Meet the Hull artist turning old newspapers in to works of art - including David Hockney

David Hockney made out of The Yorkshire Post, Degas’ Little Dancer made out of The Times and a trawlerman made out of the Hull Daily Mail –these are just a few of the incredible award-winning sculptures created by Gail E Hurst amde out of newspapers.

Based at her home studio in an old stable in Burstwick, but originally from Hull, Hurst worked in education for 22 years before taking the leap to become a full-time artist in 2017, something she had always wanted to do.

“I come from a very artistic family,” she says. My nana used to make her own patterns – I think she could have been another Vivienne Westwood. She knitted jumpers in the most vibrant colours. My mum is also really creative and makes her own patterns and my dad was an engineer and was also very creative – art was always part of our lives growing up, we were always making things.”

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Despite this, Hurst didn’t follow her love of art at school and instead went into teaching.

Artist Gail Hurst with her life-sized sculpture of Michelangelo
Picture Jonathan GawthorpeArtist Gail Hurst with her life-sized sculpture of Michelangelo
Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe
Artist Gail Hurst with her life-sized sculpture of Michelangelo Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

"It wasn’t until later when I was working that I decided to do an Art A’level and then an Art Foundation course at Hull College.” She continued juggling her art and teaching until 2017 when she decided to take the plunge and become a full-time artist. “My children had grown up and were independent and my husband was fully in support of my decision and so I decided it was now or never.” And she has never looked back.

She describes herself as a visual artist, working primarily in sculpture and paint. Her first pieces were on the theme of trawling, a profession with which she had very close connections, as many of her family members from Hull worked on fishing boats. Her earliest pieces are on show in the Fishing Heritage Centre on The Boulevard in Hull.

"It was very personal to me but I really wanted to be part of the Hull City of Culture and also to pay tribute to the trawlermen who went through so much.” Hurst admits she is a perfectionist and called on help from her uncle, a trawlerman, to make sure that her sculptures were correct in every detail. “I even got him to gut a fish for me to make sure that I got it right,” she explains. “I do spend a lot of time researching which is why my sculptures take so long.” And what makes her sculptures even more unusual as that they are made entirely of folder paper – usually newspaper. People think wrongly that it is like paper mache but I just fold paper and then tape. I start with a stickman frame and then build it up, I also don’t use any paint. I have always been fascinated with paper especially to see what it can achieve.”

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And even the newspaper she uses has to be right. She admits she is like a magpie, collecting paper as a material for her sculptures wherever she goes. The trawlermen were made out of a particular issue of the Hull Daily Mail. Her most recent award-winning work ‘The Times after Degas’ was her take on French Impressionist Edgar Degas’ work made out of The Times.

Artist Gail Hurst pictured in her studio near Hull.

Picture Jonathan GawthorpeArtist Gail Hurst pictured in her studio near Hull.

Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe
Artist Gail Hurst pictured in her studio near Hull. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

"I saw the Little Dancer in Paris around 25 years ago, an experience I found very moving, and which inspired her love of sculpture. Seeing the little street urchin portrayed in the piece resonated with my upbringing in two up, two down properties in Hull. I wanted to recreate the feeling of the look on her face in sculpture – one of dignified hope. I also remember not being able to tear myself away from looking at it and I wanted to create a similar feeling.” Hurst carried out a great deal of research for her piece on the story behind the dancer, and discovered that the original was made in wax. She initially considered recreating it in beeswax, but instead chose to sculpt the girl’s body from copies of The Times newspaper, a publication which existed in Degas’ time. Her skirt, ribbon and shoes are made from transfer paper pattern, distributed for free in women’s magazines in 1922, making the material used for the work 100 years old. Her sculpture was built up in layers and took around six weeks to make, working every day. Just like Degas, Hurst made the body first and then added the ‘clothes’ and shoes on to it, even learning how to correctly tie ballet shoes. “I wanted to capture her vulnerability and the fraying of her skirt. I used UV varnish protection to keep it all strong.” The sculpture won her the Open Art prize at Beverley Art Gallery “I was genuinely surprised and delighted to hear I had won Open Art this year, especially as I only decided to enter this particular piece at the last minute. Being an artist can be rather isolating, so it is wonderful to get involved in something like Open Art, meet other like-minded souls, and get their feedback.” Her life-sized sculpture of Michaelangelo the Painter saw Hurst awarded first prize in the Ferens Open and her incredible bust of David Hockney is made entirely out of the Yorkshire Post. "I adore the work of David Hockney, it just makes me so happy to see his paintings. I thought I might paint a portait of him and then I decided to make a scultore instead and I thought what better newspaper than the Yorkshire Post to make him in.”

What also makes Hurst unusual is that she never sells any of her sculptures. Instead she loans them to exhibitions and galleries. “They are just too personal to me< she say, ALthough she does sell her large oil painintgs, which are mainly of flowers. She is currently spending three month in Australia with her husband visiting their son. "We were booked to come when our granddaughter was born but then Covid struck and we had to cancel.” While there she is painting and researching, looking for aboriginal material, and learning about the culture of places like Sydney. Although when we speak she is really taken by the birds. “I think I may have to do a bird sculpture next,” she says. She is also collecting a lot of Australian newspapers – she’s just working out how to get them home. Although her original trip was cancelled, Hurst was busy during lockdown. She took part in the Tom Croft Instagram initiative Portraits for NHS Heroes and painted a portrait for free of ICU nurse from Edinburgh, Katherine Galliard. “It felt a really positive thing to do in such difficult times.”

Follow Gail E Hurst on Instagram @gail_e_hurst.