Entertainment & Arts

Liz West: An artist with extra Spice

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Media captionLiz West is known for her artworks that use bright coloured light

Artist Liz West is gaining a glowing reputation for her colour-drenched light installations - but her art career might not have taken off if it were not for her world-record collection of Spice Girls memorabilia. Art and pop can go hand-in-hand, she explains.

West is taking part in two exhibitions this week - one featuring her strips of coloured light radiating from the corner of an old warehouse, which is in the Synthesis exhibition as part of Manchester Science Festival.

She has a growing reputation as a contemporary artist thanks to her arrangements of lights in precise, pleasing patterns and her collections of objects bathed in bright, bold hues.

For the other exhibition, she has lent some of the 5,000 Spice Girls items she has amassed since the age of 11, including branded clothes, crisp packets and a clock, to an exhibition celebrating 40 years of Virgin Records in London.

As well as being an artist, West holds the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of Spice Girls memorabilia.

Image caption The Spice Girls collection comprises 5,000 items of clothing and merchandise

"The way I see it is that installation art is high culture and Spice Girls is pop culture," she says. "Although the two hold hands, they're separate."

When looking to launch her art career, West's Spice Girls obsession came in useful when she found she could get paid for loaning her girl-powered pop collection to museums, film crews and events.

"Because I was given that financial boost to start with, my art practice has been able to roll and roll," she says.

"Now I'm able to fund my art practice through my art. I don't have to work in Starbucks part-time. A lot of artists do have to work part-time, and I think that would kill any creativity for me. It really would."

West was born into the art world - almost literally - almost born on the floor of the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester, she says, when her mother Jenny was artist in residence there 28 years ago.

A five-day-old West attended the opening of her mother's exhibition.

Image caption West recently staged a solo exhibition in an empty office unit in Manchester

When she was seven years old, West remembers putting nail varnish bottles on a bedroom shelf in line according to their colour. It is not difficult to spot a link between her love of colour as a child and the artworks she now creates.

Then when she was 11, the Spice Girls arrived.

"A very impressionable age, I think," she says. "I was hooked. The colour, the energy, the different personalities. That appealed - more so probably than the music."

When the Spice Girls' second album came out in 1997, West decided to collect any and every recording and item of memorabilia she could get her hands on.

"I'd go to the pound shop and buy bags of things as a 13- or 14-year-old. They brought out the dolls and I went to London to the Hamleys sale.

"Of course, when eBay appeared when I was 18, I had a student loan, went a bit mad, and it just continued."

Image caption West owns Emma Bunton's 1997 Brit Awards dress - but not Geri Halliwell's

Influenced by her parents (her father Steve is also an artist), West attended the prestigious Glasgow School of Art.

"When I was a student, I'd go into the studio all day and then I'd go into the library in the evening and just bid and bid and bid [on eBay]," she says. "I'd have a day of art and an evening of Spice."

West says she has spent "tens of thousands" of pounds on her collection, which also includes outfits from the Brit Awards, the Spiceworld movie and the jacket Mel B wore to meet Nelson Mandela.

But it does not include the most iconic Spice outfit of them all - Geri Halliwell's union jack dress from the 1997 Brit Awards. That was bought by the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas for £41,000.

"That's the holy grail," West says. "And it's in storage. That's quite upsetting."

Now, West's art career is taking off thanks to her luminous installations that look like she has dismantled and rearranged a rainbow.

Image caption West has been in exhibitions at Manchester's Cornerhouse and Blankspace

"Did you see the rainbow the other day over Manchester?" she says excitedly at the mention of rainbows. "This was a double one and it was a proper arch. I stopped in the street for about five minutes and stared at it.

"I thought, forget James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson and all the artists that I absolutely love - this is true absolute beauty. There's something in that that I could never create, even if I tried."

West says she is not worried about her Spice Girls obsession undermining her reputation as an artist.

"It's completely in keeping with my personality," she says. "And because I've got such a passion for it, I win people over with that passion. It's not just about T-shirts and dollies.

"As a serious artist, this is my career. I want to be nominated for the Turner Prize.

"If you look at other artists, there are quite a few that have quirky collections out there and haven't hidden them. I don't have a problem with it."

What do other artists say when they find out about the collection? "They think it's quite funny," West replies.

"You know, it would be really boring if I didn't do anything else. People tend to think that it's a quirk, and quite a nice one."

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