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Rachel List: ‘The struggling artist for most of us is not just a stereotype’

The artist who rose to prominence for her street art during lockdown has urged fellow artists to keep the faith through the pandemic.

As a mother from West Yorkshire who usually earns a living painting children’s rooms with Disney characters, Rachel List wasn’t expecting international attention this year.

But adapting her work during the pandemic led to worldwide attention after speculation that her work was in fact by street artist Banksy.

The 29-year-old self-employed artist from Pontefract found her income affected when she was unable to go inside other people’s houses to paint, so she took to the streets on her daily exercise to draw murals outside of people’s houses.

“Unknowingly, a small act to lift morale got my work out there nationally. You never know what’s around the corner”, she told The Big Issue. 

Rachel first painted an NHS banner for a local business and has since created artwork all over the local area, including health workers dressed as superheroes and one of Captain Tom Moore the war veteran who raised more than £32m for the NHS in lockdown. Rumours spread that Banksy had been to Pontefract and painted the eye-catching designs. 

The pandemic has been hard for artists of nearly every discipline as exhibition spaces and venues close because of coronavirus restrictions.

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Government support for artists has been a long time coming and an old ad campaign for digital skills training backfired spectacularly in October, for suggesting artists should retrain.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak denied he thought those in the arts should find different careers during the pandemic but the ads went viral nonetheless.

“I would like to see an end to government suggestions that artists retrain,” Rachel said. “For me this only undermines our skillset and creates the impression that it is not valued. No man or woman should be left behind, especially in times like these.”

At the beginning of her career, she said she would spend hours on public transport to get to a job and would purchase everything second hand from clothes to furniture and was always looking out for reduced food in the supermarkets.

She urged people to not shy away from asking for help, particularly from food banks and community support.

“If you keep pushing one day you will be able to look back on that struggle and appreciate what you have in the present,” she continued, “the struggling artist for most of us is not just a stereotype. Try and remember how you coped then and what kept you going.”

Two of Rachel’s designs — Angel in PPE and We Love You NHS — are available as limited edition prints or wrapping paper from The Big Issue shop.

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