Baroness Helena Kennedy, Grayson Perry, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Andrew Scott, Simon Schama and Dawn French are just some of the 24 leading figures photographed in masks to raise money for local children’s charity AT The Bus.
The exhibition is coming to Blenheim Palace’s new Stables Café this month, thanks to Zuleika Gallery which is staging the new exhibition by Oxford photographer Joanna Vestey and sponsored by Bonhams.
It will showcase a series of limited-edition portraits of 24 leading figures all wearing masks which she took during the pandemic.
In Oxford alone Sir Philip Pullman, Dr Janina Ramirez, Jenny Saville, Korky Paul and Baroness Amos took part in the project undertaken between lockdowns by the Oxfordshire photographer to raise money for the young people’s art therapy charity, all profits helping to deliver a school-based programme for young people aged 7-18 in Oxfordshire and London.
Taking just a stool, tripod and camera, Joanna set off around the country to take photographs of this extraordinary collection of high profile “communicators’.
From comedian Dawn French in Cornwall to composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle in Somerset, Joanna’s brief was to capture their portraits using natural light, in their own spaces, wearing masks.
“If there was ever a time to care about the mental health of the most vulnerable young people in our communities, it’s now”
The remaining impressive line-up included includes Justin Audibert, Fiona Banner, Denise Gough, Daniel Kidane, Rich Miller, Cornelia Parker, Philippa Perry, Dame Zandra Rhodes, Juliet Stevenson, Camille Walala, Richard Wentworth and Paul Whitehouse.
“Ordinarily this project would have taken months because names like this are so hard to access, but They all wanted to help”
And while initially Joanna was worried the project would be slightly depressing, as it progressed she realised it was actually a hugely empowering and historically important collection, as well as being entirely unique. A sign of the times.
So what was different? “It was much more low key than usual. All the subjects felt more open and raw, vulnerable as a result. They didn’t have their ‘people’ there, it was just them at home or in their studios or work places, and I just turned up. It gives the portraits a whole extra layer which I think really comes cross. It’s about the now,” she says.
“I don’t do celebrity photography but there were some real heroines of mine in the mix “
“Ordinarily the project would have taken months because names like this are so hard to access, but they all understood that these are prescient times and that the project is not only time sensitive but hugely necessary at the moment. They all wanted to help.”
So was Joanna start struck? “I don’t do celebrity photography but there were some real heroines of mine in the mix – Jenny Saville, Baroness Helena Kennedy…. but more than that I found it really powerful how art forms can harness a time and emotion in such a moving way.”
Socially distanced, the portraits were taken from two meters away with both Joanna and her subjects in masks, which meant that “there was a real sense of trust between us”.
Each of the images will be available at Blenheim in two sizes from a limited edition of 50. The smaller unframed prints, signed and authenticated by Joanna Vestey are priced at £150 and the larger at £1500.
AT The Bus delivers art as therapy to young people aged 7-18 in Oxfordshire and London in a purpose-designed therapeutic studio space on a double-decker bus.
It offers art as therapy to support mental wellbeing, develop resilience, alleviate anxiety and boost the self-esteem of children and young people, something hugely valid at the moment.
Or as Historian Simon Schama says: “AT The Bus is a heroically wonderful project which deserves all our support,” he says.
Professor Mina Fazel, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at University of Oxford adds: “If there was ever a time to care about the mental health of the most vulnerable young people in our communities, it is now.”
Juli Beattie, Founder of AT The Bus concurs: “Children and young people need support for their wellbeing their mental health and education particularly during times of uncertainty and stress. It is a vital time for AT The Bus to support the children. They are the future.”
Artist Jenny Saville adds: “To be creative is to be free. AT The Bus helps children re-discover their habits of creativity. Making something from nothing that is theirs for life.”
The exhibition opens on Saturday 18th September and runs until December. For more information visit zuleikagallery.com
For more information on the charity go to www.atthebus.org.uk
For Blenheim’s extensive event programme go to https://www.blenheimpalace.com