On International Women’s Day in March of this year, we gave everyone in the agency an opportunity – an opportunity to shape how we would celebrate.
One of our most banal problems at H+K London is not being able to remember where our meeting rooms are, all of which are named after world-renowned authors. Out of that came an opportunity to create.
Speaking directly to our creativity and equality agendas, Ben Sharma and Abi Woolston suggested we commission 12 diverse emerging female artists from around the UK to create original artwork that bring the stories of the authors on our meeting room doors to life. These paid commissions support emerging artists from the UK and brings to life our commitment to equality, creativity and opportunity in a meaningful, original way with an idea born entirely here in London.
To ensure our artists were diverse in media and mindset, we cast a net far and wide. We wanted to support emerging women, and we wanted to make sure they were paid and that we could promote them – giving them the opportunity to have the rights to their work and creating a platform for them. We went to art colleges, platforms, creative partners, galleries – we used public channels as much as possible to make sure the net was vast. In total, we received 150 applicants, far exceeding our 70-person target. These were shortlisted to 30 by our EquALL team, who create a stronger and louder culture of equality and diversity in the agency, and then to the final 12, with everyone from our CFO to senior strategists having a say.
We met with each artist to brief them, introduce them to the space at H+K London and answer any of their questions. We asked them to tell the author’s story in their own way, which we have showcased on each digital display, showing a blurb from each artist about the process and their interpretation. After a year, artists can sell the work and they can promote all throughout the year.
We kept Doors a secret from everyone in the office and planned an unveiling celebration to kickstart our 50th anniversary year. The doors were installed over the weekend, which created buzz and excitement the following Monday morning as H+Kers noticed the creative change in the office space turned art gallery. This week we open new doors, literally, and we open our doors to the next 50 years, to showcase the art, our work, our stories and our clients. Please do drop by the office to come and see the art for yourselves – everyone is welcome.
12 doors. 12 authors as inspiration. 12 artists open to opportunity. 12 beautiful artworks that make for inspirational meeting spaces, and interesting conversations.
Mel Elliott | Maya Angelou, digital illustration
Mel Elliott graduated from The Royal College of Art in 2007. Since then she has established and grown her design, illustration and publishing brand, I Love Mel. Her range of pop-culture coloring books, t-shirts, card games, prints and children’s feminist books entitled Pearl Power are sold in stores throughout the world.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
“I had already begun to research the life and work of Maya Angelou for a children’s project before being assigned her for Doors of Opportunity. I’m a proud and proactive feminist so Maya Angelou’s work and poems represent something very powerful for me. Since having my daughter, I have endeavored to instil a confidence and power within her and other children. For me, Maya Angelou’s poems offer great lessons in feminism, humility and equality.”
Lara Cappelli | Jane Austen, digital image
Lara Cappelli is an Italian photographer currently based in Edinburgh. Through her work she explores the concept of identity. Her images are inspired by themes of social change, gender politics and feminism.
“I’ve created an anonymous portrait of Jane Austen through analysis of her protagonists and some of the main themes described through them: womanhood, expectations and class. Austen’s character shone through the witty, poignant women she created in her work. Women who showed a strong sense of defiance and unease at society’s expectations of them. The attitude of Austen’s protagonists is represented here by the sisters’ poses. They turn away from the lens, rejecting the viewer’s gaze and any assumption or expectation of them. The idea of class restriction also affected Austen and so her characters. This is represented here by the taped flowers on the wall which create a delicate, plain backdrop to the image and the environment itself which locks the sitters between the concrete ceiling and floor creating a claustrophobic feeling.”
Laxmi Hussain | Bronte sisters, blue inks on paper
Laxmi Hussain developed a keen interest in art from the age of five, drawing away on the counter-top of her father’s corner shop. Exploring and celebrating women through figurative works and portraiture, Laxmi is able to share her love of the color blue.
“I read Jane Eyre as a teenager and felt a connection to Jane’s emotions as a young woman; the feelings you cannot explain, the situations which feel beyond your control but also the tenacity to keep pushing forward to achieve what you desire. It was exciting to create a drawing featuring all three Brontë sisters. My work celebrates women and the notion that through sisterhood we can achieve many things. I have captured them as I imagine they would look, taking inspiration from previous portraits, in particular the painting by their brother Branwell, in which they stare at the viewer with real confidence. I hope that my representation of them is empowering and prompts the viewer to want to know more about their work.”
Nell Smith | Cervantes, linocut print
Nell Smith is an illustrator and printmaker based in Salford, Greater Manchester. She produces expressive lino and screen prints from her studio at Hot Bed Press. She enjoys exploring traditional techniques in a contemporary and experimental way, embracing the physicality of printmaking.
“Cervantes suffered terrible hardship in his life and strived tirelessly to be published only to die just six years after he found fame with Don Quixote of La Mancha, now seen by some as the first modern novel.
“For Doors of Opportunity I wanted to portray a duality of character. The sadness and pain Cervantes endured contrasting with the kindness and compassion he showed to those around him. He seems to have been a man of great sensitivity, who found solace in the written word. I hope I have captured the gentleness of his character in this linocut.”
Harriet Noble | Agatha Christie, digital illustration
Harriet Noble has always been drawn to portraiture. Fascinated with how people look, dress and hold themselves, her work is often inspired by characters she meets in real life. Harriet works primarily digitally, her drawings take on a simple, story book style but retain the textures and imperfections often found with traditional techniques.
“I admire so much about Agatha Christie. To me she is the epitome of someone with an undeniable purpose in life – to inspire and entertain so many people with her stories. For Doors of Opportunity I wanted to illustrate how prolific an author she was by drawing her surrounded by every book she ever wrote, including the books she wrote under her alias Mary Westmacott. But I also wanted to show that there was so much more to her than her books. She led a very interesting and mysterious life and there are little details in this piece that allude to that.”
Jennifer Dionisio | Charles Dickens, pencil and digital
Jennifer Dionisio is a freelance illustrator based in London. Influenced by film-noir, pulp mystery and science fiction, Jennifer designs atmospheric compositions with hidden depths that reveal themselves differently with each pass. She is inspired by a vast collection of vintage imagery and ephemera.
“For this piece I wanted to capture Dickens’ recurring themes of duality, social class structures and identity. To illustrate Dickens’ interest in duality I put emphasis on light and shadow within the composition along with depictions of inside and outside, night and day. In order to visualize the author’s critique on social class structures and identity I chose to show a Victorian workhouse inspired by Oliver Twist at the bottom of this image and, at the top, a parlor inspired by Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. I also wanted to pay homage to Dickens’ London. The poverty stricken, polluted city of the industrial revolution which played such an important role in many of his novels.”
Kat Zawadzski | George Eliot, digital Illustration
Kat Zawadzki is an illustrator, graphic designer and art and design teacher originally from Toronto, Canada. Kat’s art is quirky, whimsical and fun. She works with detailed linework in a variety of mediums but particularly loves the endless possibilities of digital illustration.
“The greatest benefit we owe to the artist, whether painter, poet, or novelist, is an extension of our sympathies. Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellowmen…” – George Eliot
“George Eliot is a fascinating subject. She received an education due partly to the fact her family considered her ‘not much of a beauty’. Thank goodness! She was complex, critical and wholly compelling. Here, she holds the German text of The Essence of Christianity which she translated in 1854, leading her to question her faith and alienating her from her family. If you look closely you can see a chaffinch on the English oak branches to represent her chosen family. Eliot was an advocate for the beauty of the Midlands and likewise I am an advocate for her own beauty; loveliness found in what others have described as modest plainness.”
Karimah Hassan | Ernest Hemmingway, acrylic on canvas
Karimah Hassan is a painter and mural artist based in London. Karimah paints subjects from underground dance, music and spoken word communities; taking their stories from the canvas to the street. Known for an expressive, bold aesthetic, Karimah’s work highlights cultural identity and the role of communities in the city. Karimah has exhibited internationally, in New York, Kyoto, Toronto and Seoul.
“For Doors of Opportunity I have captured Hemingway at his desk writing. Caught in the moment, I imagine the bright lights of Havana engulfing the author as he slips into another world. When I paint I want to appeal to the viewers’ gut instinct before their brain. For me Ernest Hemingway is an author I read to remind myself of life’s simple, beautiful lessons. Hemingway’s stories are loaded with the magic and wisdom from a life well lived. Hence, in this commission, it was important for me to create a feeling of wonder.”
Tribambuka | Doris Lessing, mixed media
Tribambuka (aka Anastasia Beltyukova) is an illustrator and award-winning animator and director from St. Petersburg, Russia. She lives and works in East London. Her influences include artists of the Soviet avant-garde, early Cubism and the pop culture of the 60’s. She uses hand-drawn elements and textures mixed with printmaking techniques which she then assembles digitally.
“Doris Lessing was a very complex character. She was a fighter, visionary, prophet, feminist icon, freedom-seeker, nomad and Nobel Prize winner. I wanted to show her as a strong, intelligent woman carrying a lot of luggage through her life – history, knowledge, ideas, relationships – almost too much of it. I wanted the viewer to feel the weight of it. She sits in her favorite armchair surrounded by piles of books and her cat who represents her innate ambiguity and the shadow side of her psyche.”
Kimberley Bevan | Thomas Malory, pastel on paper
Kimberley Bevan graduated from The University of Hertfordshire with a BA (Hons) in Applied Media Arts after which she was awarded a five year fellowship with Digswell Arts Trust. She has worked on a variety of public and private projects and commissions, continuing to develop her artwork as she exhibits across the UK, Europe and the USA.
“Always Sir Arthur lost so much blood that it was a marvel he stood on his feet but he was so full of knighthood that knightly he endured the pain” – Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur
“Thomas Malory will always be an enigma. His was a life full of contradictions and beliefs which would ultimately be mirrored in his creation Le Morte d’Arthur. His tales of honor, integrity and chivalry have shaped our culture and history, leaving a lasting heritage of magic and courage which have inspired generations all over the world. Completing this portrait for Doors of Opportunity has been a far more complex and difficult journey than I expected. Searching for and finding the truth in a man who spun such a fantastic illusion has been a surreal adventure.”
Pie Herring | George Orwell, oil and wax on canvas
Pie Herring graduated with a first class degree in painting from The Edinburgh College of Art in 2018. She has recently been awarded the Carnegie Scholarship award from the Royal Scottish Academy having been selected to take part in their RSA New Contemporaries 2019 exhibition.
Herring prepares her canvases by building up layers of wax and oil paint, which she later reveals by removing sections of the painting. Contemporary issues regarding gender and social politics are explored throughout her practice.
“My research led me to believe that being a friend of George Orwell had its perplexities. It has been said that his friends always felt as though he was more in conversation with his own mind than that of his companions. This was the ‘interminable restless monologue’ inside his head, a concept which directed the development of this portrait.
“Orwell never liked to have his photo taken so I could only read about his ‘steely’ and ‘extraordinary sea-blue eyes’. The color palette chosen reflects his extensive interest in propagandist ideals and the corrosive nature of power.
“Orwell stated ‘No one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it’, a felicitous statement which seems acutely relevant today, demonstrating the universal and forward-looking nature of his words.”
Xi Wang | Virginia Woolf, watercolour on paper
Xi Wang started making art at six years old and continued to do so at the insistence of her mother who took her to art lessons. Along the way she was inspired by the many teachers who encouraged her in her skill. She works in watercolour and enjoys depicting the beauty of everyday life in nature, people and animals.
“I remember being in English class and coming across Virginia Woolf’s work although, as a teenager, I didn’t fully appreciate it. Now reading her work, in particular Mrs Dalloway, I particularly enjoy how she depicts everyday life, using stream of consciousness to reveal the character’s inner thoughts and memories. My artwork for Doors of Opportunity is based on Mrs Dalloway. I painted water/stream elements to portray her stream of consciousness technique. I used continuous line drawing to reflect how each character is connected, the shifting of perspective and overlapping monologues, the symbols she employs and the environment her work is set in.”