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Joanne Panayi

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There’s something of the Beryl Cooks about exciting contemporary figurative sculpture artist, Joanne Panayi’s tell-tale three-dimensional works, along with an illustrative flash of the Burlesque to our mind. But that’s only to our mind, as you will doubtless interpret it differently. And that, there, is the whole point of contemporary art. The very fact that the potential for the narrative behind a piece is almost infinite in possibilities. Anyway, we digress. To best describe a typical Panayi sculpture to, say, someone who’s blindfolded (don’t ask why, we’re simply setting a scene), then we’d suggest that you imagine Sinead O’Connor (or Skin, from Skunk Anansie) at the height of their respective pop music fame, sporting disproportionately chunky legs (clad in equally visually amplified boots/shoes), reclining in a bath or on a chaise long, whilst appearing pretty much undressed. Or totally starkers if you prefer. Now we appreciate this vision might be uncomfortable for some, however it’s the best way of explaining what Panayi does and does so ruddy good!
Born in the Potteries (or near to Stoke-on-Trent to the uninitiated), in the market town of Newcastle under Lyme to be geographical explicit, in 1970, Panayi was arting it up from an early age. Or rather colouring in with her favourite thing in the whole, wide world, her felt tip pens. Although she also loved pencils and paper (as surface area was always important from the outset). The main focus of Panayi’s attentions in terms of subject matter were cats, or alternatively, designing Cinderella’s next dress. As the young Panayi turned into the teenage Panayi, with it came a wider exposure to and appreciation of artists of the world. In Panayi’s case, L.S Lowry and the aforementioned Beryl Cook in particular. And the budding artist’s favourite adolescent haunt was Panayi’s local art shop in that Midland’s Newcastle. Like any proper teenager Panayi would also hang around in/outside of high street music shops (which existed in an age before the t’internet and downloads, apparently), and loved the musical harmonising of the 1970’s ABBA and Gilbert & Sullivan. In Panayi’s own words, she adds; “I would sing into anything that resembled a microphone, praying that one day I would have a bottom as glorious as Agnetha’s!”
Tragically, fate dealt a devastating blow for Panayi with the premature death of her mother whilst she was still at school, which as anyone might imagine threw her world upside down. On completing her secondary education, Panayi muddled from one unfulfilling job to another, undertaking everything from pub work to working in a fast food restaurant. Then however, destiny called to a certain degree, as out of the blue the opportunity arose for Panayi to become employed in a sign writing role, which she took to almost immediately. So much so, that in 1994 she packed up her brushes and paints and departed the UK for sunnier climes, destination Cyprus. Panayi’s new found creative calling in life presented itself in many diverse forms and functions; from the more traditional signs to large scale murals, commercial art and portraits. Away from the 9 – 5 existence and Panayi revelled in the social side of Cypriot life, and immersed herself in the family orientated gatherings and associated night life, where she would spend a lot of her time people-watching.
8 years later and Panayi made the decision to return to her native Midlands, along with her young son, Harry, and in 2002 arrived at the conclusion that she was henceforth going to approach her art with more professionalism. With this in mind, Panayi enrolled on a two year art foundation course at Stoke on Trent College, before embarking on a BA (Hons) degree course in 3D Design Craft at Staffordshire University. The later course of study afforded Panayi an insight into the three dimensional arena, where her passion for her future-starred multi-media sculptural work first blossomed. On leaving Uni, Panayi was resolute in her direction and belief, and confident that she wished to work for herself, engaged in her own creative agenda and standing on her own two feet. Managing to secure a small business grant via the university’s EFS scheme, by the end of 2008 Panayi was up and running and raring to go; and make her mark in the contemporary art world.
Inspiration-wise and Panayi admits to being largely influenced by the very same people she’s always made a concerted effort in watching. And a long-held pastime that clearly keeps her entertained, and as a result of which, entertains the rest of us when she reveals each new, often humourously sculptured piece. Panayi speaks of this vast scope found in human characters, where she’s perpetually introduced to new and interesting folk; whether her muses are known to her or remain anonymous. She professes to be sucked in by a particular look or expression worn by her unwitting ‘victims’, or the stance or pose they’re holding at that specific moment; there’ll be that special something which inevitably means Panayi will reach for the pencil and document it then and there. The hugely popular artist concurs; “Relationships and emotion is also something that inspires me - much of my work always has a story behind it”.
Utilising different media is also something that strongly influences Panayi’s work, and it’s obvious to see that she enjoys being able to move between using pencils, paint and clay, whilst also opting to use fine metals, woods and plastics. Again, Panayi is quick to explain the reasoning behind why she chooses what she chooses to work with; “Each of the materials work in a completely different way, and the alchemy of manipulating them into my own ideas is quite magical, and sometimes quite messy”. Alongside Panayi’s mixed media, fine metals and silver-smithing was another area which has brought great success for the artist, and to date she’s bagged a brace of awards from Goldsmiths, in acknowledgement of both her design skills and traditional techniques employed in making her silverware.