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Sarah Jane Szikora

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Some people always tend to be a bit pessimistic and glum (glass half empty types), whilst others tend to look on the bright side of life (glasses half full peeps); who we salute. But then when you’re sat propped up in a hospital bed as a child, post-surgery you can be excused for being a bit downbeat. But not if you’re hugely popular (and resolutely upbeat) contemporary figurative artist, Sarah Jane Szikora, who despite being blighted with what she herself refers to as ‘terrible’ eyesight, not to mention having been plagued with eating disorders for a good part of her adult life) habitually cheers us all up with her cheerily infectious illustrations which both defy perspective and seek to challenge society’s obsession with the body (supposedly) beautiful.

It was while convalescing in the direct aftermath of eye surgery as a youngster that Szikora first reached for a crayon and began forging an interest in art; and obviously keen to document her own experiences as time went on and her imagination and skillset blossomed. Backed by supportive Anglo-Hungarian parents, Szikora promptly attended art colleges in her native North East of England – firstly at Harrogate (where she studied Art and Design), followed by Cleveland (Illustration being the discipline majored in) – before arriving at the momentous decision to go pro at the still tender age of 20, in 1991. Which ties in nicely with her birth, which happened in County Durham back in, surprise surprise, 1971, according to our sources.

It was during her time spent at Cleveland College of Art that Szikora’s passion for observing and drawing the human form emerged and evolved as such, with the local dance studios that she frequented offering her a plethora of inspiration as the budding artist recalls. Szikora talks of a veritable melting pot of potential material being omnipresent as hordes of fat and skinny ladies were put through the paces in the name of exercise/leisure/public perception. It was this body beautiful obsession which runs amok through modern society and proves to be so damaging to many – and which Szikora herself fell victim to – that forms the very visual catalyst of a sizeable percentage of the critically acclaimed figurative artist’s compositions.

This often crippling illness blighted Szikora’s life throughout her teenage years, only leaving it behind in her early thirties, yet its cause and effects at least providing infinite inspiration for her illustrative musings simultaneously. From a purely artistic perspective, Szikora cites Thomas Rowlanson as chief amongst her creative influences, and his equally as light-hearted and comedic takes on life and changing times/social situations. Or rather, his often contentious pictures of frolicking society types. Aside from this, and Szikora adds; “I love humour and draw a lot of inspiration from funny books, films and television”. Unlike Rowlanson however, Szikora’s pictorial aim is certainly not to ridicule but to champion an idea of a society that actually quite likes itself, and where womenfolk are confident, positive characters, essentially comfortable in their own skin.

Of course, that’s not to say serious messages can’t be routinely reinforced by the celebration of wit and good humour, which is why Szikora’s famously quirky and exaggerated characters/creations work so well at the beating heart of her compositions, ultimately bringing a smile to people’s faces whilst subtly underlining a worrying and continuous blight in our society. From calorific, fun foodstuffs – including her entertaining gingerbread folk – and larger than life ladies who lunch (amongst other things) on the conventional two-dimensional front, through to Szikora’s more recent 3D dabblings with Royal Worcester ceramics and varying degrees of personal sculptures. What’s more, bespoke books and greetings cards stand shoulder to commercial shoulder with her original pieces and strictly limited edition prints these days.