INTERVIEW: PICASSO BABY | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Loucey Bain 

Words: Bobby Benjamin

Imagine you got a great big bowl and poured in all your favourite cereal – Frosties, Cheerios, Coco-Pops – how good would that be? Would that even work? Well that’s Picasso Baby, except instead of breakfast cereal we serve up our favourite art, music and culture.

The project was founded by myself, an artist and owner of Middlesbrough’s contemporary arts space Pineapple Black, and John James Perangie (Creative Factory Artist of the Year 2019), with the intention to not only celebrate creative talent from the region and beyond, but to get them working together too, with tangible outcomes.

Picasso Baby’s feature event is a reoccurring ‘arty party’, hosted by DIY Middlesbrough venue Disgraceland, in which a roster of the area’s creative talent is drafted in and given free rein to do whatever they want – paint the ceilings and furniture, create site specific installations – whatever. Over the course of a week a revolving door of creatives pass through and make their mark, sharing materials and ideas. With each event, the work is added to by the next group of artists to form an ever-evolving collaborative artwork. At the end of each week the Picasso Baby family open the doors and invite everyone round for a party, complete with live music and performance from some of the region’s most exciting acts. As my cohort John James Perangie puts it: “We both have such diverse taste, and the scene up here is so diverse too – we just wanted to see what would happen if we mashed it all together.”

Since the pandemic hit, Picasso Baby has gone digital but we’ve been committed to maintaining the same ethos. In 2020 we launched our Digital Issue – a magazine in which creatives are invited to submit a single A4 page with complete editorial control. The result is a digital magazine packed with unique, original artwork. The debut issue featured contributions from emerging and established creatives ranging from the likes of best-selling author Richard Milward, artist Slutmouth, curators Peg Powler and Teesside band Benefits. Issue 2 is slated for a 19th February release, so expect another bumper collection from the extended Picasso Baby family.

There is also a weekly takeover on the Picasso Baby Instagram that continues the theme of highlighting artists and offering creative control. Previous collaborators include Enzo Marra, Queensbury, Sophie Ascough (GGAllan Partridge) and Connor Clements (Dovetail Joints). This series will continue throughout the year – with future guests including Faye Hadfield, Mitchel Proctor and Sorry Escalator, who will be chatting to the team and premiering music for their upcoming EP.

It used to be that you went one place to see a punk band, another place to dance to ABBA. You went to one place to see an exhibition and another to see drag. We just wanted to create a platform where you could do all of the above

In March the Picasso Baby team will be taking over the Pineapple Black window gallery to create a new, site specific artwork in collaboration with over 30 artists. For us, it’s important that our output is broad and inclusive, as John James explains: It used to be that you went one place to see a punk band, another place to dance to ABBA. You went to one place to see an exhibition and another to see drag. We just wanted to create a platform where you could do all of the above. Whether that’s our live show, our digital magazine, our Instagram, our new exhibition – we just find things that we like and put them together.”

In the past we’ve worked with such a broad spectrum of artists and performers, from Eyeconic and Shakk sharing a bill with Factory Reset, James Leonard Hewitson on a bill with Colly Metcalfe – a deaf performer who delivers her set in BSL – to over a 100 artists creating an ongoing communal work at Disgraceland. When it comes to curation, we just see something we like and say “that’s so Picasso Baby”. None of it makes any sense – which is what’s cool about it.

While Perangie and I might curate the project, it is the artists involved that really shape it. They are the voice of our social media, they decide what goes in our magazine, it’s their artwork on the walls and their music on the playlist. What we do is try and create a set of circumstances in which interesting things happen and where people can express themselves.

With weekly Insta collaborations and performances, artist interviews, digital zines, virtual and physical exhibitions and, eventually, the return of the live event at Disgraceland – Picasso Baby aims to bring a unique twist to Teesside’s exciting underground art scene, and it’s a fun project because we get to shout about all the artists we like and then we get build something with them too. It’s totally artist-led and completely non-hierarchical; it’s just about connecting people creatively and sharing a canvas.

As we move into 2021 in a time of uncertainty, one thing you can be certain of is that our eclectic curatorial project will continue to celebrate the best of the region’s creative talent through experimental collaborative projects.

Picasso Baby’s Digital Issue #2 is released on 19th February. Keep an eye on their Instagram for further content, exhibitions and performances

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