My mission, if I chose to accept it, was a mural, an invitation from Iain Erskine, Head of Fulbridge School, Peterborough. The theme – ‘Champions of Humanity’. The catch – that it would be painted in a corridor during a normal school day, with staff and children watching its progress as they went about their daily routine. It would be my first major project since ‘Black Sunday‘, and an opportunity to paint on a large scale again. I picked up the gauntlet and accepted the challenge.

My brief was to produce a painting comprised of inspirational people whose influence has extended beyond their years, and which has shaped the world we live in today. I was determined to design a composition which would become a bold feature within the school, a conversation piece and with an even mix of gender.

The design was always intended to be a starting point to stimulate discussion for other personalities who could have been identified for inclusion. My initial decision was that the composition would be limited to 12 people, however I easily compiled a ‘short’ list of 39 candidates. The elimination process was a troublesome dilemma. As my research progressed it became not so much a decision of who to include, but who to leave out. Nevertheless, with Iain’s approval I finally produced a composition containing 15 portraits:

Mother Teresa
Florence Nightingale
Mary Wollstonecraft
Frida Kahlo
Anne Frank
Marie Curie
Isaac Newton
William Wilberforce
Ludwig van Beethoven
Albert Einstein
Charles Darwin
Mohandas Gandhi
William Shakespeare
Leonardo da Vinci
Steve Jobs

I had already decided that the final image would be monochrome, allowing the image to achieve the ‘timeless’ appearance of a black & white photograph. However the main problem I faced with the design, with its collection of famous personalities gathered together, was to avoid the composition resembling a Beatles ‘Sgt. Pepper’ album cover, or a Dutch Golden Age group portrait of militia companies or guild members. My solution was to produce a composition which took the appearance of a collage, as if it was a page from a scrapbook where images have been found and pasted together. Although there were variations in scale this was simply an aesthetic decision and not intended to denote importance or hierarchy.

For the record, the other 24 candidates I considered for inclusion were:

JMWTurner


Maria Callas


Galileo Galilei


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


Nelson Mandela


Georges Méliès


Miles Davis


Michael Faraday


Clara Schumann


Hildegard of Bingen


Orville & Wilbur Wright


John Lennon


Mary Seacole


Helen Keller


Michael Jackson


Vincent van Gogh


Billie Holliday


Martin Luther King


Pablo Picasso


Edith Piaf

Muhammmed Ali

Alan Turing

Simon Weston

Stephen Hawking