signifiers. Art (to me) is more in the world of "it makes sense because it feels right".



How do you think digitalisation is changing the art world?

I suppose it has brought images to a much wider audience. The internet was just coming in when I was at university in 2000; people still had to look up some works in books (imagine!) But now all you need is a phone, and you can access any idea from anywhere. I like the idea that creative digital work will find a home in domestic design experiments.


Do you collect art or anything else?

I collect art, accidentally, because I know a lot of artists and they give me things, which I consider an amazing privilege. On the whole I try not to have too many things, because of the need I always have to be surrounded by a nice pocket of clean air. 



Do you have a favourite artist and / or museum?

It's so hard to choose just one, but I will try. Last year I had a residency at the Theatre Museum in Helsinki, which was quite magical and full of Moomins, as you'd hope. It's in an amazing complex called the Cable Factory (Kaapelitehdas) with a Photography Museum underneath it and a Restaurant Museum above it. Opposite there's a circus school and a dance studio, and all this stuff is totally hidden away inside the same building, which still looks like an old factory from the outside.


Favourite inpso quote?

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. My grandma taught me that.


Do you Instagram / Pinterest? Who do you follow?

I follow a lot of the Rambert dancers (who I met on my last residency) on Instagram, and seeing what they're achieving gives me a huge boost every single day.



What are you working on at the moment? Tell us about your latest event at Site Gallery

We are about to launch the first our series of "STEAM" events. STEAM stands for science, tech, engineering, art & maths. The events are supported by funding from the City of Ideas, and we're going to try to do something every month for at least the next year.

The first one will take place on 27th April. I've invited three terrific speakers for the panel: Katharine Vega (artist & educator at, Dr Sean Power (philosopher of time at Trinity College, Dublin) and Simon Ings (Culture Editor, New Scientist magazine).

They'll be discussing the question of where 'the Truth' lies, in relation to science and art. The audience will be invited to contribute to the discussion, which I fully expect to be quite lively – maybe even heated! We're holding it at the Upper Chapel in the centre of Sheffield, which is a beautiful Unitarian church. You can find out more and get a ticket here.


Leila Johnston's Top 5 Rise Art Picks

Neon OrbMark Beattie


Shop Mark Beattie's Works >>

I love this! It's a nice sculptural use of neon rather than the usual hanging letters or numbers up on the wall. I think the 3 dimensional scribble appeals to me, the cheeky cartoonish dervish. I could easily have picked more Mark Beattie pieces, too. I think they're terrific.

Liquid KoanLiliane Lijn

Shop Lilians Lijn's Works >>

I met Liliane when we were on a panel together at New Scientist Live at the Excel Centre, last year. She was super interesting and it would be an honour to have her work in one's home. Then eventually I could work towards getting one of her building-topped colour-focussing crystal prisms mounted on my roof.


My SunshineAlexandra Gallagher


Shop Alexandra Gallagher's Works >>

I thought this was a beautiful and unpretentious use of the material. It reminds me of moments when I've had an idea that I just knew will work, the excitement of being sure you're onto something. Just looking at it is making me feel a bit funny actually. It's lovely and hypnotic.


The Light You LeaveKirsty O'Leary-Leeson


Shop Kirsty O'Leary-Leeson's Works >>

I can't even imagine how Kirsty O'Leary did this. It looks like a negative photograph but it's a drawing. It's really haunting, as are all her works on your site.


Bulls I-III, Zil Hoque


Shop Zil Hoque's Works >>

I REALLY like these bulls. I don't know why, but the whole thing makes me smile, even the title. I think they're really cute while retaining their bull-ness. I love how big this piece is, as well.


Leila's Guest Curator Picks | Browse the Collection

Rise Art Roundup XIIII

Posted in Events by Rise Art on 21st April 2017

Trending This Month

It's All About Street Art

Video courtesy of Jordan Laith Rawi

We went live on Leake Street last weekend, heading down to London's infamous street art hotspot to check out dream team Marc Craig & Botjoy paint an epic new mural. Our videographer captured the whole thing creating a snazzy timelapse video revealing each step of the process. Watch the video for a glimpse at some art in action, and check out our blog for the full scoop.


Art in Action

Hannah Adamaszek spent the day painting one of her beautiful murals in Lambeth this week, catching a time lapse video to preserve the piece. Her approach to portraiture shines through in this piece that adds a splash of colour to Lambeth.


Rise Art News

Dangerous Minds @ The Underdog Gallery


Shop Dangerous Minds' Works >>

We're pretty excited to see this major solo show of the dangerous duo's project ‘As We Step into Chaos’ tonight. With a private view from 6pm and exclusive invite-only after party, this is not to be missed. Head down to see their punchy Pop Art works in the flesh any time before 7th May.


Bella Vernon @ Anthropologie

Vernon Semper Viret, £2,500

Shop Bella Vernon's Works >>

Head down to Anthropologie's latest artist-in-residence, Bella Vernon will be toasting her newest venture ‘This Must Be The Place’. Head to their gallery on Kings Road to hear this London-based artist discuss reclaimed mirrors and alternative canvases.

Stella Kapezanou @ Art Bermondsey Project Space

David, £3,900

Shop Stella Kapezanou's Works >>

Now in its 20th year, Xhibit is on once again at the Bermonsdey Project Space. Don't miss the incredible group show featuring works from some of the brightest students from various UAL universities. Curated by none other than Grayson Perry himself, this show is an absolute must-see, and our very own Stella Kapezanou has works on show that are well worth viewing in the flesh.

Archie Proudfoot | An Interview With Creative Review

HOT, £950

Shop Archie Proudfoot's Works >>

The latest guest in Creative Review's social discovery series, Archie Proudfoot was recently interviewed by the magazine. Discover more about his awesome hand-painted sign artworks, and browse his originals on Rise Art.


Art World News

Celebrating Earth Day @ Somerset House, London

Irish artist John Gerrard has been commissioned by Channel 4 to create a powerful piece inspired by Earth Day. His piece entitled 'Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas)' is a replica of the birthplace of the modern day oil industry and will be showing on a giant LED screen outside Somerset House all day.


Christie's | The Beverly Hills Flagship, USA

Christie's have recently open a flagship exhibition in Beverly Hills featuring artworks from the likes of Andy Warhol, Basquiat, Twombly and more. With a focus on art created since the 1960s, this groundbreaking exhibition is worth an estimated $500 Million. Last minute flights to the States? Yes please.


Damien Hirst | 'Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable', Venice, Italy

Almost ten years in the making, this impressive exhibit from controversial British Artist spans the 5000 square metre gallery space of the Palasso Grazi in Venice. His first major solo show since 2004, this piece is not to be missed. It's on until December 2017, so if you're heading to Italy this summer (we may well have to...) make sure to add it to your itinerary.


Just Landed

Hayden Kays

Thinking Problem, £1,500

Shop Hayden Kays' Works >>

A rare success of the contemporary art movement in the UK today straddling the worlds of both fine and street art, Hayden is undoubtedly a one-to-watch. Collected by celebrities and established artists internationally, his vibrant, energetic works are a new take on the iconic Pop Art movement.


The Earth Day Edit | Browse the Collection

From alluring landscapes to playful animal portraits and surly seascapes, discover works to celebrate Mother Nature in all her magnificence in our collection of works inspired by Earth Day.

10 Artists That Love the Earth as Much as We Love Art

Posted in Art Speak 101 by Mandy Poernig on 19th April 2017

Earth Day is just around the corner, (22nd April to be exact, so get it in your diaries!) and for many, it’s a time to come together in support of the protection of earth, our home.

As my own way of paying homage to Earth Day, I’ve curated a selection of artists creating works inspired by Mother Nature, championing our environment in all its magnificence. Myriad works in the Rise Art gallery celebrate the beauty of our earth, so today, we stop and pay attention to our planet and showcase the artists dedicated to capturing nature.


An Ode to the Endangered

Northern White Rhino, £200

Shop Violet Astor's Works >>

Violet Astor is one of my favourite artists in the gallery right now. Northern White Rhino was inspired by her discovery that there are only three Northern White Rhinos left in the world, and her large scale charcoal drawings truly celebrate the majesty and grace of the species.

Orangutan (Hand Finished with Gold Leaf), £2,000

Shop Dave White's Works >>

For a more playful piece, David White’s dynamic animal paintings are full of texture and movement. I love the energy in this cheeky Orangutan character, and the diamond dust and gold leaf adornment utterly captivate the observer.

Stocktake, £1,776

Shop Irene Hoff's Works >>

I stumbled across Irene Hoff completely by chance, but was instantly struck by her series’ ‘Animal Extinction’ and ‘Animal Extravaganza’. Hoff integrates cheerfully colourful mixed materials into paintings or photographs, to show off the beauty and plight of animals.


Glacier and Mountain Mania

Sediment, £300

Shop Nick Miners' Works >>

Nick Miners has (just a tiny) obsession with Iceland, and his aerial shots capture the stark beauty of this striking landscape. Geothermal and Sediment are favourites of mine, the unique aerial composition gives the observer a glimpse of naturally occurring patterns that can only be seen from above.

Energy Peak, £1,777

Shop Paris Ackrill's Works >>

Now, if you enjoy the drama of nature, Energy Peak by Paris Ackrill has an almost celestial quality. Using pre-treated analogue film, she adorns a seemingly normal mountainscape with playful neon hues, bringing together the divergent yet striking combinations of nature and man-made concepts.


A Tree Lover's Utopia

Left: The Age of Reinvention, £200

Right: Tea Party, £200

Shop Geoffrey Agrons' Works >>

Geoffrey Ansel Argons captures the beauty of our world through a lens, these works depict the calm stillness of the forest, with fog between the trees adding a rather haunting feel.

After the Snow Fell, £164

Shop Iris Scott's Works >>

For a colour injection, Iris Scott’s After the Snow Fell sets an autumnal palette against the stark white of the snow to reveal the magic of a snow-capped woodland. The texture created by her unique finger-painting style contributes to a fabulous feature piece.

The Path to Methuselah, £220

Shop Nadia Attura's Works >>

I have always found the endurance of trees fascinating, and Nadia Attura’s The Path to Methusela catalogues the world's oldest living trees; an astounding 4,800 years old and counting. If you like your art to tell a story then this is surely an enchanting one to share.


Oceanic Obsessions

Blue Bay I Duo, £550

Shop Yuliya Martynova's Works >>

Yuliya Martynova’s Blue Bay I Duo is a painterly take on aerial photography of the ocean. Her original paintings capture the emerald green and aqua blues of the tropical sea... *sighs* I can feel the calm of the ocean washing over me already.

Purple Rain II, £280

Shop Jennifer Chandiram's Works >>

Of course, the ocean isn’t always plain sailing, and on the parallel ocean scale lies Jennifer Chandiram’s Purple Rain II. The use of dripping paint and an atmospheric colour palette depicts Mother Nature at her most catastrophic.


The Earth Day Edit | Browse the Collection

Curating this selection was tremendously challenging, as I was so overwhelmed by the many wonderful artists that are so passionate about our earth. From the alluring landscapes of Adriaan Van Heerden to the playful animals of Louise McNaught and Kristjana Williams, the list just goes on and can be found here, in our Earth Day dedicated collection.

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