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 North East & Cumbria: Monday September 27, 2004


Stella Vine
Is she a victim of the media or a clever saleswoman?

When Charles Saatchi bought two of her paintings in early 2004 Stella Vine rocketed into the media spotlight. Inside Out North East meets this former stripper from Alnwick who has become the latest sensation in "Brit Art".

Stella Vine's painting of Princess Diana caused controversy amongst both art circles and Royal lovers, and the newfound interest in her work has been difficult for Stella to cope with.

Increasing fame, not mention prices, bring with them a green light for critics and art lovers to speak out, both positively and negatively.

But has it been a positive experience for the artist, or has Stella just been swept up in a media frenzy she has no control over?

Critic rejection

Charles Saatchi may have seen something he liked in Stella Vine's paintings but many art critics have rejected her outright.

David Lee, from The Jackdaw Magazine, had no sympathy when he said, "It's self evidently obvious Stella Vine can't paint for toffee."

It possibly doesn't help that opinions are so divided regarding the merits of Saatchi's gallery.

Charles Saatchi
Charles Saatchi is known for his controversial taste in art work

After Saatchi made millionaires of artists such as Tracy Emin, whose unmade bed is one of his exhibits, some of the critics have grown to love him, some hate him.

Although Stella's paintings now sell for thousands of pounds, rather than hundreds, this critical obsession with her work has hit her hard.

"I've never been so down and depressed as I have been recently and it's escalating," Stella said.

It isn't hard to imagine why, with so many contrasting comments being thrown about.

"Everything about it stinks," remarks David Lee.

On the other hand Cathy Lomax, of Transition Gallery London, is much more positive. "It's exciting, there's a spontaneity about it," she says.

So just who is this person who has the art world divided?

Tortured artist

Stella Vine was born Melissa Robson in 1969. She lived in Alnwick until she was seven years old, then moved to live with a stepfather she didn't get on with.

"I feel like I've always been rejected by people close to me. I've always wanted to be loved by lots of people," Stella says.

The normal spiel for a tortured artist perhaps, but Stella's journey into the art world was peppered with moments most people would want to forget.

"You're in a tower block, no family and you have a child… You're in a dire situation."
Stella Vine

Stella is well known to have worked as a stripper - perhaps not an occupation favoured by the art circles.

Stella had to do something to pay her way.

"If you go out to work you've got to pay someone to look after the baby, and therefore stripping means you can do all of that and have enough money to live. It seems like a sensible decision," she says.

Stella discovered painting when she attended an art class with her son Jamie.

"The teacher came up and said 'forget about drawing, get the paint and colours down and paint what you see.' Two or three hours later I was absolutely lost," she says.

This admission is like a red rag to a bull for the critics and to them screams "amateur".

Controversy follows

Stella has been attacked for choosing controversial subjects in her works.

Her painting of Princess Diana, with the large red graffiti-type text "Hi Paul, can you come over I'm really frightened", shocked and horrified many.

Stella has been quoted as saying the painting came from her thoughts when reading a newspaper report after Diana's death.

The blood coming from the Princess's mouth, mixed with the almost childlike depiction of her features, was enough to set tongues wagging.

Stella Vine's "Rachel"
Stella Vine's "Rachel". Courtesy: Saatchi Gallery London

Stella's portrayal of heroin addict Rachel Whitear, whose death with a syringe in her hand hit headlines, upset Rachel's family - a fact which caused even more of a media frenzy.

Yet among these contentious pieces are some that are so wildly different you would wonder her way of thinking.

One thing that is present in all of Stella Vine's work is a sense of deep personal attachment.

Whilst painting a self protrait Stella sadly comments "This little girl is me, who is going to go on and be a stripper, a hostess.

"If the lip had dripped when I'd put paint on I would have liked it. That suggests the terrible sadness of the life people go through."

The Stella Vine phenomenon

Personal background aside, which critic is right about Stella Vine's work?

David Lee is adamant about the poor quality of the paintings. "If this came up in a competition you could laugh it off as the work of somebody who lived on a council estate and painted for half an hour in their bedroom. It's just no good."

Cathy Lomax isn't so damning. "If a painting looks good and if you like it, then that's what's important," she says.

There are also those, like Louise Jury, Arts Correspondent for The Independent, who think Stella's work has potential.

"With a style like hers, which is simple and naive, some people wonder how much is really there, but it's an amazing opportunity," Louise says.

Certainly there is one place that is more than happy to hang up her work. Stella has just finished a piece for Alnwick's small Bailiffgate museum.

Delivering the piece not only gives Stella a chance to enjoy a warm welcome, it also means she can return to her old stomping ground.

Warmly received

Stella's painting for the Bailiffgate is of herself as a child outside her grandmother's old house, which after a brief search she manages to find again.

Reality and art are compared as Stella happily remembers the old house, then there's time for a quick visit to see her grandmother.

"I'm happy for her… she's tried very hard to get there."
Stella Vine's Grandmother

Although rightfully proud of her granddaughter, Stella's gran admits to not being overly fond of the Diana picture. It seems critics are everywhere!

The time has come to unveil her painting to the locals of Alnwick.

The presentation goes off well, with glowing enthusiasm coming from all involved.

Jemma Taylor, Curator at the Bailiffgate Museum, thanks Stella graciously. "It's incredibly generous of you. I'm really proud to display the work of a local artist," she says.

The reaction is exciting for Stella who says, "That's the most enthusiasm I've have since Saatchi. This could be my second fan."

As Inside Out leaves Stella Vine one question lingers. Is that the reaction of a cynic exploiting her notoriety, or someone who wants to succeed - and be liked?

Judge for yourself.

View some of Stella Vine's work

See also ...

On the rest of the web
Saatchi Gallery
Art News - Stella Vine
Transition Gallery
Fogless - Stella Vine Interview

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Paul Harvey, Newcastle Stuckist
The Stuckists, who recently had a show at the Bailiffgate Museum with the Ryu Art Group, first exhibited Stella Vine in 2001 and nominated her for their Real Turner Prize Show 2001. Go to for more details. This is an important part of her history that she seems keen to hide. This is a shame as it informs much of her work.

Jeff Myers
My interest in this lady’s artistic talents was emboldened by the pompous prig who compared it to the work of ‘someone on a council estate‘. What the hell is wrong with people from council estates? It would be the same as me saying that the art world continues to be trapped in an elitist, meaningless, middleclass vacuum. God forbid you let one of the great unwashed into your sterile bubble.

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