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Northumbria students meet the muse behind record-breaking painting

7th November 2014

Fashion Communication students at Northumbria University, Newcastle, had the chance to meet the woman behind one of today’s most famous paintings.

Sue Tilley was the muse to a number of Lucian Freud’s paintings – the best known being Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, which became the highest selling painting by a living artist when it sold at auction for almost $34 million in 2008.

She was introduced to the realist painter, Freud, by one of her closest friends, controversial art and fashion icon Leigh Bowery. Tilley went on to become something of a celebrity on the 1980s art scene and club circuit, which has since been immortalised in Boy George’s Broadway show ‘Taboo’.

Chris Hodge, Senior Lecturer in Fashion Communication, explained: “This event relates directly to the work the second-year students are undertaking at the moment. One of our modules looks at diversity in fashion and references the early eighties creative scene, which Sue was very much a part of. I hope that meeting Sue and hearing her views has inspired the students to think differently, especially around issues like body image, and given them invaluable experience to draw on in their work.”

Alex Gaskin, a second year Fashion Communication student working on the module, added: “I found the discussion really interesting. It relates a lot to the project we’re currently working on around body image and gender issues, so it complements the course well. I’d definitely attend an event like this again.”

The work from this module will be entered into a national competition called Diversity Now, held by All Walks Beyond the Catwalk – an initiative which aims to challenge the fashion industry’s dependence on unachievable and limited beauty ideals. The discussion encompassed these ideas.

“Lucian loved people’s flaws,” recalled Sue, “If you had a spot or a stretch mark, he’d draw it, and he hated it when I wore make up because it covered up my skin. In terms of body image, I’m happy with how I look. I don’t think anyone’s completely happy with their body, but we’ve all got one! You are what you are.”

The interview was followed by a drinks reception and workshop, with attendees given the chance to ask Sue questions about her experiences. Other students present for the Q&A included those in their third year, who found the discussion engaging and rewarding.   

Gintare Prialgauskaite, a third-year Fashion Communication student originally from Lithuania, said: “I enjoyed this interview – it’s always interesting to listen to people with unusual experiences, like Sue, and open your mind by learning from them. On this course, we have lots of opportunities to hear from guest speakers and each one educates you in a different way which is useful whatever you are studying at university.”

This view is shared by Sue, who offered the students some words of advice:

“I love doing events like this. I think the more views you are exposed to, the more interest you have in life. My advice to anyone – to the students today, especially – would be to grab every opportunity and just say yes as you never know what might be around the corner.”

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