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Southend BID celebrates ‘Essex Birds’

17 Apr Southend BID celebrates ‘Essex Birds’

Some of the county’s most famous faces star in new street art portraits

Paintings of six of Essex’s most successful and instantly recognisable stars have gone on display in Elmer Approach, just off Southend High Street.

Collectively titled Essex Birds, A Celebration the colourful portraits of actresses Dame Helen Mirren, Dame Maggie Smith and Nathalie Emmanuel, reality TV stars Stacey Solomon and Gemma Collins and contemporary artists Grayson Perry (as his alter-ego ‘Claire’) are intended to be a playful and satirical riposte to the stereotype of ‘Essex Girls’.

The paintings are the work of four local street artists, who each chose their own female Essex icon to go into the display. John Bulley created his own tributes to Gemma Collins, Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith. He says: “I deliberately chose TOWIE’s Gemma because she’s regarded as ‘common’ but is still hugely successful in her own right. She embodies an attitude that confronts other people’s snobbery with a sense of ‘Yeah, I’m common but what’s wrong with that?!’ And who can forget Helen referring to her home town as the ‘armpit of the world’? It would be interesting to see how she regards her portrait appearing in this street exhibition.”

Game of Thrones fans will instantly recognise Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays Missandei in the smash TV series. Her portrait was created by Scotty Brave – AKA Brave 1 – whose work is well known to visitors to Southend, as his work has graced the front of the BHS building as part of last year’s hugely popular Paint Jam event, organised by Southend BID.

Andy Downes, from Leigh-on-Sea, perfectly captures the famously bubbly and ditzy character of former X Factor finalist Stacey Solomon, while Hattie Mitchell’s somewhat lugubrious depiction of Chelmsford’s Grayson Perry as ‘Claire’ is, like the character herself, a riot of pinks, blue, purple and gold.

Aside from his penchant for cross dressing, Perry is also known for his ceramic vases, tapestries and for challenging “prejudices, fashions and foibles” -making him an ideal person to include in the pop-up gallery.

Southend BID commissioned the new artworks to replace Luke Bryant’s 60-foot Salvador Dali-inspired surrealist mural which had become heavily weathered since it was unveiled in 2017. Each of the six new paintings – measuring approximately 4-foot by 4-foot (or over 1-metre by 1-metre) will feature a gold frame and sit against a striking black backdrop.