Stories to be told in nationwide portrait events by award winning disabled artist, Tanya Raabe-Webber


A unique project celebrating the diversity of our common humanity through a series of live portrait sittings with high profile sitters in well-known venues, will take place this summer and autumn across the country.

Portraits Untold will see acclaimed award winning disabled artist, Tanya Raabe-Webber undertake live portrait sittings that fuse digital and traditional drawing and painting techniques. The sittings will see the artist in conversation with the sitters and in some cases collaborating, as they explore what it is to be human through the stories of the lives and the work of the sitters. The conversations will also explore how art and the artistic process is central to the representation of, discussion about and about our thinking on cultural diversity and contemporary society.

photo taken across the arm of the artist in the act of drawing a portrait of a woman

Photo of Tanya Raabe-Webber in action

A total of four sitters have been invited to be the subjects at the live events including acclaimed virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, Stoke City FC mascot and subject of the BBC BAFTA award winning film Marvellous Neil Baldwin, artist filmmaker and recipient of BAFTA’s life time achievement award John Akomfrah OBE and star of Channel 4’s The Divine David and avant-garde performance artist David Hoyle.

The live events will take place at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (John Akomfrah,16th July), National Portrait Gallery (Evelyn Glennie, 22nd July), Stoke City Football Club (Neil Baldwin, 19th September) and National Trust property Beningbrough Hall (David Hoyle, 1st October).

The Big Draw, the driving force behind The Big Draw Festival – the world’s biggest celebration of drawing are also a partner within the project.

photo of the artist and the musician standing on either side of the portrait on an easel

Photo of Tanya Raabe-Webber with Dame Evelyn Glennie and the emerging portrait

Each sitting will take place in front of a live audience in these well known public venues, as well as being streamed live to online audiences. Both the physical and online audiences will be invited to participate in the event, join in the dialogue and explore diversity whilst also developing their own creative responses in the form of drawings, both on paper and through digital drawing apps on their smart phones and tablets.

Artist Tanya Rabbe-Webber, said: “As a disabled artist, the notion of my own diversity drives my interest in people and the exploration of the human condition and the belief that everyone has the potential to be creative if given the opportunity. I am well known as a painter of people, however I have wanted to develop a way to engage audiences more fully in the subject matter of my work and also within its physicality.”

Portraits Untold has been devised to reach new audiences through the use of online platforms as well as public events, opening dialogue with audiences about the presentation of diversity and disability within contemporary portraiture and enabling physical and online audiences to engage in the production of new work. I am thrilled at the calibre of the sitters and the venues that we are able to deliver this exciting project with.”

The project has been funded by Arts Council England through lottery funding. Abid Hussain, Director, Diversity, Arts Council England said:

“Art and culture give us a great lens through with which to see contemporary culture and diversity. Tanya’s portraits – and the creative responses they inspire – will offer a fascinating look at the differences and similarities between people’s experience of the world around us. I’ve followed Tanya’s incredible artistic journey for over a decade and am delighted to see her continue to develop her practice which is now increasingly exploring the digital realm. Her work exemplifies the Creative Case for Diversity.”­­­­

Dr Chris Creed from the Digital Humanities Hub at the University of Birmingham has collaborated with the team to explore new ways

Tanya Raabe-Webber at the easel engaged in a live portrait session

Tanya Raabe-Webber at the easel engaged in a live portrait session

around how digital technology can be creatively incorporated into live experiences. Dr Creed said:

“This unique project has allowed us to apply our research around assistive technology and its use by disabled artists into the exciting environment of live portrait sittings, developing innovative ways to facilitate shared artist and audience experiences”.

Liz Smith, Director of Participation and Learning, National Portrait Gallery, London, said:

“We are delighted to welcome Tanya Raabe-Webber and Evelyn Glennie and to be a partner in Portraits Untold.  Many portraits in the Gallery’s Collection are the result of collaborations and conversations between the artist and sitter, however for audiences today these are now quieter in the viewing experience. This major project re-stages the intensity of making a portrait sitting in a truly participative model. It will provide the opportunity for audiences to observe how an artist creates a portrait over 6 hours, join the conversation and participate by creating their own drawings surrounded by the Gallery’s portraits. It will add particular vibrancy to the Gallery’s already popular Friday night drawing programme which attracts over 200 people per week by enabling audiences to participate in new and different ways.”

Sitter, musician, Evelyn Glennie, said:

“What I find fascinating about Tanya’s work is how open she is to exploring new expressions in her paintings. She listens not only to the person she’s portraying but also to the environment where she’s painting. In the end, we have a shared experience that turns the portrait into a piece of storytelling. I really look forward to see how my story unfolds on Tanya’s painting.”

Bristol based company Hatch & Twine will be responsible for the delivery of the interactive digital platforms and live streaming.

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