people and places5 min read

Breaking the art ceiling with rising star, Layla Andrews

WordsMegan Lambert


The art world has become elitist—that’s no secret. What is a secret is how to gain entry if you’re on the outside looking in. How then did Layla Andrews, who describes feeling like an outsider as “a 25-year-old, working class, bi-racial woman, brought up by a single mum”, wind up with a fan base that included the likes of President Obama? We caught up with Layla in her Brixton studio to talk all things colour, her love of second-hand, and creating a sense of community within the art-world, thanks to social media.

How do you choose the subjects of your paintings? And if you could have anyone sit for you—who would it be? 

Hmm, perhaps this sounds like a cliché answer but it really depends on how I am feeling. The subject of my paintings change, sometimes I take inspiration from family stories, sometimes its politics, second hand treasure, the natural world etc. That said, I would love to meet and paint James Baldwin, he has been a huge source of inspiration for a long time—it would be an honour. Or Elvis! For obvious reasons.

With admirers including Obama and Stephen Fry, how did you get to where you are now? What was that journey for you and what obstacles did you overcome?

I started painting young. I was incredibly fortunate that after approaching the South African Embassy regarding a painting I did at school of Nelson Mandela they immediately wanted it and the work received a fair amount of attention. I think this definitely helped lay the platform of confidence I needed to start finding my feet in the art world.

“Confidence is incredibly important. You must like what you paint, you must think ‘hey, this is good art’”


I’d say resources and opportunity are two of the biggest obstacles when trying to make your way into this strange industry. Art is of course naturally subjective, however, the industry remains in many ways incredibly elitist and superficial, stifling the discovery of ‘good’ art. Navigating it on your own can be very frustrating and it can be hard not to take the knocks personally. I would say confidence is incredibly important. You must like what you paint, you must think ‘hey, this is good art’.