Denise Mangaram is a gifted illustrator, photographer and fine artist, as well as one of the co-founders of Exhigone. Very versatile in her work, she transforms everything she touches into a creative expression and plays with colours in enchanting ways. Positive and open minded, Denise never stops producing inventive pieces and is always involved in the craziest projects. Her artistic journey led her to be a member of Exhigone, where she not only coordinates with artists but also exhibits her own creations, and brings us amazing live art performances. Here is our conversation.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where are you from?
I was born in West London and I have always lived in West London, in different parts. My mum is from Tipperary in Ireland and my dad is from Lahore in Pakistan, so I have been able to have quite a mixed upbringing. They both come from very different backgrounds, so they influenced me as an individual. I think it helped me to be an open spirit and be able to speak to all types of people, with different walks of life.
How did you start making art and how did you realise it was something that you wanted to do?
I was 11 year old and I used to do lots of drawings. I drew Disney characters and I put through a Disney picture to the magazine Disney and me. It got selected and published. When I saw that it was in the magazine, on paper, I thought ‘I want to do this, I want to put my drawings out there’. So from there, I just drew everything and anything that I could see and painted it. Then, when I went to high school and Tom Davies, who is also in the show, inspired me. He has been teaching me from my early age to today and he has been my biggest inspiration in life. I had an amazing journey with him. He fathered my art work and pushed me out there.
What happened after that? How did you developed your artistic skills?
I started in Fine Arts at Saint Martins Byam Shaw School, in Archway, and I explored whatever type of art I wanted to make. I moved towards illustrations that I studied for 3 years at Westminster. Then, I developed my skills and I moved to fashion photography. After that, I did an Indian bridal make up course. I learnt how to do dramatic, bridal and cultural make up so that I could then do the make up on my models, for my photography. I also explored clothing, different things really.
What is your favourite type of art that you like to do?
It depends on the mood, but I like to mix them up, cross them over. But probably, in my heart, it is gonna be Fine Art. But in our society and in the world, I like to do illustration because it can be used for something or for people, personalise it for them.
How do you work? Do you have an idea in mind or do you just improvise?
With my work I am famous for story telling. I always have a story and the audience can read into that, and see things from my point of view. My inspiration always comes from real life, life models with Tom, his lessons, and also just nature and animals, and colours. I always put colours into my work.
What does being creative mean to you? What does it bring you?
Happiness. Just to express yourself, bring that out and share it with someone else.
What are you trying to communicate with your art?
Feelings, emotions, empathy, letting people know that I feel this way too or I have seen this, so they can relate to this feeling. I love using bright colours. I just feel that if you look at colours, it can really lift your spirit. It comes from my culture I think, from my dad side.
What is your favourite thing that you have ever created?
For a very short time I lost my modjo and I was quite lost with my imagery. I think it happens to all artists at a time of their life. I decided to get a big block of wood, to put it down on the floor and just look at it, and basically create a reflection of myself in a crazy colourful mad way. So I flicked nail vanish, painted indian ink, everything I could put on it. I kind of bond it into a shape, using like a collage, and put the design on top of that. For me that was something that helped me bring back my inspiration.
Do you have a dream project? Something that you’d really like to do?
I love working with Tom, anything with Tom is excellent for me. I have a couple of projects that are on the go. I do like interviewing as well as doing art. I like being behind the camera, not always in front of it, trying to promote myself and my work. I really want to get involve into some more digital work and graffiti work as well. I also wanted to put on an art show that combined a lot of my friends’ talents, and that is kind of what this is, I am doing it right now with Exhigone.
How did you start the Exhigone adventure?
I have been doing a few shows with different people and some of them are in the show with us. Rory had this wonderful idea, and we have been friends for a long time. He brought me in and he said ‘do you want to help out?’ and everything went from there really. I have been able to meet such wonderful people and work with such a lovely team.
What is your favourite thing about Exhigone?
It is about the spirit of people, the creative spirit, what you can get out of each person and throwing it into one space.
Is there something you’d really like to do or see in the show?
I know that everyone comes and looks at all the work but I’d love to get the audience involved a little bit more, to surprise them, to get them to put their marks on the wall.
Can you tell us something we don’t know about yourself?
I am a vegetarian.
No, we do know that already!
I eat meat at home in the dark… No joke! I am actually a singer and that is one of my heart true desires, and I write lyrics and poetry.
Anything you want to add?
I’d just like to say that the team members of Exhigone are so multi-talented and there is so much variety. They are so diverse, it has been a pleasure to have gone on the road so far. But also, the Exhigone family, around the outskirts, the audience and everyone else, all of their comments, their praise and their enthusiasm, even if they are not at the event, is very much appreciated.
Thanks a lot Denise for this interview!
If you want to discover more of Denise’s amazing work, visit www.denisemangaram.co.uk