Home is where the art is - Stella Vine

Artist Stella Vine went from foster care and teenage pregnancy to selling her work to  Charles Saatchi. Then she ended up living in a car park 

Was the 'Dorothy' skirt that you painted fro a recent Shelter auction a deliberate reference to the idea that there's no place like home?

I'm fascinated by the concept of home,especially as I'm always moving, but no: it didn't  cross my min till later on that day. I just follow my insist and improvise. I like the way the skirt came out cute and girlie. I found the process of making it immensely enjoyable, partly because sewing reminds me of my mum who passed away from a brain tumour in 2003. She was a seamstress and i still have her thimbles. She was quite absent for most of my life and I longed to spend time with her but my stepdad wouldn't allow her to be with me. Sewing helps me feel closer to her.

What's your definition of home?

For me, its wherever my paints are. Ideally it would have a shower, but some of the places I've lived haven't even had a toilet. What I need above all is atmosphere that inspires creativity. Im currently living n a small room in camden, which has fantastic light. I'm fairly happy there. If i start to feel isolated I go for a long, soothing walk around the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Occasionally claustrophobia strikes and I recap to the seaside in Cornwall to the North East. But London always draws me back.

You ran away from home at 13. How have your experience of being in venerable situations shaped you?

My mother got remarried when I was seven years old; we moved to Norwich and everything changed. My stepdad was a cruel man who enjoyed humiliating me. A lot o things happened which I know were wrong. It got to the point were my survival instinct kicked in and I knew i had to leave. I was fostered briefly but clashed with the family over my refusal to go to school - I wanted to self educate in the library. I ended up living aline in a bedsit and fell into a relationship with a caretaker, who at 24 was ten years my senior. By the time I was 16, I was pregnant. When you have those experience at such a young age, its a struggle to stop seeing yourself as a victim, an you keep repeating the same patterns. Only now, at 44, have I ceased blaming myself for everything that went wrong.

Have you expressed your feelings about your past in your work?

Although my work looks like its based on other people, it is extremely personal. My style could be described as "sickly sweet", like that feeling you get when you eat too much birthday cake as child. Originally I wanted to be an abstract painter, like De Kooning or Pollock, but i got sidetracked. People, and in particular their eyes, hold a fascination for me - there's so much fragility and complexity there. I usually end up projecting part of myself on to my subjects. That was the case with my painting of Rachel Whiter [a 21-year-old student who died from a heroin overdose in 2000] that Saatchi bout in 2004. She was a kid living on her own in a bedsit when she died and I identify hugely with her. The work provoked such a strong reaction that it caught me off guard. People accused ,e of capitalising on her tragic death to make shocking art and become famous. I censored my self enormously after that.

You were briefly addicted to cocaine at the height of your success. How did that affect your ability to identify with the dark side of humanity?

I stared using cocaine in 2005 when I was given a show at London's Hamilton's Gallery after David LaChapelle dropped out. I had just over two weeks to make all the work and was painting flat out. After a few sleepless nights, I contacted a local dealer and bought some cocaine. I desperately need to stay awake to finish the work. The show was okay, considering the short timescale, but I ended up with a bad coke habit. I couldn't even go out to buy milk without having a line. For the next six month I just stayed in, worked and took coke. I painted all my Kate Moss pictures on it; it gave me self confidence I always lacked. I was just falling to bits, a mess, painting six feet of brown sludge for hours on end, with a hefty £400-a-week habit which became hard to maintain. The whole experience changed me. I was depressed when I came off it - I didn't seem to have the natural energy as before. It reminded me how easy it is to get stuck on repeat i life.

Do you worry hat your personal story might influence how people see your work?

I found in the past that people on the periphery of the art world thought they could make money out of me, due to the press interest in my personal life, having been a stripper and a single parent, plus the kind of work I was making: "celebrity", as they saw art. Or they wanted to try to draw attention their galleries through me. [It's] exploitative, really: not respectful to my creativity. I've also encountered a lot of snobbery form people who seem to think that because I'm not educated I can't make real art. It baffles me.

Do your experiences make it harder for you to put down roots? 

I have this fantasy that if i had a home of my own, then I would make themes amazing art from ceramics, etching, sewing,sculptures, oil paintings: a place for everything. Occasionally I look online and see some shall in the Outer Hebrides for around £20,000. The t seems achievable, but somehow I never manage to save. Everything costs so much these days. There have been so many times in my life when I've lost everything. A yer after my big solo show at Modern Art Oxford in 2007, I ended up broke and living in my car in Bloomsbury Square Car Park. I had a resident pass from when I had a lovely little flat there. I can laugh at it now, but at the time I didn't know what to do with myself.


How hard has it been to make your work while living in such small spaces?

As long as you have some kind of materials you can make art. I made some of my largest paintings, including one of Pete Doherty [6ftx7ft] and Wonder Women [9ftx10ft], while living in a small studio. I emptied the room and shoved everything into the kitchen. The canvases covered the entire floor. Wherever I am, I tend to gravitate towards a tiny corner with everything I need nearby. Ideally I like my bed to be as far away as possible from my art, so I can look at it with fresh eyes in the morning, but that's not aways possible. I made some nice work in front of a van once. You don't even need much space or materials: you can make all sorts out of things in skips if you want.

What's your idea of domestic bliss?

My ideal would be to share a home with a partner who is funny, kind, intelligent and handsome (to me). We would have dinner parties for friends; I would make paintings for the walls of the house and ceramics for the dinner table. The outside world of money and survival wouldn't exist.

Find out more about Stella's paintings, exhibitions and other work at stellavine.com

Songs from a room Dynamo

The countries greatest street magician describes the tunes that remind him of home. 

Interviewed by Craig McLean

Cyndi Lauper

'Time After Time'  

'This was on magic FM the other day while i was driving to London. And it just reminds me of my mum, and living in our one bedroom flat on Delph hill estate in Bradford, just me and her. Cyndi Lauper was on constant rotation when i was growing up-she was my mum's favourite artist. She just liked the excitement of this crazy New York women. My mum was a bit of a rebel herself. I saw pictures of her with punk hairstyles and going through every possible teenage culture and rebellion. She had all  the looks and piercings, and Cyndi Lauper is definitely a faze in her life which is engraved on my mind. 

Michael Jackson

'Smooth Criminal' 

'At my nan and grandpa's flat-a little 2- bedroom council 1 at the bottom of Wyke estate in Bradford - i was watching a listening to a lot of Michael Jackson. That's where i got a lot of inspiration to incorporate dance elements into my magic. For me he's one of the greatest entertainers who ever lived. "Smooth Criminal" is the best music video ever made. It actually has some elements of magic incorprated- the way he flicks the coin through the room and it lands perfectly in the slot of the jukebox. And he lends at that crazy angle, which is very similar to "The Matrix": I do a version of that in my show. So I've taken a lot of influence from him. My grandpa passed away three years ago, but the flat is exactly as it was when I was a little boy. My bedroom is just like it was then - the same wall paper, the same posters: an Eminem "8 Mile" poster, and ones from when I started preforming in the local clubs in Bradford & Leeds.' 


'Breath Me' 

If I think about moving to London, this song is not necessarily a happy song. But I didn't feel unhappy listening to it. When i am creating ideas I'll sit and listen to music on my iPod, and I like to find music that puts me in different emotional states. So this song by Sia, which was used at the finale of 'Six Feet Under', makes me feel kind of magical. When I first started coming down from Bradford, my friend was living in Covent Garden and I slept on his couch. But then when I actually moved down I had my own place - a grotty flat in Walthamstow. It was about £50 a week, and i was preforming in Covent Garden to pay for it. That song reminds me of developing my street magic in London. If you actually listen to the lyrics it has no relevance to me or what I was thinking. But I just found it very ghostly. It's such a minimalistic beat, and her voice is so haunting, that it makes me thing of those early days, and how the song gave me comfort.'


'King Without a Crown' 

For a while I was living with my manager, in his spare room in Highgate in north London. It did feel like it was just me and him against the world, because we were trying to build my career. My iPod was literally thousands of tracks from back then. I really like this reggae singer, Matisyahu. When I first moved to Highgate we didn't have a TV set up properly. But I brought this smart TV and it had a music video app. You could watch concerts on it, and one of them was 'Matisyahu live at stub's vol 2'. There wasn't much; There were 15 diffrent concerts, and I watched them all. But when I watched Matisyahu, I just fell in love with his music and the atmosphere his band created. 'King Without a Crown' is one of my favourites.' 

The Smiths

'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now' 

I now live in a big block of flats in north London. It used to be a psychiatric hospital, and lots of footballers and pop stars live here. When i moved in, Niall and Liam and Zayn from One Direction were living there, and I moved into the block where Girls Aloud had lived. Just after I had started living there, this guy was chasing me down in an Audi R8, and he stopped me and said, 'O I'm a big fan. I play football, My name's Wojciech....' I'm not an Arsenal fan, so i didn't realise until late that was their goalie, Szczesny. He was the first person I ever met here. As I got older and a bit more mature, I started listening to music you might not associate with me. When I first moved in there was some flash guy with a fancy car driving around and playing The Smiths. So I started listening to them and Morrissey. I've been here 3 years now and, other than my wife and my dog, it's the first time I've got a place where I'm not sharing with a friend or sleeping on a couch.' 

Craig Mclean writes for The Times, The Observer, The Telegraph and Radio Times. 




The house I grew up in... Lianne La Havas

Interviewed by Kieran Yates

I grew up living in Balham in a really lovely house. It was on Carmine Road. I lived with my grandad, grandma and great grandma. Sometimes relatives would stay over from Jamaica, so I ended up growing up around a lot of Jamaicans. The house was Victorian and my grandad didn't really like to do much with it, so it was quit rough around the edges. I never used to like it as a kid, because when you're young you just like new stuff, don't you? But then i grew up and realised it was a brilliant house, I'd definitely snap it up now! 

I recently went to Jamaica and realised that the way our house was decorated was very typical of Jamaicans in the countryside. It was full of fake flowers, runners and carpet everywhere, and a coffee table that had to be on top of a rug. There were loads of doilies too, loads of doilies. I've actually really grown to love the way they do stuff. It's all coming back to me now. 


'It was full of fake flowers, runners and carpet everywhere, and a coffee table that had to be on top of a rug'


I shared a bedroom with my grandparents. My grandparents would use the kitchen downstairs. The house would smell of red pea soup cooking, kidney beans, fried plantain and salt fish. The bedroom was quite big but it was still a share space. I was very messy when i was younger, so i guess my identity was just all over the floor. I used to have a chest of drawers that opened out with a mirror inside, and i stuffed all my make-up in this one drawer; it used to get really filthy but it was mine. Those were happy times. When i got to my teens i think stuff just suddenly seemed really hard.

Communicating with my grandad was difficult because he didn't understand me. I wasn't allowed to have friends round. My grandad wasn't really cool with it, unless they stayed in the front garden with me. The next house we moved to was in Streatham, where I finally had my own room. I was obsessed with Eminem for a long time, and i had a poster of him and the Red Hot Chili Peppers all over my wall. I found new music there; I saw my mum quite frequently and discovered Mary J Blige and Jill Scott through her. I nicked her CDs often and fell in love with all these exciting new sounds. 

Going to Jamaica made me realise why i am like i am. You notice the styles within the homes. They're very colourful there, so no one really wears black. It's a big thing to stand out. It's the reason I like colour so much now. It's funny when you get older and make those connections. The Jamaican house I stayed in belonged to a distant cousin who we called 'auntie', and the place was filled with Tupperware and place mats you can only get in England, which makes her cool to her neighbours. It's expensive to get cosmetics over there, so she really appreciates when i fill my suitcases up with soap for her. I brought back a big old wall hanging of a Jamaican map, to put on the wall of my house. It's my injection of colour. I guess I'm constantly managing the hybrid identity. I think my grandparents would like my current house, but they'd want a sofa that was a bit higher off the ground; they always complain about the things being to low. 

Prince came to the house i live in now. I was confident that he'd like the decor. He said it looked like me, which was a big compliment because that's always the ultimate aim, isn't it ? I did spend a long time staring at it all hoping that it was right. He had a crew of guys that came in and made the place look like him. There was a purple lighting guy, loads of Prince plectrums and a smoke machine which just covered the ground in smoke and it was amazing. I remember thinking that he wouldn't have been allowed over when I was younger. 

The contrast of growing up with my grandparents in Balham to having Prince in my living room is pretty surreal. It got me thinking about stage shows reflecting who you are. I saw Bon Iver perform once where he had the stage set up as a living room, and i remember thinking that the one item from my home that I'd bring onstage is probably my Anglepoise lamp. There's just something about the, Isn't there? But if my great-grandmother was in the crowd then maybe a doily. Just to remind me of home. 

Kieran Yates is a journalist and aurthor writing for The Guardian and Observer.