Samira Addo is a London-based artist who works in a contemporary realist style, with a focus on portraiture. A member of the Contemporary British Portrait Painters (CBPP), Addo was the winner of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year in 2018. As part of the competition, Addo was commissioned to paint the fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, while her prize as the winner included being commissioned to paint the actor Kim Cattrall. Addo’s portrait of Zandra Rhodes is now part of the collection at the London Fashion and Textile Museum, while her painting of Kim Cattrall is in Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery.

Zanzibar Boys A3

‘Zanzibar Boys’ by Samira Addo

The Net Gallery: You describe yourself as a self-taught artist. Did you draw and paint a lot as a child, and when did you first start to produce pieces in a similar style to the work you create today?

Samira Addo: I did mostly arts and crafts when I was younger and did art until a-level. I first started to produce similar work in 2016 when I got my first art studio.

TNG: You tend to use a limited colour palette in your paintings, and sometimes fill the canvas with one dominant colour. How do you arrive at your choice of colours for a particular piece – is it something you decide before you start working on a painting?

SA: Yes, I generally have a starting point with regards to colour palette before I begin, and the inspiration for it can come from a variety of places. Sometimes it’s the expression and the energy of the image, other times it can come from what the subject likes, or just an exploration.

TNG: There’s often also a level of abstraction to your work. Do you consciously decide how to balance each piece between realism and abstraction, or is it more of an organic, free-flowing process as you work?

SA: I feel like the realism aspect is always there in the way that I do aim for the portrait to look like the subject with features in the right proportions, but I guess the approach to creating the likeness is less representative of traditional realism. The way I paint has definitely developed organically, but I do make a conscious decision on how much is necessary to perceive likeness.

The Rashomon Effect

‘The Rashomon Effect’ by Samira Addo

TNG: How did you find the experience of appearing on Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year and painting in that environment?

SA: The environment was great, slightly nerve wracking at first, but I had my family supporting me so that really helped. The staff and judges were lovely too. It was odd seeing myself on TV though!

TNG: How does it feel to have your work exhibited at both the Walker Art Gallery and the London Fashion and Textile museum?  

SA: It’s great. I feel very proud and delighted that my work is amongst great work from the past and present, and that it’s in a space for the public to see. 

TNG: How did you become involved with the CBPP?

SA: The artist Ian Goldsmith reached out to me to join the group and it sounded great.

TNG: The different styles and approaches of the CBPP members do a great job of showing how diverse portrait painting can be. Have you found it helpful to be part of the group?

SA: It has been good as it is a community of artists that I can learn from and pick up different tips with regards to portraiture specifically. Also, loving the opportunity to exhibit as part of a group. 

Artwork in Focus

Paintings by Addo feature in two virtual walkthroughs produced by The Net Gallery: the CBPP group exhibition Perceptions at The Space at Cass Art in 2020; and the exhibition UnMissable curated by Ben Moore at The Other Art Fair, Old Truman Brewery in 2019. We asked Addo to tell us about the artwork she exhibited in the two shows.

Perceptions – The Space at Cass Art, 2020

Samira Addo 1

‘Fuscia’ by Samira Addo

Describing the story behind ‘Fuscia’, Addo explains: “The subject is a young lady I met when I was in Jordan and I loved her energy. Actually, what inspired the choice of her picture for the Perceptions exhibition was the fact that she is a muslim girl wearing a hijab and what that can mean in terms of how she is perceived. With the piece I wanted to explore style and abstraction and I think I completed it within two months, working on it on and off.” 

UnMissable – The Other Art Fair, The Old Truman Brewery, London, 2019

Matthew Bone

Matthew Bone, painted by Samira Addo

UnMissable was an exhibition of portraits of missing people, curated by Ben Moore and organised to mark the 25th Anniversary of the charity Missing People. Participating in the exhibition, Addo created a portrait of Matthew Bone, who went missing in Worcestershire in 2018. Talking about her involvement, Addo said: “I was first approached by Ben Moore to participate in this project to help raise awareness and money through portraiture. I was very honoured to be a participant and meet Matthew’s lovely family at the exhibition in 2019. Tragically, Matthew was found dead in June 2020.” You can learn more about the Missing People charity and support their work via: 

Interview by Richard Unwin.

Samira Addo’s profile on The Net Gallery can be found here.

You can learn more about Samira via her website:

You can view the virtual walkthrough of the Perception exhibition, here.

The virtual walkthrough of UnMissable is available to view via Ben Moore’s profile page on The Net Gallery, here.

All images courtesy of the artist, Samira Addo.