Artist Richard Hunt (pictured above on the right) was the winner of our 2017 Shape Open exhibition 'Power: The Politics of Disability', and is a member of the disability-led Shadowlight Artists collective based in Oxfordshire and supported by Film Oxford. Shape's Lulu Nunn caught up with him for World Down Syndrome Day to find out about his artistic practice and ambitions, winning the Open, and breaking down access barriers in the art world...

Lulu Nunn: We’re still very pleased that you won our Open! What did it mean to you to be chosen as the winner, especially by such an important artist - Yinka Shonibare MBE?

Richard Hunt: Very pleased to win, hopefully it will make me a famous artist. When Yinka announced I’d won it was a big surprise, I didn’t think I’d win.

We felt strongly that your painting ‘Totem Pole’ (click here to see it) really reflected the theme of the Open - ‘Power: The Politics of Disability’ – would you say that being an artist empowers you?

My art makes me stronger, I go like a rocket, like a super hero, makes me feel special.

I think that your art is powerful, in part, because it challenges people’s prejudiced ideas that people with Down Syndrome can’t be artists. Would you say that you deliberately challenge these ideas through making art?

I work fast and make lots of new work, mostly at home on my own. With the Shadowlight Artists group I am in, I show my new work, and see theirs. We sometimes have exhibitions as a group, I love to meet other artists. Yes I think I do represent them [artists with Down Syndrome].

Since winning I have been asked to show my work and film at Mencap Oxford AGM, and I have also been asked to show work at an arts centre in Oxford.

Man standing next to a Totem Pole artwork that is on the wall

As you know, at Shape we are focussed on breaking down the barriers to the arts that disabled people face. What barriers have you overcome as an artist, which could hopefully inspire young disabled artists to do the same?

When I first started my art, I did a few classes. Then I worked on my own at home (I live on my own). With the Shadowlight Artists we could get support to do new different things, meet new people, work with other artists and make films. Talk about our art.  I made four films where we filmed my painting, like I painted buses on the windows of the bus station. I had people to help me get there and set up, they filmed me paint. I can do more, different things with help, but I also like painting at home on my own.

With my last Shadowlight Artists project, I was able to have help, and so I wasn’t on my own. I worked at Magdalen Road Studios as part of it. I had help from Sonia and Ellen from there, I had a painful hernia at the time and couldn’t lift the canvas or move that much. They helped me try out my new ideas, I liked working in a studio with other artists, nice to have company.

Yes I like to inspire other artists, in the summer I helped run a big art class with many young people with learning disabilities. I also have done my art at a special school nearby, they watched me draw a big picture, they were very impressed, and then they had a go too. I think I helped them. We have done lots of things like that with the Shadowlight Artists.

Is there any message that you would like to give to people who work in the arts, to urge them to include and open up more to people with Down Syndrome?

With the Shadowlight group we have exhibited in Oxford and other places. I showed 6 paintings at Modern Art Oxford last October. I like to show my work. (With help from “Outside In”), I showed my work at Compton Verney gallery. I sold my painting. I want to sell more.

Yes I want more places to take my work seriously and to show in galleries around the country; I’d like to tour it, sell the work too. I’d like to show in lots of places, especially America.

What are you working on now, and what are your artistic plans for the future?

I brought 3 new finished paintings to the Shadowlight Artists meeting at Film Oxford last Friday, they were “Bottle of the Golden Egg”, “Hand of the Ocean” and “Twister”. People in the group really liked them. I work on my art all the time, late into the night sometimes.

The Shadowlight Artists (via Film Oxford) have applied for new funding (to Arts Council for a project called “Platform”). I want to work with different artists in different places, try new things. I have an idea for “Twisty Art” and paintings with lights in them. We’ll also make films together and show the work in Oxford and London hopefully.

Thank you very much Richard, and congratulations again!

Click here to see Richard's Shape artist biography, and click here to visit the Shadowlight Artists website.

Banner Image: Shadowlight artists Danny Smith (L) and Richard Hunt (R) at the National Diversity Awards, c. Film Oxford
Insert Image: Richard Hunt at the 2017 Shape Open with his winning piece 'Totem Pole', c. Rachel Cherry