"Portraits from Sainsbury's" - A homage to my former colleagues and co-workers

I was inspired to paint "The Sainsbury's Portraits" collection by British artist, David Hockney, who created portraits of invigilating staff at the National Gallery in London.

Usually these are the people in uniforms, sitting quietly in the corner of the gallery, barely noticed by visitors. Hockney made them works of art in their own right, rather than an anonymous part of the gallery infrastructure.

I felt strongly to follow this concept because I was part of this invisible group in the labour market, who take on low paid, but vital jobs in our community. Whether working on a till, serving fast food, filling supermarket shelves, cleaning floors, streets or cars, these people keep our communities running.

These individuals do it to support their family, home or their children's education, almost universally and regardless of circumstance.

I started working for Sainsbury's supermarket in 1987, aged 17. The job saw me through A-levels, art college,  university and beyond. I wore the uniform for more than two decades.

During my time there, I had numerous roles. By the time I left the company to concentrate full time on my art, I was working the night shift at Sainsbury's flagship store on Cromwell Road, South Kensington. In homage to my colleagues and co-workers there, I decided to embark on my biggest collection of portraits to date.

Over thirty colleagues agreed to participate. Working primarily from reference photographs, the portraits show all the staff in their uniforms, filled with the integrity, respect and sense of humour that is often overlooked by the busy shopper.

They all wear the same uniform, but this is no homogeneous, anonymous group. They are educated, smart and ambitious. Many with diplomas and degrees.

For example, Caterina Colletti embarked on a three year degree course in History whilst raising three young children. Caterina says "After this I had a career in local government and was involved heavily in local politics. I was also involved in my local community. Myself and a friend of mine were the first in my borough to turn our estate into a tenants run co-operative, meaning the tenants had a say in how our estate was run, how the money was spent etc."

Trevor Gilbey, who is originally from Rainham, sings in his spare time, entering competitions up and down the country.

Raj Das from Bangladesh came to London to study. He graduated from Queen Mary's with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

And finally Keith Hillyard as a young lad worked the summer seasons in hotels on the Isle of Wight. Keith says "I came to London to work in a larger hotel on Gloucester Road where I was introduced to a woman called Estelle. We married in 1986. That same year I moved to Sainsbury's on Cromwell Road and have been there ever since."

My objective for this collection is to allow my colleagues to step away from the pallets, leave the till and come away from the shop floor to be recognised as individuals. This is where they become visible.

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"Portraits from Sainsbury's" Exhibition - Private View Night

Photographs by Cyrus Mehta Photography www.cyrusmehta.co.uk

Creative illustrative artist producing art inspired by my local community in Romford, Essex and beyond.

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