SPANISH ARTIST in the Northern Quarter

In this episode my guest is Àgata Alcañiz – she’s an artist, a facilitator, an activist and all round creator.

She’s the founder of Life Drawing plus – hosting themed drawing sessions in the Northern Quarter.

Here, she tells her story of discovering Manchester 20 years ago when she moved there to study and never left.

So exciting to have the first non-English person on Meta Manchester!

Wow! That’s a privilege, thank you! 

Yeah, so tell me, where are you right now? 

I’m in my house. I live in Whalley Range which is south of Manchester.

And where are you originally from? 

Well, originally I’m from Barcelona– actually a town outside in the suburbia of Barcelona which is not as nice whatsoever as Barcelona city. Actually it’s quite an ugly town but I’ve lived here in England for 21 years now. 

And what originally brought you to England? 

Well, I studied in an Art and Design college right in the middle of Barcelona off Las Ramblas and it was a very international college visited by many students from around the world, you know from Japan, South America, you name it. And I always saw that those students were having the time of their lives by being somewhere else, you know? I could tell by looking at them that you know they were in another kind of dimension, so I thought I need to have this experience even if it’s just for three months. 

So my college had a lot of links with with loads of Art and Design colleges around the world and I ended up picking up an art college in Bournemouth in the south coast of England. 

And what year was this approximately? 


And then you fell in love with the place? You fell in love with England? 

I love England and I love its people and I wouldn’t be here if I wouldn’t love it but I think the fact of being far away from anybody else and you know, from your parents, your best friends–- and it’s not because you don’t love your parents or your best friends, it’s that sense of freedom: you can do whatever you want every minute without anybody telling you, ‘Agata! You should be doing this, you should look for a job, you should have babies…’ All that went out of the window and I did whatever I wanted from now onwards! – which I always have done you know what I mean, but having those voices and now it’s like, ‘No way, I can do whatever I want!’ 

Yeah I think a lot of people relate to that. You know, if you grow up and you stay in the same town that you’re born in, it’s difficult to get that freedom. Like you say it’s difficult to really discover yourself. 

Yeah, probably. That’s what might be the case actually.

So, when did you first discover Manchester? 

Well, so that was 1999. I was having such a great time that I thought, ‘I cannot go [back to Spain] now!’ you know. So yeah I asked the college, ‘Can I stay until the end of the course?’ and they say yes. When I finished the course, I said, ‘Can I stay another year?’ and they say yes and then there was a moment – you know it was such a creative environment in that college; I learned so much visual skills but always to be applied to the commercial world – that I decided to take those skills and apply them to express my ideas and my concerns visually. 

So I started researching and then I discovered this course in Manchester Metropolitan University which was called Contemporary Arts and you could be as creative as you wanted but to express your ideas. So I moved to campus based in Cheshire at the time in a village called Alsager, very near Crewe 40 miles south of Manchester and I end up living there to go to University – another three years, right? They said to me, ‘Oh with your background you can go to the second year!’ I said, ‘No, no, no, please can I start from the beginning?’ (Laughs).

Wait, so you first went there for three months and then that was it, you stayed?

I never went back! Sometimes I go to visit obviously, once a year, once every two years, you know but then that’s it. And then from Crewe, because it’s so near from Manchester, I visited and I thought, ‘Wow! This is great! I’m having fun in here!’ 

Even more than Barcelona? 

Well, you know, actually in my hometown, it was a very working-class town and there was a lot of squads, loads of alternative people and I had really good time. Guess what? I come to Manchester and I meet the same kind of people that I grew up with. So loads of very alternative underground houses, with very underground music, with very underground artist scene. To be honest, you know I used to live in a house, I didn’t even go to clubs or even go to see exhibitions because it was happening, everything that I needed in terms of art and creativity was happening in our houses – in Moss Lane East, by the Whitworth gallery and the Whitworth park. I had the greatest of my times living in those houses. 

I think this is really useful for English people to hear because it’s always nice when somebody else who’s not from the place tells you why they like the place. So I would love for you to tell me, why did you decide to stay in Manchester? What do you like most about Manchester right now? 

Right now… um that’s a difficult question, you know. 

All right, let me ask a different one: so when you go home to visit, when you go back to Spain and you think about the UK, what do you miss? What do you look forward to about going back to the UK when you’re away? 

Okay I’ll tell you why I like Manchester as a city so much. Basically I will never go to live in Barcelona again. I think it’s overcrowded and it’s one of the densest cities in Europe. It’s a small city but it’s very dense for whatever reason, because it has the sea and the mountains that surround it and the city has grown vertically. And there’s no way that I can, for example, cycle there, that’s dangerous. So for me, Manchester is the right size city. I can go nicely walking on the streets without being you know being pushed or compressed and at the same time has all those cosmopolitan events that I’m looking for with a city. And then, for example, I mean I don’t know much about Barcelona anymore because I’m not there but here the underground scene it’s been massive! And you know free parties and house parties and greatest music you know. It’s been really good! 

Yeah, it’s a happening city. Okay so you’ve talked about the underground scene a few times so tell me what do you do right now for work? 

Oh, you know I grew up! I’m not doing the kind of things I used to do!

Now at the moment, I run life drawing sessions. They are untutored, that’s why I don’t call them classes, they are just sessions. I facilitate them. I bring a live model every week in Studio Bee which is in the Northern Quarter in town. I have a group of regulars or people that comes that are new and they want to have the experience of drawing the naked figure. Because I come from a contemporary arts background I don’t do the life drawing classes, I also bring themes and contemporary issues that are important in our times.

So for example, we have sessions called ‘Drawing LGBT plus’ where we’ve invited models within this community not only to pose for us but also to talk about the issues. So yeah that’s kind of an example. We’ve brought as well black people and we’ve done sessions where we invite them, for example, to recite or listen to poems that are have been produced by black artists.

So as you can see, it’s broken from the traditional life drawing and we are bringing contemporary issues in the room and people love that! Because it’s not just about drawings, it’s more of an experience, it’s about learning, about what’s going on right now, and I’m very happy with the kind of feedback that I have from people. Definitely!

And when did you start this?

(Listen to the full conversation on the podcast)