#SpotlightOn Artists’ Maggie Li and Frann Preston-Gannon

This month we had the pleasure to meet Maggie Li and Frann Preston-Gannon, friends and fellow children illustrators as they prepare to showcase their work at an exhibition in Herne Hill. We were  impressed by Maggie’s and Frann’s desire to educate children by raising awareness of problems in the natural world, which they are clearly passionate about. It is for this reason and their local connection that this South East London duo have been chosen for our #SpotlightOn feature for February.

Tell us about ‘Common Lands’ exhibition and what you wanted to achieve?
Maggie – Common Lands is an illustrated exploration of the natural world and the tensions between animal and human forces. It was conceived by a shared love of nature and the desire to communicate the issues we’re facing with the effects of habitat destruction and an ever-growing crowded planet. The work on display is a collection of bold, colourful illustrations and silk-screen prints of animals in their natural habitat and a few select hand-painted wooden models. We’re are inviting the community to engage with this project through a host of free children’s workshops, aimed to spark interest and conversation about nature.

How did the collaboration between the two of you come about?
Maggie – Frann and I met when we studied illustration at Kingston University. We since developed our craft as illustrators and share a lot of the same ideas and themes in our work. It seemed only natural for us to create a collaborative exhibition to showcase our work side by side.

How did you get into this work?
Maggie – After university we both ended up writing our own children’s books as well as illustrating for other projects. We were inspired by our peers and artists who we admire greatly and London itself gives you a lot of energy and motivation. 

What or who inspires you?
Maggie – I love to visit exhibitions and I find that you are really spoilt for choice in London.  I like underground art and was very inspired by a series of outsider art exhibitions at The Museum of Everything. I also love vintage children’s books so I spend a lot of time looking in second hand book shops and car boot sales for interesting finds.

Is there a seminal moment in your life that has made a profound impact on your work?
Maggie – The discovery of illustration as a real life job for me was huge. Going to art college, I imagined I’d end up being an artist, but after doing an illustration module during my art foundation I realised it was a real job possibility as it opened up so many other avenues. I feel incredibly lucky to have a job which is also a passion.

How long have you lived in south London?
Frann – I have lived in Brixton, south London all my life.  I still live in the same building that I grew up in as a child where I now raise my own family. I named my daughter Effra which symbolises my attachment to Brixton and how much it has shaped who I am. 

Do you play a part in your local community?
Frann – I live as part of a co-operative which has huge sense of community. Unlike other parts of London, the neighbours all know each other and look out for one another. 

What’s next?
Frann  – I am launching a new picture book, “In the Swamp by the Light of the Moon” which is out in March. Maggie and I also hope to take our exhibition elsewhere. We’d love to display it locally so that more people get to see the work. We’re also off to Bologna Children’s Book Fair in April together which will be a good excuse to load ourselves with books and eat a lot of ice cream. 

What is your favourite SE London spot?
Maggie – We both love the Lido at Brockwell Park. Nothing wakes you up like a brisk winter swim!

Common Lands exhibition runs from 15-24 February, 11am-5pm daily with FREE children’s workshops.
Located at –  198 Contemporary Arts and Learning, 198 Railton Road, Herne Hill, London, SE24 0JT

For more details on the exhibition, click here

Written by Caroline Cross

*If you are a local artist and would like to apply to be featured in our 2019 #SpotlightOn Artist series please email us – southeastlondonblog@gmail.com.

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