Originally hailing from New Zealand, artist Mandii Pope has held exhibitions in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. She has close links with many charities, often donating works to fundraise for various causes and has been involved with Wild in Art charity art trails for a number of years. For the Great North Snowdogs project, Mandii has created Pawdington, inspired by the lovable trainspotting bear from children’s literature, for trail sponsors Tyne and Wear Metro.
Mandii said: “My first taste of these public art trails was back when I first came to the UK from New Zealand 13 years ago and saw the Cow Parade/Piano art trail’s in London, which I thought was amazing. I built up my portfolio in the hope that one day they’d, or an organisation similar, would think I was good enough to take part. Then, in 2012, I got involved in the London phone boxes project. I built mine up with a 5ft fiberglass extension on top to turn it into Big Ben.
“From then on I was hooked. I thought, I can’t stop now. I find it easy to paint, but I like the challenge of the build with these projects, so I wanted to take on more.”
Great North Snowdogs will be the 13th Wild in Art trail that has featured 21 of Mandii’s creations. She's a veteran of big public art projects, having created 23 sculptures to date, including her Big Ben BT Artbox to raise money for Childline, a Dinosaur Rhino (Rhinosaur) and a Chewbacca Lion. In 2014, her WWII inspired sculpture for the Wild Dolphins art trail in Aberdeen, sold for £15,000 at the charity auction for The ARCHIE Foundation and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.
Mandii said: “My favourite one so far has to be the Darth Vader Gorilla. He breathed, he talked, and he had a working light sabre. Through that I made friends with the original Darth Vader, David Prowse, who introduced me to the 501st Legion fan group, UK Garrison. We’ve stayed friends since then and a lot of my sculptures have been Star Wars themed.
“In terms of the designs, I find you can go as ‘out there’ as you like as long as it’ll be safe and hardwearing for the public. With pop culture, or famous images, you have to be a bit careful with copyright as well, and make sure you have permission if you need it.
“I'm from Auckland in New Zealand, the City of Sails, so travel, exploration, the sea and sailing are all heavily engrained into my culture. When I found out that my sculpture was going to be for Metro and based right on the edge of the Tyne at South Shields, I couldn’t wait to get researching to find out more.
“I find that characters from pop culture work really well for these projects. People have more of an instant emotional connection with them – and they often raise more in the charity auctions! I like the way the art trails encourage you to really go to town on social media with them as well. I like to use photoshop and video to send them on adventures to bring them to life. Pawdington will be perfect for that.”
As well as noticing a passing resemblance between the Snowdog and Paddington Bear, Mandii’s inspiration also came from a more personal place.
“I’m visiting Peru this year for my boyfriend’s birthday, so I think I already had Paddington in my mind. We were sat on a flight over Christmas when I first starting sketching some designs and I think he had a touch of FOMO [Fear Of Missing Out]. It’s not his forte, but he wanted to have a go – his design was a frog on a lily pad in a pond.
“He was adamant I needed to submit his frog design as well as mine. Sadly his didn’t get picked. Pawdington’s pet stowaway, Froger the Peruvian Red-Eyed Tree frog, ended up on the final design for him.”
Creating a Snowdog is no mean feat, as Mandii explains. She said: “There is a lot of time and materials that goes into these sculptures. The builds can take me up to 4 months to finish. I can pretty much do them with my eyes closed at this point, but every project is different. I like to have a few things on the go at any one time as I can get bored quickly and it’s nice to dance between projects depending on your mood and energy levels. Some days you want to work on a detailed cityscape. On other days you might be feeling creative, but have no energy so I like to work on something where I get to splash paint around.”
For an artist, working on Great North Snowdogs and other Wild in Art projects provides a welcome break from what can otherwise be a “pretty solitary existence” according to Mandii, who is used to working in a shed in South West London.
She said: “My nanna is from England and my grandad from Scotland so it’s great to get out and about meeting people, getting to see parts of the UK I’ve never seen, and learning about the history of a place.
“Ultimately, it’s so rewarding to put your heart and soul into a project that you know is going to help people. And it’s fun to see the sculptures out on their adventures, watching families interact with them, taking pictures and making forever memories.”
Pawdington is one of the Great North Snowdogs, sponsored by Tyne and Wear Metro. Say hello and follow his adventures on twitter: @pawdington or see him in person at The Customs House, South Shields from 19 September to 29 November 2016. For more information about Mandii and her work, visit www.mandiipope.com