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
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
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
It possibly doesn't help that opinions are so divided
regarding the merits of Saatchi's gallery.
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
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?
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
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 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,"
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".
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
"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,
"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
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,"
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
Delivering the piece not only gives Stella a chance to
enjoy a warm welcome, it also means she can return to her old stomping
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
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
The time has come to unveil her painting to the locals
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