We’re excited to get back to showcasing local visual artists along with our music and event coverage, so it’s an honour to share the bold and beautiful work from Elly Makem.

What were some of your earliest memories of being creative?
I think everyone - especially as young children - is creative, and one of the sad things about growing up is losing touch with that. My mum is a visual artist and my dad is a trad musician, so I always remember doing lots of creative things with them from no age. I made my first comic when I was 10 and tried to get it sold in the corner shop beside my primary school - it was aptly titled, ‘Angry Man’. The man who worked there was very sweet and negotiated a ‘contract’ with me. It sadly didn’t get past the board of directors.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow a creative career?
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that you have to know how to be a self-starter. We find it easier to do ‘mundane’ tasks at a job for someone else, but so much of a creative career follows the same discipline as any other career.  Someone who is not skilled at drawing but does it every day will always be more successful than a person with a natural gift that has no discipline. So my advice is to ‘get good’ at doing boring, mundane things, every day. My second piece of advice is that you will be hired for what you’re already making. The more you can ‘live’ right now, the way you imagine your life to be when you’re hired, then you will have the practical skills ready for when an opportunity arises.

What kind of music do you find best to listen to when making art?
So I actually don’t listen to music while drawing! We do have music on in the office, but I often find it distracting while drawing. It obviously depends on the type of work I’m doing, but if it’s a creative piece and I’m in the zone, it’s silence or brown noise. Rule no 1 in ‘The Animator’s Survival Kit’ by Richard Williams is ‘unplug’ - and I’m a big believer in this.

Is there a discipline/style you would love to learn?
I feel like I have gone through a few visual genres as an Illustrator, but my bread and butter has always come from a foundation in life drawing. I’m trying to lean more heavily into a painterly style for image making, is that a style? I always love using geometric shapes and I’m trying to apply that to building colour and depth. We’ll see how it goes.

Who/what are some of your current inspirations?
I’m heavily influenced by Mondrian and Degas, and that’s been pretty steady for the last few years - I really love visual artists who capture the ‘reality’ of something - literally or through abstraction (though the line often blurs!). I think they’re quite inspiring in terms of illustrating a person’s journey to develop an honest visual language - that type of authenticity just screams off the page. In terms of contemporary artists - Rachel Merrill is on the Pinterest board lately - she has a lovely painterly quality to her illustrations that I quite admire, as well as Timo Kuilder - his animations are so fluid and he builds shapes so brilliantly.
I also should mention that I work with a roster of powerhouse illustrators who are a constant source of inspiration to me in terms of the craft itself. Jamie Beard, Fiona McDonnell and Mel Carroll. I’m very fortunate to share a desk with these thoughtful, talented people, who contribute so much to the visual livelihood of the city.

Having your studio affected at the Cathedral Building fire last year was a nightmare - how have things been since then?
Yes, nightmare is definitely the term! But you know what - my mentality is that I have gained much from the tragedy. I think I viewed it as a physical manifestation of the conditions of artists in the city, and people have sat up because of it. Seeing the council come forward, my friends rebuild their practice, and the resilience of the other occupants, has been inspiring. Vault getting better, city-based accommodation was another collective win.

Things have been going very well personally, a lot of which has been from the relationships that grew from the fire, and a skilled therapist. I have a wide group of queer friends that I see a few times a week, we’ve got a sapphic basketball practice every Saturday, and a fortnightly film night, and I now work for the illustration agency UsFolk part-time who were my original sanctuary the day of the fire. Doing creative projects for the city with people who are your tribe is a literal dream. They have supported me in every facet and I’m very grateful every day to argue over Taylor Swift with them.

Congrats on your debut solo show! How long has this been in the making and can you tell us a bit about it?
Thank you! You’re very kind. I pitched the idea, and Ruth helped me refine it a bit better and get to the heart of what I was trying to express. I had planned a solo exhibition for this year anyway, and Outburst coincided at the perfect time. I recently came out as a Trans Man and so have been exploring creating more honest, radically queer, work. The show is 7 pieces, exploring sapphic, queer and trans love scenes.

I am so pulled towards drawing as a medium to express intimacy - and I really wanted this exhibition to speak unapologetically about lesbianism and transness with a bang. It’s explicit, and the intention is definitely to reclaim sapphic sexuality in the public realm. I think in patriarchy, women often have sex ‘placed’ upon them - the agency just isn’t there in a lot of our public media surrounding sex. It’s not the way I have sex, and how I saw myself experiencing this, and exploring my own masculinity with sleeping with women, was through online queer erotica. I drew some of this over lockdown, and I’m so into the idea of taking this very secret, not discussed, forms of intimacy and putting it in the public forum. It’s toying the line between lesbianism, butchness and trans masculinity. I’m personally striving to let go of a lot of my own shame about it through this exhibition, so it’s purposely playful for everyone involved.

Elly’s exhibition ‘F/F: Fragments/Freeform’, is launching on 10th November at Outburst Festival - BE THERE!!