Zoe Grace's journey from Sadie Frost's sofa to successful artist
PUBLISHED: 08:00 25 April 2017
©Mary McCartney 2016
Once a struggling artist, Grace's positive neon works echo her life philosophies as part of exhibition in Fitzrovia
Zoe Grace’s life has had more than the usual highs and lows.
As a model in the 90s she enjoyed an enviable life, hanging out with music stars and friends like Sadie Frost and Pearl Lowe on London’s party scene.
But after the birth of her son Marley, the single mother found herself homeless and knows what it is to feel depressed, to fight addiction and to struggle financially. Often relying on the kindness of friends like Frost, who put her up and helped her find her feet, the West Hampstead artist has acquired a hard-won but life-affirming philosophy that’s literally etched on her work.
Grace’s metal road signs and neon works bearing messages such as ‘Happiness Ahead’, ‘Sometimes It’s a Yes’ ‘You Make Me Feel Good’ and ‘Everything is Possible’ have proved popular enough to lift her out of the red.
“I was never on the streets but I was technically homeless while I was waiting for a council flat,” she says.
“For many years I couldn’t even afford rent and I have lived at many people’s houses. Because I didn’t have any qualifications I could only get a job that paid minimum wage. It’s difficult being a single mum – I wanted to be there for Marley to bring him up. But I stuck in there doing three jobs and doing my art.
“It’s taken a long time but over the last year I am finally making enough money.”
Grace, who used to work in Gillian Anderson Price’s vintage shop in Primrose Hill, started off as a street artist. When her son started going to school on his own she’d leave signs for him at the relevant bus stop to show him where to go. She would also make guerilla works by doctoring abandoned estate agent’s boards with stencils as a beacon of positivity.
“You’d see these boards lying there for months on end. I’d write positive messages to stop them from being ugly - like a mosaic saying Love. People are so busy running around they feel quite separate, I wanted to bring people together. They’re not patronising self-help statements, I want to inspire rather than telling people what to think.”
Grace, Lowe and Frost met at a modelling agency in 1990 and became firm friends. They all had sons within six months of each other. Both Lowe who had Alfie with Supergrass drummer Danny Goffey and Frost who had Rafferty with then partner Jude Law are godmothers to Marley.
“Sadie’s one of my oldest friends. We were in the same modelling agency. We met just before she married Gary Kemp and and we remained firm friends. She’s been so supportive, she buys my art, puts it on social media and comes to all my shows.”
Grace is part of a group show Morphosis at West Contemporary Fitzrovia, featuring sculpture, painting, photography and mixed media from 10 exhibitors including Kate Winslet’s ex husband Jim Threapleton.
“I love it when artists get together and support each other. It’s nice to do a show where you don’t have to hold it all yourself.”
One piece is a red perspex heart with the word ‘in’, a reference both to being “in love” and to Brexit “it’s my way of saying stay in.”
Grace likes the retro feel of working with neon. “LED is taking over and it’s only artists like Tracey Emin keeping neon alive. I find Neon so magical because it’s a gas found in abundance in the Solar System, and built up from the fusion process in stars.”
Recent commissions have included nine pieces for last year’s Apple Music Festival at the Roundhouse including the computer giant’s logo in neon, and pieces saying One Love and We Can Be Heroes. Having come through a tough time, Grace wants to “give something back” by working with young people at Centrepoint. She helps them make signs then photograph them and display them in the homeless charity’s social enterprise café. The best will exhibit at the Lawrence Alkin Gallery alongside Banksy and Damien Hirst.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” she says. “People gave me so much help when I was struggling that I believe you should tithe; time, money or wisdom. It’s so easy to do. Now doors are opening for me and everything’s good. I can afford to go on holiday or buy my son a 21st birthday present, I want to pay it forward. Give someone else a chance. When someone does you a kindness it makes you happy.”
Morphosis is at West Contemporary Gallery Percy St, Fitzrovia until May 2.