Joe Seymour, the first Foundation Club young artist in residence
5 Dec 2022
How does a 21-year-old get a prime spot to exhibit at Baltic? David Whetstone finds out from Joe Seymour, the first Foundation Club young artist in residence
Prominently displayed in the lightbox as you enter Baltic is a striking pictorial homage to inner city architecture and graphic design.
A2B, The Long Way Home is the first work of art you see but it’s not by one of the established international artists commanding attention in the gallery spaces.
Joe Seymour is 21 and lives in Heaton, Newcastle. He was Baltic’s first Foundation Club young artist in residence and this accomplished piece is an example of what he can do.
With applications open for the second residency, many will want to know how Joe benefited from this initiative designed to help young North East artists realise their potential.
This time the Foundation Club residency is open to three people aged 16 to 24.
And if you’re intrigued but dithering, Joe, who cheerfully describes himself as “the guinea pig”, urges: “Do it.
“I almost didn’t. There was a point when I thought, I’m not going to get that, but I’m really glad I applied.
“You’ve got absolutely nothing to lose and it’s an amazing thing to get.
“For me, it was just an incredible experience. Through no fault of its own, BALTIC can seem a bit intimidating, but it was lovely to go behind the scenes and meet loads of people.
“All of them were really welcoming, lovely people who care about their job, care about creative industries and just want to get art to as many people as possible.”
Joe wasn’t unfamiliar with the idea of art as a way of making a living. His mother is an artist and his father a joiner and carpenter, and he still lives in the family home.
“I’ve been surrounded by art since I was very young and I’ve been drawing since I could pick up a pencil,” he says.
He did art GCSE at Heaton Manor School (now Jesmond Park Academy) before going to Newcastle College to study graphic design and illustration.
“It was good, but I probably didn’t get as much out of it as I could have done,” he admits.
“I was straight out of school and not really enjoying education very much.”
Leaving college in 2018, he started making his way tentatively as a freelance graphic designer, picking things up as he went along and producing logos and flyers for events.
But he lacked confidence and after seeing the inaugural Foundation Club residency advertised on social media, thought hard before applying.
“I had no idea if I even wanted to be an artist, although creative things are what I’m really passionate about.”
He applied, tapping out a 200-word personal statement, answering some straightforward online questions and uploading sample images of his work.
“Then there was a longlisting and a shortlisting and all the shortlisted artists were invited to a creative activity which enabled people at BALTIC to get to know us a little. That was really good.
“When I heard a couple of days later that I’d been selected, I was elated. I’ve never had my own studio before and having a studio at BALTIC was surreal.”
Joe had heard of artists’ residencies but says he didn’t really know what they entailed.
“But very quickly people from Baltic were in touch, putting my mind at ease. They were supportive from the word go so it went very quickly from really scary to really exciting.”
The month-long Foundation Club residency began on January 23. Along with a studio, Joe got mentoring from a professional artist, a commission for the ground floor lightbox and a fee plus expenses.
Joe says he was lucky that Tyneside Cinema, where he works as an usher, allowed him time to undertake the residency and then a bit extra when the work ran over.
Baltic, too, were happy to accommodate an extension, having nobody booked to take over the studio.
Joe was mentored by Debbie Bower, who established print studio Foundation Press in Sunderland, and he considers it a fortunate match.
“She introduced me to risograph printing, a technique I’d never used but had wanted to have a go at for a long time.”
As well as his eye-catching lightbox frieze on the ground floor, Joe has five risograph prints on display on Baltic’s Level 2.
All the work he has produced is clearly deeply considered and appealing. None of it looks out of place.
“Did you do these?” asks a BALTIC visitor running an appreciative eye over his prints. “Are you a fan of brutalist architecture?”
This is an architectural genre, heavy on monumental concrete, that needs all the friends it can get. Joe Seymour is one.
“I’m really into brutalist architecture… all those angles and corners. I draw lots of inspiration from horrible, boring buildings. That’s what some people would call them.
“But aesthetically, there’s something about them I absolutely love – the shadows they make.”
In the lightbox piece, many will recognise the building which straddles the roundabout at the bottom of Newcastle’s Pilgrim Street. Formerly known as Swan House, it is now 55 ͦNorth.
Artfully displayed at BALTIC, its (some would say) glorious greyness is overlaid with the legend A2B and pools of vivid red. In this new light, ugliness is less apparent.
“It’s about appreciating what’s around you while walking from A to B, appreciating the ordinary” explains Joe.
“I love walking and I also enjoy looking at things. This is a gentle reminder to look longer, think deeper and take the long way home.”
Joe’s Baltic work has generated plenty of positive feedback and someone even asked if he could design some wallpaper.
The residency, he says appreciatively, has helped with his lack of confidence.
“It hasn’t gone. It’s a constant and I’ve got to work at it. It makes me a perfectionist, which is both good and bad.
“But the residency has definitely helped and I couldn’t recommend it enough. I’ve nothing but good things to say about it.
“Having cemented in my mind that I actually can be an artist, it made me decide I really want to be an artist.”
As a result of the residency, Joe was asked to help with a youth project run by Baltic communities producer Annie Bedford and musician Fred Phethean which involved writing a song.
He was commissioned to design an album cover and T-shirts and enjoyed doing that and meeting the kids.
“I was trying to get them to think how typography can be more interesting than just words on a page.
“It was fun and something I’d like to do more of. That was another opportunity I was given through Baltic”
Joe’s residency is finished but his artistic talents have been recognised by Tyneside Cinema which has commissioned him, on top of his ushering, to do some in-house design work.
And he has been booked to meet the shortlisted applicants for the next Foundation Club residencies at Baltic.