Play Hard

We went to SJ Fuerst’s exhibition launch party at Hancock Gallery – here’s what we loved

Free fizz, cracking canapés, live music and the chance to check out art that’s actually relevant? Sign us up every time…

Written by Becky Hardy
Published 10.12.2021


You know us, we’re always keen to get out and about across the North East, exploring the newest finds, hottest openings and the best of what’s going on.

So, when we found out that an artist who GQ magazine has recently dubbed ‘one of the best working artists today’ had an exhibition opening right here in Newcastle, it was a no-brainer that we were going to be first in line on launch night…


We knew that SJ Fuerst is admired the world over for both the surrealism (think Darth Maul in stilettos) and hyperrealism (aka, are you sure this painting isn’t a photograph?!) of her work. But we weren’t quite expecting the level of detail and dynamism we found in her paintings. The fashion models portrayed in SJ’s work – despite being clad in fantastically over-the-top costumes – looked so real and typically cool, we half expected them to wink at us as we walked by, and we could almost hear the quirky inflatables they stood next to squeak.

Now, when we heard SJ had trained at The Florence Academy of Art, we found ourselves expecting to see artwork that wouldn’t look amiss on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at her exhibition. Super realistic depictions of classic scenes made visible – and believable – to us mere mortals by the dexterity of the artist. And, to be fair, we weren’t entirely wrong.

The only difference (that we could see, anyway) between SJ’s work and that of, say, Michelangelo, is her subject. While il divino chose to explore the stories of the Bible in his work, SJ selects other tales we all know well – Star Wars or Little Bo Peep, Ken and Barbie, Justice League and even her own spin on Michelangelo’s enduring masterpiece, David – that, especially thanks to a healthy inclusion of inflatable subjects, have a similar balance between the everyday and the fantastical. And, because SJ’s scenes are just as sincere and lifelike as her forebear’s, despite her somewhat bizarre subject matter, each of her artwork tells a truth we perhaps otherwise wouldn’t see about our own, modern culture.


Now, we know what you’re thinking: ‘sure, it’s cool to go to an art preview night as a magazine. It makes sense, even. But I couldn’t go, myself.’ Well, what we’d reply to that is – who says?! Sure, we’ve been to a few art previews in our time, but let us tell you that, at Hancock Gallery, an exhibition launch party is just that – a party. And we’re all invited.

Drinks? There were plenty, including gin supplied from the one and only Hepple Spirits. Guess what? They were free, too. Food? Think canapés from the North East’s newest and most exciting fine dining restaurant, NEST – full of flavour, but without all the fuss, (plus we actually knew what we were eating, which is always an added bonus with fancy finger food…). Did we mention the live music? One of our favourite local artists – and a former HLN’s Meet the Musician – HATi was performing live all night just a few feet away, in amongst the artwork and the hustle and bustle of North East locals.

Yep, at Hancock Gallery, art exhibitions aren’t stuffy, antiquated affairs – they’re modern moments of magic which, in a pretty epic turn of events, really are free and open to everyone. So, next time you’re wanting to arrange a night out with the girls or a squad get-together with extra je ne sais quoi, we’d recommend starting your night with a little culture fix. Besides, who knows who you’ll meet there…

‘I try to strike an interesting balance of moods in each painting. Life is fascinating because it’s full of fun things, serious things, beautiful things, and some dark things. I want my work to reflect this.’ – SJ Fuerst.

Here are the pieces the HLN team loved while we were sipping, snacking and swaying our way through a cracking, cultural night out…


A sardonic new twist on the David Hockney classic, our editor’s eye was drawn to SJ’s sultry oil on canvas.

Laura says: ‘I love the sass of The Surprise. And the irony. There’s that element of women being seen as being totally innocuous, balanced with a real, almost sadistic element of danger.’ 

The Surprise


While it may not look like it, we promise this depiction of an inflatable tiger in front of a North American backdrop is a painting…

Molly says: ‘It’s just cool, isn’t it?! The muted, Colorado colours almost look like they’ve got an Instagram filter on, and the blow-up tiger is so lifelike… Then you realise it’s all painted! It’s unbelievable.’

Siberian Tyger


It was the balance of playfulness, cynicism and self-preoccupation that captured Becky’s attention with this piece, (as well as the incredible technique needed to make inflatable penguins look quite so realistic…).

Becky says: ‘It’s cool, it’s chic, it’s characterful, and it highlights a real culpability within our society. What more do you want?!’

Ice Ice Baby


Initially, this work looks to be a playful take on the ancient Greek myth of Atlas, who was condemned by Zeus to carry the celestial spheres on his back for eternity. But it was the fact that the titan had been replaced with a woman, and the universe with an emoji, that revealed a darker side to Rachael…

Rachael says: ‘At first, I really liked this piece because it was so unique. But then, the more I was looking at it, the more I realised that SJ could be making a point that women are always weighed down by not being taken seriously. I loved that the meaning of the art developed the more I looked at it.’



There’s a wonderful jarring in the classic, natural, golden scene of a herd of zebra grazing in the Serengeti being suddenly confronted by a sculpted, legless, entirely unnatural inflatable full of attitude…

Rosie says: ‘The colours are what attracted me to this piece the most. The golden-yellow is gorgeous! But I also love the expressions – there’s almost an IDGAF sass in the inflatable’s features, even as all the other, real zebras are looking over at it.’



…is an even greater parrot. Except the ‘parrot’ is a woman. Cue a playful yet powerful feminist stance…

Beth says: ‘I found the fact that the male ‘pirate’ is depicted as lifeless and mass-produced, while the ‘parrot’ is a beautiful, vibrant woman interesting – especially as the woman is still seen to be the pirate’s pet. The painting is so colourful and attractive, but the core of it can be so indicative of the problems within wider society. It’s very clever.’

Behind Every Great Pirate

SJ Fuerst’s work is now showing at Hancock Gallery. Appointments are available from Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 4pm. Or, just pop in and explore!

For more information, visit Hancock Gallery’s Website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram

Hancock Gallery, 2 Jesmond Road West, Newcastle NE2 4PQ

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