Giant portraits tell life story in Norwich shop windows

Shoppers in Norwich walking past the former Co-op store on St Stephen's will soon be able to see faces looking back at them, thanks to the work of a local artist.

Norwich artist Malca Schotten is part way through creating a series of two-metre charcoal and pastel portraits that will sit in the windows of the empty building from early October until Christmas.

The pieces are part of community art project ShopArt! which will see empty shops around the city filled with local art and made brighter and more welcoming during the busy festive period.

'Having more art in the public arena is a great thing,' said Ms Schotten, who lives on Wroxham Road, Norwich. 'I wish we had a big art gallery in Norwich, a big white space for visual art, and this is a step in the right direction.'

Ms Schotten's project, I'm Not Dead Yet, is inspired by the stories of elderly people and the way that they are often overlooked or forgotten in today's society.

It began in 2006, and Ms Schotten asked 10 people to sit for sketches and a photograph, from which she is now producing a second set of larger-than-life portrait images.

'Getting through life is an amazing achievement, and getting old can be an awful experience,' she said. 'Every one of the people who sat for me has stories of great and sad lives, horrors that have been seen and survived that most of us can only imagine.'

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Her portraits, which are often more than four feet wide and use dozens of chalk pastels to create, strive to capture the energy and movement of the people she draws, revealing a lively, bright side to her subjects. They also reveal something of her emotional relationship with her sitters, who often revealed parts of their life stories as she sketched.

Her subjects include a diabetic 86-year-old who had a drink problem and believed he had fallen in love with Ms Schotten.

At one point he collapsed in her studio and she visited him repeatedly in hospital, where he decided to give up drinking.

'The portraits I have created of him are very intense because of the way he used to look at me,' she said.

Text accompanying the portraits and explaining a little about the people shown will sit alongside the portraits when they go on display in early October.

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