Love at a Distance

Claire-Anne Abi Ola
Bloomsbury Festival Art Prize - Winner 2020

Claire-Anne Abi Ola created her Love at a Distance exhibition after winning the Bloomsbury Festival Art Prize 2020. The exhibition contains a mix of new and existing works responding to the festival's 2020 theme 'Vision', and is part of a collection of festival events entitled 'NEW WAVE' which highlight up-and-coming young artists from the area.

The award panel praised Abi's creative and technical ideas, and how she uses them to tell both a personal and a world history. Abi shows this through colour, patterns, visual shapes, and illusions, in a way which resonates with the diverse populations of today's Bloomsbury. These pattens are inspired by the British and West-African fabrics and textiles that are worn by her family.

"The patterns show where my family come from, and what type of people they are. It also links to the history of Dutch wax batik textiles, a signifier of Africa, and what some of the symbols represent in that culture."

Abi paints pictures of family members - some that she knows, and some that she does not, because of time or distance. She does not paint their faces in order to bring more attention to the clothing and patterns. Her aim is for the viewer to focus continously on the paintings and, by doing so, find new motifs within the designs.

“I hope the audience will connect with the idea of knowing about their distant relatives, but never meeting them in real life, which is what my portraits are about. The artworks represent the influence of the two cultures in my life and how these form my identity. My work focuses on representations of my family even though the figures remain ambiguous with the faces of the figures missing – but the patterns of their clothing reveal where they are from and what they are like”.

Abi specialises in techniques such as screen printing, oil and acrylic painting, and collage. She is influenced by African Dutch wax prints as well as traditional European painting techniques.

Abi has just completed the first year of her MA in Fine Arts (Painting) at the Slade School of Art, after having graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London.

You can find the exhibition at The Building Centre, Store St, London. Directions are available on the Bloomsbury Festival website.

To view the full gallery slideshow, click on an image in the gallery immediately below. To see the artworks in full size with descriptions, continue scrolling after the gallery, or click on a title from the navigation pane at the top of the page. Ensure your browser is in full size to get the best experience.

Woman in a Dress 1 and Woman in a Dress 2

3mx1m, oil paint, screen print, spray paint on canvas, 2020 / 3mx1m, oil paint, screen print on canvas, 2020

"'Woman in a Dress' and 'Woman in a Dress 2' were inspired by old photographs of family friends and my aunts. The figures are ambiguous and represent my family members that I do not personally know.

In this piece I have used screen print, oil paint and oil sticks on loose canvas. I wanted the piece to be on loose canvas so that it can act like a piece of hanging fabric. This is to emphasise the fabrics and patterns that my family members wear."


1m x 3m, screen print, acrylic paint, oil paint, and oil stick on loose linen canvas, 2020

"'Person' is a portrait of a family member or a family friend from an old photograph. I made the figure ambiguous to represent that I do not personally know them. I also only made an outline of the figure so that the shapes and patterns overlap and create optical illusions. I want the viewer to look at the piece repeatedly and see new shapes and patterns within the shapes and patterns."

Two sisters

1mx1m, oil paint, oil sticks, screen print, spray paint acrylic paint and pen on canvas, 2020

"'Two Sisters' is a portrait of my grandma when she was younger sitting with her sister. I used screen print, oil paint, acrylic paint, oil stick, spray paint and pen to create several layers of patterns. The pattern designs come from different family clothes. For example, the screen print pattern comes from my father’s traditional dress that he wore once for a ceremony."

Everyday Patterns

A1, oil pastels, fabrics, and screen print on canvas, 2018

"'Everyday Patterns' emphasises the patterns that people come across every day and may overlook. Therefore, I have left out the details of the figure’s face, and chair to bring more attention to the wallpaper and dress patterns."

A Peaceful Evening

A1, acrylic paint, newspapers, watercolour, charcoal, graphite stick on canvas, 2018

"'A Peaceful Evening' is a portrait of my aunt. I have used newspapers for the background to show that things we may throw away as rubbish can be reused to make something beautiful. I also did this to add texture to the piece."

Deep in Thought

A1, acrylic paint, newspapers, papers, charcoal, graphite stick, and colouring pencils on canvas, 2018

"'Deep in Thought' is a portrait of a family friend. I loved the composition of the photograph and recreated it in the painting because it shows the person sitting as though she is deep in thought. I used stencils of patterns inspired by a blouse I saw in a photograph of a different family friend. I love the way the different paper textures and colours overlap to create interesting jagged edges and textures."

Eating Dinner

102cm x 95.5cm, screen print, oil paint and fabrics on canvas, 2020

"'Eating Dinner' is a painting of my aunt eating dinner. I faded out her face because on the photocopy of the photograph I erased her face using turpentine. This was to hide her identity and to bring attention to the patterns in the setting and her clothing."

At the Dinner Table

170cm x 110cm, oil paint, acrylic paint, oil stick, paper, fabrics, pencils and colouring pencils on canvas, 2020

"'At the Dinner Table' is a collage of images I collected in my sketch books of museum trips, art gallery trips, sketches of family members, traveling on London transport and television. I wanted to create a narrative that each viewer can interpret differently. The figures have been submerged into the background of the patterns and shapes so that when the viewer looks, they will see new shapes and patterns each time within the shapes and patterns."


96.5cm x 91cm, oil paint, screen print, and fabrics on canvas, 2020

"'Celebration' is a painting of children having a birthday party. I do not know who the children are, but I found the picture in my family photography collection in my attic. Therefore, I have not included their faces. The fabrics blend into the patterned background of fireworks and circular shapes. The viewer is forced to stop and look carefully at the piece to fully understand what is happening in the composition."

Patterns in My Bedroom

Video, 18 minutes 26 seconds, 2020

"'Patterns In My Bedroom' is an 18 minute 26 second video of me doing everyday things in my bedroom. Except I have adorned my room with patterns, and covered myself with patterns on my clothing, my skin and my hair. I want to show myself becoming one with the patterns. I also want to camouflage myself in my habitat, like a chameleon."