Talking with Gucci’s Favorite Female Artist: @UnskilledWorker

How Helen Downie became an Instagram sensation and Alessandro Michele’s favorite.

Anya's Dreaming

In October, Gucci and the brand’s Creative Director Alessandro Michele launched a collaborative series with several Instagram artists, including Helen Downie of @Unskilledworker. The label discovered Downie on Instagram, she says, and then approached her at Milan Men’s Fashion Week.

“Gucci bought [my painting] “Oh To Be A Boy” for Alessandro Michele,” Downie says. “Now it sits overlooking Alessandro’s desk in his beautiful design studio. Imagine if I had known when I was painting them where they would live!”

Gucci and Michele aren’t her only fans, however. Downie, a self-taught painter, has over 200,000 followers on Instagram, where she frequently posts her work.

Occupation: I’m a self-taught artist who has become known through my Instagram account.

Define your Instagram style in 3 hashtags:

obsessivepaintingdisorder leading to #magichappensoninstagram and #averydifferentlife

How did you first become interested in social media? I started teaching myself to paint, and my son’s friend said, “You should go on Instagram, anything can happen.” She wasn’t wrong! I love how non-elitist it is. If you have something to show, you will be found.

What is your favorite thing to post? Posting my artwork on Instagram is a part of my process. Most of my paintings are posted the moment I feel it is finished. They are really what I love to share along with found images that I just have to share. My Instagram is very connected to how creative I’m feeling. A block with painting will effect what I post.

What is the one thing you’d never post? In the beginning I was very shy about posting any images of myself but it became impossible to keep my anonymity, so I posted myself. I would never post my dinner or a slogan telling people to be grateful.

Instagram or #latergram: Both. If my painting is finished after dark, I have to wait to post the next day, when I can photograph it in good light. Also it can take a while for me to realize an image is good, sometimes I need distance from it.

What’s the most memorable comment you’ve ever received? All of the early comments were amazing for me, they really helped. Painting can be very frustrating. People appreciating my work when I couldn’t drove me on.

Most geo-tagged location: That would be the tiny toxic box in my home where I paint. I love life in there, it is my favorite place to be. It’s a terrible disorganized noisy mess.

Greatest hits: I think my most shared post is a square made up of mouths from my faces called Getting Gobby. I made it on my phone, when I was bored on the tube. Pat McGrath shared it. It’s so exciting when that happens. One of the paintings Gucci owns has the most likes, though, and was shared by Instagram.

Your first Instagram: My first post was my first painting. It didn’t survive. I ripped it up, before I did I took a photograph of it with my I phone. I wish now that I had the original. Most of my early work went the same way.

Your secret to social media success: My Instagram is really for me, I look at it more than anybody, although there are so many people looking, I still feel it’s personal, it’s an extension of my mind. I’m not trying to manipulate an image of who I am, I would like to be edgier but I’m not, it comes out the way it is. Maybe that’s why people like it.

Your favorite artists or art spaces to post: I love @antonymicallef, his paintings are incredible to me. @J.t.merry is a beautiful boy who embroiders the most exquisite flowers onto sweatshirt logos and he has learnt to speak Icelandic! @Goldloxe is the wheate paste Queen of New York City, decorating the world with Goldilocks. @Blairz – so many people try to copy her but they can’t, she has such a strong identity. @Theflowerguy is another New York graffiti artist. @Buttonfruit posts perfect, painterly faces.

5 accounts to follow: Try these: @nick_knight, the Willy Wonka of Instagram. @Derekridgers has been taking pictures of British youth since 1976. @Thebluebed is @unskilledworker’s naughty twin. @mr_gasoline – I want to know who it is! @Bradleysharpe – I love a London club kid!

Photos: Talking with Gucci’s Favorite Female Artist: @UnskilledWorker

Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, flanked by (from left) the artists Li Shurui, Helen Downie, Rachel Feinstein, and Cao Fei.

A model in the installation by the artist Unskilled Worker (Helen Downie), with portraits depicting looks from Gucci’s fall 2015 men’s and women’s collections. Model wears Gucci.

Photographer: Jeff Yiu

“Oh To Be a Boy”


“Lola and the Grumpy Rabbit”

“The Revisit”

“Anya’s Dreaming”


“Cousin Mandy”

“Leith and Astrid”


“After the Show”