From one Canvas to Another

Published as part of the BBC’s Show Me The Monet series on BBC 2

"Scissors" by Liverpool artist Barbara Ann Swan: spot the two female wrestlers featured in the piece

Between 4 and 5 million people in Britain alone immerse themselves in some kind of art, such as photography, painting and sculpture, studies have shown. It is no surprise, then, that BBC2’s Show Me The Monet show starring Charlotte Mullins, David Lee and Roy Bolton three of the world’s toughest art critics, had millions of viewers glued to their TV-sets over the past two weeks of the show’s debut. It strikes me that too many shows have been based on musical talent over recent years. The obvious examples springing to mind are the X Factor,Britain’s Got Talent, which was then taken to the States to start America’s Got Talent and the Sing-Off, an acapella -focused music show in America. The entertainment industry is looking for something snazzier to break the mould from these cliché melodic productions and compelling as they are, art talent-shows could be the diversion needed.

Show Me The Monet has produced a fascinating mix of artists, often from entirely different professional backgrounds. The series ranges from working-class sculptors with no formal training, to arts students, mothers, teachers, a ballet dancer and the list goes on. The general trend has been of artists that are indeed new to the field, have taken a shining to the hobby after a sudden career change or are simply seeking some kind of lifestyle enrichment or recognition for their work.

Wrestler-turned-artist Barbara Ann Swan from Liverpool featured in last week’s run of Show Me The Monet. Feminine, fashion-conscious Barbara does not strike you as the wrestling type, which is why she is so intriguing. I detect strength of character in this lady; there are hidden depths of talent that I am not quite sure the nation has seen in this way. Just before facing the Hanging Committee, Barbara Ann gives the show’s presenter Chris Hollins a freezing cold handshake and tells him “I wish I was in the ring with Klondike Kate rather than standing here.” Barbara Ann has in fact wrestled professionally all over the world for 20 years. A polar-opposite-career-change has led Barbara Ann to the arts: she is now in her second year studying fine art in Liverpool. “I can take criticism on the chin but I can give it back as well” she says. “They’d better be careful what they say!”

Barbara Ann’s 9ft pitched piece is called ‘Scissors’ as in ‘body scissors’, a move in wrestling where the attacker wraps their legs around the opponent sitting down, crossing their ankles and tightening the grip to choke the wrestler by compressing their torso. Quite a strangling move, it is an interesting choice of subject to convey on the canvas. Barbara Ann had judges David Lee and Roy Bolton instantly impressed and she gained herself a place in the exhibition at London’s Royal College of Art. Though Barbara Ann’s piece did not sell that time, only a third of all pieces exhibited did and she said “This is only round one. I will be back for round two!”

Barbara Ann – I admire your feisty determination. What life lessons has your 20-year career in wrestling taught you?

Wrestling has taught me that you have to learn about whatever it is that you are doing. You then have to train and practice what you have learned. When you come to express yourself you must do it from your own point of view. You have to find your inner self. You have to understand your audience so that their needs can be met as well as in the exchange. I have also learned that no matter what you do, you will not always be perceived objectively or even fairly. To some extent there is a façade to everything in life and people see what they want to see in the efforts of others. The world is constantly changing around us and we must observe these changes to stay current. Where we have been and what we have done in our lives shapes us and is a major factor in who we are. It is also a major factor in how we will get to where we are going on our life journey.

Tell me about your wrestling life dating back to your grandmother.

I was raised by my grandmother and I always remember every Saturday afternoon when she would select the wrestling on TV and I would sit on the floor beside her. All of a sudden, the silence was broken by the quiet grandmother I knew. She would shout and throw her fist in the air screaming “disqualify them!” and would even swear at the referee. From this moment on I knew I wanted to be in that ring. All I saw then was the glitz and glamour but at this stage I never knew that there were female wrestlers – they weren’t allowed on TV at that time…little did I know that in years to come I myself would be in the ring.

Who have you wrestled in the ring?

I have wrestled many female wrestlers all over the world. My very first match was against the late ‘Hell Cat Haggerty’, others include Cherokee Princess, Klondike Kate, Mitzi Mullar and my last match was against Naughty Nikki Monroe in 1990.

Art is very different to wrestling! Why the career-change?

Less injuries! Art and wrestling aren’t too different. I’m still entertaining an audience but with a different medium. At the end of my career I had all of these experiences, feelings, sensations and emotions associated with wrestling and I wanted to be able to communicate these to others.

Your piece and life story held the Show Me The Monet judges’ attention and for good reason. What made you decide to focus on the ‘body-scissor’ wrestling move for your piece?

The body scissors is a hold applied with a person’s legs around the torso of their opponent. Your legs contain probably the strongest muscles in the body. It is a hold of power and strength. The person applying the hold has to be strong. The person resisting the hold has to be strong. It is perhaps the ultimate strength versus strength situation out of any wrestling match. One wrestler is using their greatest strength to make their opponent submit.

Scissors’ is captivating and I can see the ‘blood, sweat and tears’ you set out to achieve in the work. How did you actually create it?

It’s a lengthy process, starting off by taking photographs of two female wrestlers, both covered in paint (one red and the other blue). I selected my favourite image and edited it slightly using PhotoPlus, to enhance the texture of the skin.

I like the choice of the bold colours – red and blue. What do they represent?

The colours represent the Blue corner and the Red corner of the ring and when these two colours mix together they form the colour of bruising.

You produced ten versions of ‘scissors’: why ten?

In the sport of boxing or wrestling, you have the count of ten to get up off the canvas and if not you are out.

Where are you studying fine art now?

I’m currently in my second year of BA Hons Fine Art at the Wirral Metropolitan College.

Have you built your own art studio?

Unfortunately not – it really consists of my kitchen table, the living room floor and anywhere I can find space in my house. I also have two daughters who are studying art so you can actually imagine our home being an art studio.

Who are your artistic influences?

Different artists inspire me for different reasons. I love how open Tracey Emin is, reflecting her life in her work. I like the performance element of Yves Klein, Peter Blake being my favourite with his subject matter in terms of working class entertainment such as the circus and wrestling in particular. I feel I can relate to this the most.

Do you think wrestling will continue to be the running theme in your future art?

Yes! I have only just begun, I have so many ideas and I hope I live long enough to do them. I feel I haven’t expressed everything I have felt in the ring.

Are you working on any new pieces at the moment?

I’m currently working on another nine foot square canvas. I also do lots of small black and white canvas work using photocopies from my photographs by transferring the image using house hold emulsion paint.

What does the future hold for you now?

To complete my degree!…and to continue creating art and persuade Saatchi to display my work!

Thank you Barbara Ann. I wish you the very best of luck in your endeavours. Keep fighting with those cutting edge pieces!

Liverpool's Wrestling Champion Barbara Ann Swan before her Artist Days

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