New Work: ‘Smile - Post-Partum Self-Portrait’


It is #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, this year's theme being #BodyImage. An apt week to be showing my new painting - 'Smile - Post-Partum Self-Portrait', part of the MA Fine Art Show 'FRAGILE' at the UNIFY Gallery in Farnham.

The painting shows a woman standing naked, inside an old cardboard box in an artist's studio, surrounded by canvases and easels. The box displays the childlike painting of breasts, stomach and pubic hair. The light falls upon her from above, striking her head, left shoulder, and a paintbrush in her left hand and bouncing off the copper portrait of a woman on the easel to her right. She stands head on to the viewer, a serious, solemn expression, red lipstick smudged across her face.

The title of the painting belies the true feelings of the figure in the painting. There is no trace of a smile here. It is reminiscent of the immediate aftermath of having a child - the 'happy event' when photographs are taken on the operating table, as the mother lies with screaming baby on top of her chest, the anaesthetised tugging of her insides as they sew her back up ('Smile!'). Her body has been a vessel for 9 months, prodded and poked, no longer her own because of the foetus growing inside her. She has become an vast object, with no control over her own being. And after the removal of the baby through an opening in her stomach, she enters a new phase of womanhood - motherhood.

The psychological and physical trauma of having a child by c-section or otherwise is often overlooked, as everyone's attention turns to the new human being freshly delivered. Job done. Smiles all round.

She cannot bear to see her body in the mirror anymore. She does not recognise herself in the reflection - an old cardboard box, used to carry objects feels like the only suitable way of disguising the disgusting nature of her post-natal body.

Her past is alluded to in old paintings propped up against the wall. The erotic portrait of a distant Berlin model, now the underpainting for this new artwork. If you gaze at the space between her head and the window, you might glimpse the ghostly image of the model's arm, as she leans on her knee, nipple exposed and now hidden, framed by the easel in the background. The erotic era is over.

She is becoming a/her mother as she works on the copper plate portrait to her right. She is coming to terms with the next phase of womanhood, knowing that eventually she will become her mother. The ageing process is inevitable.

The light in the room points to the brush in her hand, the new painting on the easel. Art is the light, art is the rhizomatic thread in this self-portrait. Art is what makes it all worthwhile.

Reflections upon Intersect Portrait Project

I was one of four female identifying artists selected by Sweet Art to participate in their Intersect Portrait Project on 16th March 2019. The objective of the project was to explore the female gaze through a collaborative approach to portraiture. The event took place at the Crabtree and Evelyn concept store in Islington and all the materials were provided by Great Art. This is about my experience, thoughts and reactions to this unique artistic event.


The set-up

Members of the public (female) were invited to purchase tickets for a 16 minute portrait sitting. The day started at 10am and ran until 5pm. During that time, we had 16 sitters. Each sitter took home 4 portraits. Each portrait was a collaboration of the four diverse artists - Shadi Mahsa, Susan Bryan, Odette Farrell and myself. Each artist spent four minutes at an easel, then moved onto the next, continuing the portrait of the sitter by the previous artist. At the end of the sitting, the sitter was presented with four very different drawings to take home.

In total, we created 64 portrait drawings that day.

The experience

My overall experience of the day was one of intense exhaustion, both physically and mentally. The rapid succession of sitters, meant there was little time to think about the drawing process. Starting a drawing was by far the easiest step, as the blank paper allowed control of the composition, a quick-fire portrait sketch and the definition of the overall proportions of the sitter.

Moving onto the next easel was always a surprise, as the drawing before me felt foreign - a different angle, a different composition, different colours, marks etc.. On the one hand, having only four minutes at each easel liberated me of my usual anxieties associated with drawing a portrait - I could not control where the drawing would end up, so why worry about every line, feature, shadow? On the other hand, I felt frustrated not to be able to spend longer on each individual drawing. Or at least have more time to think about how best to work on top of the other artists' drawings. Instead, I felt like I was frantically trying to find the sitter's face amidst other's marks. It felt less collaborative, more reactionary.

My reaction

The act of drawing from life all day, with a multitude of fascinating sitters is a pleasurable experience for me. What was fascinating is how I felt about the output of the day.


Often, I recognised more of the artists' self-portraits in the drawings, than the sitter. At times, it seemed like a battle of layers - rather than a 'weaving together' of marks. Each artist's marks showed visible signs of a struggle, the layers of the drawings did not sit comfortably together - a clash of colours, lines obliterating delicacies previously captured, or features rendered unrecognisable through overwork.

The lack of control in this collaborative process left me questioning my own artistic judgements and abilities. Even ten days later, I still do not enjoy looking at the photos I took of the various portraits. I feel uncomfortable about the end result.

What fascinates me, is why I feel this way? The Intersect Portrait Project has made me question some fundamental assumptions and beliefs I hold. What has informed my sense of aesthetics? My white, middle-class European upbringing? Has the traditionally male western canon of art been the key influencer in my own artistic training?

How does the female gaze, or specifically, my gaze differ to the gaze of the other female artists? Why do I feel a sense of frustration when viewing someone else's interpretation of the sitter? What is the underlying cause of my need for control over the output? Is it the deep-seated desire to create a self-portrait in every portrait? The need to recognise oneself in the work?

Or do I feel the need to flatter the sitter, to show them a 'nicely rendered' representation of themselves? Due to the speed of each sitting and often the back-to-back sitters, I am left wondering whether we as artists took the feelings of the sitter into account. At times it felt like a conveyor belt of sitters, resulting in a loss of individual subjects and the objectification of the models. With hindsight, I think this is the main reason I am left feeling uncomfortable about the output. The output is about the artists, not the sitters.

VIRUS - Danny Rolph’s guide to being a sustainable artist


We were fortunate enough to have the artist Danny Rolph visit us at UCA on 26th February, giving us an artist's talk as well as individual tutorials. As a very successful painter himself (his biography makes impressive reading), Danny's advice on how to be a sustainable artist struck a chord with me.

To have a sustainable practice, an artist needs VIRUS:

  1. Vision

  2. Integrity

  3. Resilience

  4. Understanding

  5. Stubbornness

As someone who knows that art is what I want to, no need to do, I find myself expending so much time and energy on questioning my decision to pursue art. Before I even get to the studio, my mind is filled with questions and doubts:

Am I good enough? What could I possibly have to say? Why would anyone else want to see my work? What is the point of art? How can I earn a living making art? Will I have to go back to my previous career in order to make a living? How can I forge an artistic career with three young boys? Motherhood is more important that my artistic career. Motherhood is suffocating my creativity. My artistic career is a luxury and not as important as a career that earns money.

Yesterday Danny Rolph gave me some hope. He gave me hope that I can make art my career. That if you stick to your guns as an artist, don't sell out (or if you do, do it under a different name!), keep working, keep reading, keep researching, keep drawing, keep painting, never give up, then there is hope.

Instead of dismissing art career opportunities out of hand, because I am a mother of three kids, because my eldest is autistic, because, because, because..... There are so many reasons to choose not to do something. What if I choose to act instead? I can apply for residencies, I can talk to other artists, I can keep coming back to my own vision as an artist and continue to produce work. I can be true to my core driver - it is and always has been to create.

Thank you @dannyrolph14 for reminding me of why I chose art in the first place.

Embodied Knowledge @ Bermondsey Project Space


The life size figures by the window catch your eye and draw you into the gallery on Bermondsey Street. Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is surrounded by multiple closely hung black and white paintings depicting one, maybe two dancers. The images tell a story, long limbs extended, backs arched, toes pointed. Each image is full of movement and energy only a dancer would know. The choreographer of these paintings is artist Mark Baldwin.

I was lucky enough to meet Mark Baldwin OBE at the gallery and had the remarkable experience of viewing his work with him. The former artistic director of the Rambert dance company, Mark has turned his creativity to painting since leaving Rambert last year. He has produced a large number of works which are spread over the two floors of the gallery. Downstairs is primarily black and white, with the paintings on show upstairs full of colour. His series of six framed paintings of transvestite dancers are so full of raw pleasurable emotion, that they stand out as some of his best work.


Downstairs in the basement are a series of video installations - the viewer is invited to see some of his choreographic work spanning two decades. Auerbach even designed the set for one of the performances.

The video that still haunts me, is a very personal, private performance he recorded of himself improvising a dance in his own home. He was meant to perform it to someone, who did not show up on the night. He later found out he had committed suicide. The video is cut short when his telephone rings in the background and his mesmerising dance comes to a halt. As the viewer, one is both mesmerised and uncomfortable at witnessing this very intimate moment. A voyeur, a glimpse into someone's living room, becoming that very person for whom the performance was meant, but who took his own life that night.


Intersect Portrait Project, exploring the female gaze on International Women’s Day

I am absolutely thrilled to be one of four artists selected to participate in the Intersect Portrait Project organised by the wonderful Sweet ‘ Art, to be held on 9th March 2019 at the Crabtree & Evelyn store in Islington.

This will be a collaborative live art event with three other artists - Shadi Mahsa, Odette Farrell and Susan Bryan. We will each spend a short time working on a portrait of a sitter, then move onto the next easel, thus creating an Intersectional portrait of each person. Further details of the event, with information on how to purchase a ticket to be one of our sitters can be found below.

I am particularly fascinated by this project, as it ties in closely with my current body of work, investigating both the female gaze and the idea of a #rhizomaticportrait.


Contain @ Offside Gallery Space

I recently had the opportunity to show my latest work in the Offside Project space at UCA Farnham. At first daunted by the prospect of filling this space on my own, I decided to work with the constraints I had – time, space and materials.  

Choosing a Masters in Fine Art means choosing new approaches to my practice. For this one day show, I wanted to experiment with the images I already had in the studio. A quick trip to Waitrose to buy some everyday domestic items to incorporate into the work, meant I could play around with new materials and ways of displaying existing images. 

All the work in the show was created within a short space of time. Being a mother and part-time MA student, requires organising, planning and for me, a high degree of compartmentalising the various facets of my life. The title of the pieces and the show grew out of a desire to communicate this multi-faceted, mental, physical and psychological state of motherhood. Contain can mean many things – contained images within a frame, a box, flesh contained in an organic ‘skinscape’ or simply keeping it together:

contain  /kənˈteɪn/ verb

past tense: contained; past participle: contained

  1. have or hold (someone or something) within.

    • Synonyms: Hold, have room/space/seating/capacity for, carry, accommodate, seat

  2. be made up of (a number of things).

    • Synonyms: include, comprise, take in, incorporate, involve, encompass, embrace, embody

  3. control or restrain (oneself or a feeling).

    • Synonyms: restrain, curb, rein in, suppress, repress, stifle, subdue, quell, limit, swallow, bottle up, keep under control, keep back, hold in, keep in check

List of Artworks

  • ‘Compartmentalised’, paper in tupperware, 2018

  • ‘Flesh-scapes’, Charcoal & conte on baking paper and print on paper, 2018

  • ‘Obscured’, paper, baking paper & baking trays, 2018

  • ‘Missing’, paper, cooling rack, plastic bowl, 2018

Nothing Project

Our first MA project. The brief is ‘nothing’. How do you interpret that?

I choose to follow the more positive view that art creates ‘something’ out of ‘nothing’.

Sitting in my empty studio, I notice the rain on the window pane in front of me. I see the tissue paper on my notebook catching the raindrops. The water changes the colour and surface of the tissue paper. Afterwards, all that is left is a wrinkled piece of tissue. No one knows how beautiful the rain sounded and how mesmerising it was to watch the translucent tissue turn to grey. It made me realise how video can capture moments of beauty, of isolation, that would otherwise go unnoticed, except for someone watching, recording.

If you are alone in the studio and used to painting from life, what else is there but to paint your own image? And so I turned my line of thought to my own sense of identity and how ‘nothing’ can so easily describe how I often feel about myself. Somewhere along the line, I have lost my own sense of identity – always looking after others, thinking about 101 things to do before bedtime. Starting to paint my own image, then scrape away, wash away or cover up feels like a necessary process in figuring out my own artistic direction.

‘Nothing’ has forced me to create something after many years of creating nothing.

Horizon Lines


Sitting on the train to Waterloo, coffee and newspaper in hand, excited at the prospect of a day visiting galleries in London with my MA Fine Art colleagues, I came across an article in the Guardian newspaper, by Carl Cederstrom entitled “How to be a good man: what I learned from a month reading the feminist classics”.  In it, he describes his decision to read some of the feminist classics, in an attempt to listen and gain an insight into the #MeToo movement.

A quote by Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch, felt particularly apt to me in that moment: “Women need to stop seeing themselves as wives and mothers because confined to these roles, their ‘horizon shrinks to the house, the shopping centre and the telly’.” My objective for the day was to broaden my ‘horizon’.

We started the day at the Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain. The choice of four video installations seemed a rather narrow view of the contemporary British art scene. However, all four were radically different in their subject matter and curation, making the experience both an informative and thought provoking one.

Charlotte Prodger’s 33 minute video BRIDGIT explores ideas around changing identity, using her own experiences as a reference. The film cuts between intimate scenes filmed in her home with her cat and footage taken in the harsh, wild expanse of the Scottish highlands and North Sea. Prodger chose to film the footage using her iphone, which allows for a private filming experience and creates a sense of intimacy, particularly in the scenes set in her own home. It is possible to perceive the motion of her breathing, as the camera gently rises and falls whilst looking at her feet in front of her. Prodger narrates the 33 minute film in a gentle, subdued voice sharing her own experiences as a lesbian growing up, being asked “are you a boy or a girl” and telling stories of antiquity and the idea of choosing a name to suit your changing identity.  Prodger’s work resonated with my own ideas about how my identity has changed since becoming a mother and my need to rediscover who I am through my own work.

Aesthetically, I found Luke Willis Thompson’s films the most inspiring.  He films portraits of those who have lost loved ones to police violence. The large black and white film is projected onto the wall, creating a ghostly reflection of the image on the floor. The stillness of the portraits capture the sorrow of those left behind. His black and white, three quarter profile portrait of Diamond Reynolds, who broadcast a live video of her boyfriend being shot by police in Minnesota, is in stark contrast to the viral video viewed by millions online. Thompson has chosen to film in 35mm film and projects the beautiful images using an elaborate projector that whirrs and clutters throughout.

Luke Willis Thompson

Luke Willis Thompson

The photograph here is taken from his House film, in which Thompson shows us a house made of skin and pins, by the late artist Donald Rodney. The images are beautiful, yet horrifying when you realise what the object is made of. It is reminiscent of images taken from Nazi concentration camps of piles of human hair and lampshades made of human skin.

Heidi Bucher’s exhibition at the Parasol Unit held a similar skin-like quality in her latex casts “Raumhaut” (room skins) of buildings and rooms. In particular, the latex cast of the door to the Bellevue Kreuzlingen psychiatric sanatorium Kleines Glasportal, Bellevue Kreuzlingen 1988, had a haunting quality about it. Parts of the paintwork from the door were stuck to the back of the latex, hinting at the subsequent dereliction of the building.

Heidi Bucher

Heidi Bucher

The fragility of the pieces juxtaposes the sheer physical scale of the buildings and rooms she chose to cast. There is a sense of history, deterioration and mortality about these casts, yet each provides an aesthetically beautiful image, as if Bucher was trying to capture the essence of a room’s history.

For a few hours, I felt the blinkers of motherhood lift and took the time to look around me, to observe and allow my thoughts to consider the artists’ intentions. And in so doing, a new realm of possibilities in my own artwork began to take shape.

Surrey Artists' Open Studios - 4 - 19 June 2016

After over a year of not having a studio, due to relocation and all my paints and paintings gathering dust in storage, I am pleased to announce that I will be participating in this year's Surrey Artists' Open Studios event, which runs between 4th - 19th June 2016. 

I will be opening my studio on a number of days during June, details to follow. In the meantime, please send me your details if you wish to be kept informed of upcoming events. 

Plenary session at "Talking Bodies" international, interdisciplinary conference

I recently attended the "Talking Bodies: Identity, Sexuality and Representation" international, interdisciplinary conference at the University of Chester. In collaboration with Anna McNay (Journalist), I delivered a plenary session entitled: "#EroticCensorship: The Case of Leena McCall’s Portrait of Ms Ruby May, Standing".  

A photo of the #talkingbodies2015 plenary session can be found courtesy of Emma Hutson below. 



Leyden Gallery to host end of Summer Salon #eroticcensorship evening

The Leyden Gallery will be hosting an evening event on Thursday 24th July from 18:30 - 21:00, inviting people who have joined in the Twitter #eroticcensorship debate to continue that discussion in a more intimate setting with a glass of wine and under the watchful eyes of "Ms Ruby May, Standing".

Leena McCall, the artist will be present and is keen to thank people who have supported her during this anti-censorship campaign, that resulted in her painting being re-hung at the Leyden Gallery.

Due to space limitations, the Gallery has asked that people RSVP by emailing

Further details can be found on the Leyden Gallery website


International Twitter debate #eroticcensorship leads to re-hang of ‘Portrait of Ms Ruby May, Standing’

Leena McCall is pleased to announce, a work of art that was removed from the Society of Women Artists’ 153rd annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries, is to be exhibited at The Leyden Gallery, London.


The painting “Ms Ruby May, Standing’ was selected by the Society for Women Artists (SWA) for their 153rd annual exhibition and subsequently removed by the Mall Gallery for being deemed ‘too pornographic and disgusting’.

Read More

#eroticcensorship: a letter from Louise-Kate Allum on 'Ms Ruby May, Standing'

I have received a number of contacts since starting the #eroticcensorship debate. Here is a beautiful and poignant letter from Ms Louise-Kate Allum. I wanted to share her words with a wider audience. Thank you Louise!


Subject: Ms Ruby May, Standing

Message: I am writing to express my gratitude to you for painting 'Ms Ruby May, Standing'.

It is the most poignant and empowering work I can recall ever seeing. 

The effect this powerful painting has had on me is nothing short of inspiring and I have fallen in love with both the execution and important statement it makes. 

I consider myself to be a strong, sexual and independent woman, free of any concern of how I am regarded through male eyes. I am blown away by your perfect representation of the true force of female sexuality.

To encapsulate, beauty, grace and strength on a canvas the way you have has invoked a very deep sense of female pride within me. 

Thank you again for creating such an important work and for aiding the deeply necessary transition in society for women to be confident and own their sexuality; to know their sexual worth is within themselves and not through the eyes of others. We are women. We are sexual. We will not be ashamed. We are proud. We are Ms.Ruby May.

Let the galleries resist this message that society is so threatened by as we are moving forward and they only serve to prove how media forms would rather exploit the female form than allow us to embrace our own.
We will prevail, they will not take our power - it's ours to give and we will not give it.

Thank you on behalf of women everywhere.

Where words fail, art is heard.

#eroticcensorship - The Mall Galleries responds

Thanks to Nicci Talbot ( for posting the response she has received from the Mall Galleries on Facebook

It opens up a number of questions:

1. Why did the Mall Galleries not simply have the painting moved to a less prominent spot in the gallery?

2. Why is it ok to replace "Portrait of Ms Ruby May, standing" with a nude by another artist? 

3. What is it about the painting that is seen as a threat to children/vulnerable adults?

4. Would the Society for Women Artists like to respond to this press release?

Please join the debate on Facebook and Twitter #eroticcensorship @mallgalleries @SWAInfo @msmccall




·      The painting by Leena McCall was hung in an exhibition organised, selected and funded by the Society of Women Artists, who havehired the Mall Galleries (run by the Federation of British Artists) for their annual exhibition.

·      The Mall Galleries played no part in its selection or hanging.

·      As an educational arts charity, the Federation has a responsibility to its Trustees and to the children and vulnerable adults who use its Galleries and Learning Centre. After a number of complaints regarding the depiction of the subject and taking account of its location en route for children to our Learning Centre, we requested the painting was removed.  The Society of Women Artists made no objection and replaced it with another painting, also depicting a female nude.

Mall Galleries / Federation of British Artists

SWA Private View today

I attended the SWA Private View today at the Mall Galleries. Here's a little snapshot of the painting in situ. Show runs until 5th July. 

Portrait of Ms Ruby May, standing on show at the Mall Galleries, London until 5th July

Portrait of Ms Ruby May selected for SWA annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries


My 'Portrait of Ms Ruby May, standing' has been selected for show at the Mall Galleries in London for the 153rd Society for Women Artists annual exhibition. Details of the exhibition and private view are listed below. 

Society for Women Artists (SWA) - 153rd Annual Exhibition

26th June - 5th July (10am - 5pm daily)

at the Mall Galleries in London, The Mall, London SW1

Private view invitation 

Private view invitation