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Bex Mamo on Lemn Sissay

A realist oil portrait of Lemn Sissay by Bex Mamo

Bex Mamo is a realist portrait artist based in Manchester. Her work celebrates inspiring public figures from across the globe. Thrilled to work with Lemn, Mamo’s incredible piece of art shows how far his influence runs beyond the University to inspire local creators.

I first met Lemn through a mutual friend but had, of course, already heard of his work. What struck me about him was his authenticity and genuine enthusiasm for learning about other people and their life experiences.

During our conversations, he told me that he truly loves people; if you spend just an hour with him in public, you quickly see that the love is reciprocated by the people of Manchester. How would I describe Lemn? An electric soul who ignites every other soul in his presence.

I started my career busking with my paintings in Manchester and now work as a realist portrait artist from my studio in Ancoats. I pour my heart and soul into everything I do, something Lemn can relate to. We both started our careers from a place of necessity. It’s who we are as people – we absolutely have to create. Even if you’re living in chaos, your artwork can always be the remedy.

My portrait of Lemn is oil on canvas and took around 50 hours to complete. I used a pair of watchmaker’s glasses to get the detail in the skin and eyes. He’s floating on the canvas like a calm, collected and majestic figure. When I’m painting, I immerse myself in the subject’s work, so each tiny pore was painted while learning about Lemn’s life story and listening to his poetry. Some critics may think realism is a craft rather than art, but I think knowing the back story of the piece makes it a true piece of art.

People here love Lemn; he validates our expressive personalities, is a symbol of resilience and, like many of us, Manchester is his beacon of light – a route to his new life and the rest of the world.

Thank you for the art, Lemn.

Discover more of Bex’s work on Instagram @bexmamo

A realistic oil portrait of Lemn Sissay