Artist Alex Egan on her work - 'Don’t get swallowed by the black hole of compare and despair'

Artist Alex Egan is bringing EDP GoGo Mammouth competition winner Mae Sullivan's design to life Pict

Artist Alex Egan is bringing EDP GoGo Mammouth competition winner Mae Sullivan's design to life Pictures: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Archant

Each week, I speak to an East Anglian making an impact on the arts in our county. This week, artist Alex Egan.

1. How would you best describe your role within the arts community?

I spend most of my time working alone, so I can feel isolated at times. 

I connect to the arts community partly by being a member of a couple of artist groups, including The Arborealists. We are currently preparing a big exhibition at Norwich Cathedral, Hostry titled ‘Trees and the Sacred’. 

I get involved in community-based fundraising projects, particularly with Break Charity.  Recently, I completed painting one of the enormous Steppe Mammoth’s for their GoGo Discover22 trail. The one I painted is sponsored by the EDP as the design was won via a competition run by the EDP, by 16-year-old Mae Sullivan. I was then asked to execute the design - it was indeed a mammoth job!

Artist Alex Egan is bringing EDP GoGo Mammouth competition winner Mae Sullivan's design to life. Ale

Artist Alex Egan in her studio. - Credit: Brittany Woodman

2. What do you love so much about the Norfolk art scene?

There is a wonderful variety of arts going on within the county. Small galleries such as The Fairhurst hosting exciting work and also places like the Sainsbury Centre with its incredible permanent collection, whilst putting together world-class exhibitions. 

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There is an exciting, and growing, arts community in Great Yarmouth. I had a joint show there at Skippings Gallery on King street with George Browne titled Entangled Life. We had a great response and met a pro-active community based artists collective Primeyarc. 

There is also the wonderful Norfolk and Norwich Arts festival which is a real highlight.

3. What are you working on at the moment? 

I am currently working on a few strands within my practice at the same time. 

Whilst the trees are bare I fulfil commissions of portraits of notable trees. 

I have an ongoing commission at Somerleyton estate. Each year we pick out a handful of veteran or ancient trees and I spend many days drawing them. I then spend many more days working on these portraits in my studio. 

I am working on a large painting for the exhibition at the Cathedral. The painting is dominated by a beautiful Oak tree which I can see out of my studio window and it inspires me daily. I then layer the painting with other elements from nature and what is in my mind, what is preoccupying my thoughts and dreams - magical realism perhaps? 

Work by artist Alex Egan. 

Work by artist Alex Egan. - Credit: Alex Egan

To maintain my mental health during lockdown, I spent most of my time painting directly from nature, as being outdoors gave me relief from anxiety.

4. What advice would you give to aspiring creatives?

Don’t panic if your creative pursuits don’t fill your every waking hour. Try and do a little each day and don’t get swallowed by the black hole of compare and despair! 

Use social media only when you are in the right frame of mind, to share and inspire others and to be inspired by others.
Working alone can be very difficult, you have to know that you can be disciplined and self-motivated. 

If you are not passionate about your work every moment, that is okay. Creating is part of everyone and it doesn’t just apply to a creative practice. 

5. What does an average week day look like? 

I am a converted early riser; starting the day with a cold water submersion in a pop-up pool in the garden. The cold water and being outside hearing the birdsong in whatever the weather, completely transforms my mood and wakes my body up instantly, I test this by doing a few handstands and cartwheels around the garden. 

If I am going off to draw a tree and will be out all day, otherwise I get into my studio by late morning. 

Work by artist Alex Egan. 

Work by artist Alex Egan. - Credit: Alex Egan

I try to attend to admin and domestic duties, walking the dogs feeding the chickens etc. first, so I can clear my head to focus on the work. 

I have recently started doing a daily ritual whilst walking the dogs and picking up things that I notice that inspire me and create an instant artwork, a pattern with the found objects which I then photograph and post on my Instagram story (@alexmdegan). 

If the weather is good, I will work on a painting in the garden. I also teach yoga online so may have to take a little time to plan a class.

As I start late morning I usually work in my studio until about 8pm.

6. Where is your favourite spot in Norwich?

I recently walked through Cathedral close towards the river and in the spring sunshine it was so beautiful - a combination of lovely architecture and gardens bursting to life. 

I also love Magdalen street and the Norwich lanes - wonderful independent shops, cafes and restaurants. Yard being a recent favourite with the most delicious pasta.

7. Can you name one East Anglian creative whose work you admire?

I am a great admirer of Mark Cator’s work. A renowned photographer based in Great Yarmouth.

We have been part of a collective called Group Eight. Eight friends and artists who would meet every week to do life-drawing and exhibit together every year.