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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Like when you were five: Persona Arts Festival and painting workshop

The Persona Arts Festival let visitors feel like artists for an hour last weekend. Or perhaps more accurately, it let us feel like kids with paintbrushes again.

Written by Jessica Furseth

Cyrus Iravani

It was with some trepidation that I signed up for a painting workshop at the Persona Arts Festival, treatment because my talents for painting and drawing are pretty rubbish. I look at the works of artists, photographers and graphic designers with awe, as I have no idea how they do it. But all skill levels were welcome at the workshop, I was assured, as I accepted the challenge.

L-R: Lara Sophie Benjamin, Robert West, James Hillman

Persona Arts Festival took place last weekend on the far side of the crowds celebrating the Bangla newyear on Brick Lane. At the Rag Factory, curators Anitra Pelekanou and Zia Fernandez had brought together an eclectic mix, ranging from painters, sculptors, photographers and multi-media artists. My favourite was probably painter Cyrus Iravani, with his blue-drenched, blurry style. I also liked photographer Lena Aliper, a photographer who had created a book of images and text. The photographs made the London streets look extra bleak with the lack of contrast in the images, as Aliper laments: “The only thing I’ve ever really desired is to be permanently fascinated.”

Lena Aliper L-R: James Hillman, Ricki L Klages

The workshop was called To Get There, a reference to how our finished canvases were to be sewn together to make one finished piece. We all sat down around a big table, tentatively eyeing up the tools in front of us as we waited for the go-ahead from teacher Avalele. ‘I want you to pretend like you’re a child again and use your imagination,’ she said – not entirely unrealistic as most people’s painting skills have probably been dormant since primary school. Using paper plates as palettes, we reached for the watercolours or acrylic paints. After the initial couple of minutes of doubts, people grew silent as they concentrated on the task at hand.


I ended up painting my bicycle, Lola – thus named for the Kinks song as she’s pretty butch for a girl bike. This was the first time I’ve tried painting since I was a teenager, which saw a short-lived, yet prolific, phase of moody, dark oil painting. The workshop reminded of me why I used to love painting– it’s really good fun – but I always find it frustrating that I can’t be any better at it. But at the Persona Arts Festival we all got points for participation.

The workshop and my contribution

Read more about the participants of the Persona Arts Festival here.

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