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Celebration Mural at Newark Hill Academy

17 – 19.6.14

This week I returned to the Newark Hill Academy, Peterborough to complete some unfinished business. Before Easter I led a series of image making workshops which culminated in the production of a series of design ideas for a mural project. An outside wall had been identified and proposed as the site for a mural to be painted at the school to celebrate its transition from primary school to academy status, and I was asked to return during the summer term to make the idea become a reality.

SLATER-NHA drawing white

When I arrived on the morning of the 17th the wall had already been prepared, although the size and shape of the area to be painted was slightly different and a little smaller than had been originally suggested. Nevertheless, at 62″ x 110″ it was still going to be on a monumental scale as far as the children were concerned. I made some adjustments to the previous plan and set about transferring the design to the wall.

The Newark Hill school emblem has always included the image of an owl, so to illustrate a connection with the past and the developing present this established identity of the school was selected as the central element of the mural. Owls and flight had been the subject of the image making workshops and the composition was based upon three drawings in particular which had been produced by the children during these sessions.

On Day 2 the group of 12 children that had previously attended my workshops were assembled and during the course of the day 3-4 children at a time worked on a rotation basis to paint the wall. I took the role of foreman issuing instructions and directions, while the children metamorphosed into mural painting apprentices and began applying paint to the wall. During this first painting session all of the work was done by the children and at the end of the school day the mural had taken shape and progressed in leaps and bounds.

The layout has three defined layers and in order to suggest the transition and continuity of the school identity the composition follows the natural pattern of reading from left to right, and the previous school colours of yellow and green develop a transparency as they gradually transform into the emerging purple and grey of the newly established academy.

I made some tidying adjustments to the painting after the children left at the end of the school day and then on Day 3 I continued alone to bring the painting to a conclusion. Although the colours of the original drawings have been altered to adapt to the palette that had been suggested for the painting, my priority as far as was possible was to retain the shapes and style of the children’s work. It was also important when making modifications of tonal values not to lose the painted marks of the previous day either.

The end result is very much a team effort. It may be my design and layout, and my painted marks which completed the project, but the ingredients and substance of the composition, as well as the appearance of the lively paintwork, is very much that of a group of people working together.

The children from my workshop group deserve applause and congratulations for their painterly efforts as they did such a wonderful job. In addition, a special mention and thanks should be extended to Lorraine Brookes too for organising the project. It certainly wouldn’t have happened without you!

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Caverstede Early Years Centre Mural
– 11 Years Later

It might be fate, it might be bad luck, but over the many years I have been building a digital version of the photographic archive of my paintings I have experienced hard disk crashes on three occasions. The last time this happened my back-up system failed too which caused a large swathe of material to disappear into the ether.

There’s nothing one can do in this situation but to begin the task once more however amongst the numerous writings and photographs lost there are always some pieces of work that can never be retraced again. As far as written work is concerned it’s like having suffered a fire and the same could be said for paintings if they have been sold, and if they are mural paintings they may have deteriorated beyond recognition or even been demolished.

One painting which ‘disappeared’ and caused a gap in my archive was a ‘Bigger Picture’ painted for Caverstede School, Peterborough in 2003 so a couple of weeks ago I made a tentative contact in the slim hope that the painting might still exist. There was a terrific sense of relief when the response was positive. I was told there was a large painting in place at the school, however knowledge of it was very limited as there had been significant changes since my painting was installed, with both Head Teacher and many other staff members having departed.

Back in 2003 the Head Teacher was Christine Parker, who asked if I would paint a large landscape based composition for the outside area of the school. She loved the landscape she drove through as she travelled to work each morning and wanted to share these special features with the children, who she felt may not have witnessed the countryside beyond the city. Several details were mentioned in our discussions about the painting and I then produced a working drawing for her to consider as ‘A Capriccio view of a Cathedral City on the edge of the Fens’. I presented a composite image which suggested the appearance, elements and specific features of the Peterborough landscape without the viewpoint being from a particular location.

Guildford Pencil WD R 1

SLATER-CaverstedeDrawing1

My working drawing showed that although one side of the city was very flat, on the other side the landscape became more undulating. Flat land also presents large skies with the opportunity for spectacular cloudscape formations, and features such as the cathedral, bridges, shopping centres, parkways, industry, the Flag Fen Bronze Age site and several others were included as integral elements of the composition.

SLATER-CaverstedeInfo

When the painting was installed in its original position it doubled as a climbing wall, so I was particularly surprised to see the painting still standing and in such good condition 11 years later. I was so pleased I was able to photograph it in situ again. The painting had been moved as a new extension had been built and it had been modified too, with some sections cut out to accommodate the architectural features of the new building.

SLATER-Caverstede Edit

I wouldn’t describe the painting as damaged, it has simply been adapted in order to work in its new space. The rainbow is missing, but if you weren’t aware one existed in the original painting you’d never know, its removal hasn’t spoilt it. This certainly isn’t the first time a painting has been altered in order to fit somewhere new and it has happened to far more important paintings than mine, ‘The Night Watch‘ by Rembrandt being an example that immediately springs to mind.

This was a particularly special project for me because Henri, my wife and better looking other half, worked with me on the project too. She had a tougher task to complete though, spending most of her time on her knees as she worked with cement to produce a decorative footpath. To continue the theme suggested by Christine, Henri produced a footpath to appear as though it was an archeological dig revealing clues to the industrial heritage of the city. One section used timbers to suggest the footbridge at Flag Fen, there were tiles as a reference to our Roman past and she also included many old tools, cog wheels, horse shoes, bicycle wheels etc. both as impressions as well as being set into the path to illustrate past occupations of city residents in agriculture, construction, engineering and brick making.

Meeting up with this painting again felt like coming across an old lost friend. As far as Henri’s ‘Heritage’ footpath is concerned, it’s a little uncanny that within the last couple of years archeological excavation work has revealed a grand Roman Villa at Itter Crescent less than a 10 minute walk from the school.

Image making workshops at Dogsthorpe Junior School

– Landscape & Seascape

22 & 23.5.14

A couple of days working with children from year 4 at Dogsthorpe Junior School, Peterborough, to generate some ‘Landscape’ and ‘Seascape’ images following an invitation from Head Teacher Charlotte Krzanicki. The first day was spent using charcoal, the second chalk pastel.

I met with three groups of 30 children each day and sessions took a similar format, I displayed a couple of my own charcoal and chalk pastel drawings in the room so that the children could identify a comparison with my regular working practise and I also worked alongside them to produce a drawing too while they made theirs. We began by making an initial investigation and exploration of working with the medium which was followed by the production of a more finished drawing as a conclusion. However, although each group received the same introduction their end piece was a different subject.

In my own working practise as a painter I often produce interpretations of the work of others which I refer to as ‘Souvenirs’, a term stolen from Hercules Brabazon Brabazon, a nineteenth century artist who produced some wonderful watercolours of paintings he had seen and admired. The concluding piece for each group therefore was to produce a variation on the work of a Master, however rather than showing an illustration of a painting and making a slavish copy I described a scene and asked them to picture it in their mind before we worked together to make our interpretation of it.

Working on a board which they could all see at the front of the class to produce my own version I suggested a series of stages in which the drawing could be constructed. We drew a portion of the composition, followed by another, until the sections pieced together into a picture. The children were totally oblivious of the painting they were creating or its title until it was finished, and after their teacher had searched for it on the internet it was revealed to be shown to them at the end which made for an interesting comparison.

Day 1 had a ‘Landscape’ theme and the painting I selected for the first class was ‘Christina’s World‘ by Andrew Wyeth, for the second one of the many compositions of ‘Mont Sainte-Victoire‘ by Paul Cezanne and ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows‘ by John Constable for the afternoon group.

The theme for Day 2 was ‘Seascape’, with the first group producing a variation of ‘Snow Storm; Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth‘ and the second ‘Peace – Burial At Sea‘, both by JMW Turner, with the afternoon group tackling ‘The Cliff, Etretat, Sunset‘ by Claude Monet.

All the children made brave attempts with their image making and some successful images emerged. Unfortunately I didn’t photograph the children’s work so the examples illustrated here are the images I produced while leading each of the groups…………..

Nevertheless, these sunset images after Monet were all produced by the children and are a selection from the last group of the day. Considering it was a Friday afternoon and the last session before breaking up for half term, I think they produced some pretty breathtaking drawings!

Image making workshops at William Law Primary

– Owls & Castles

4.6.14

A return to William Law CE Primary School, Peterborough to lead another image making workshop using charcoal, this time working with children from year 4, but it was a session with a difference. Instead of spending the whole day at the school as I did last time when I led three workshops with 30 children, this was an afternoon session only, and I met the whole year group of 90 children all at the same time!

Although I have given talks to larger groups, there is no doubt that this was an active workshop of gargantuan proportion. Contact was less personal but nevertheless the children all had their ‘listening ears’ on and responded well to my instructions. There was much enjoyment and reaction working with such a tactile material, with some successful and varied results being achieved.

Following an introduction and some advice of how to handle the medium, a couple of drawings were generated as a conclusion – firstly a portrait of an owl and second, a castle drawn in a landscape setting.

It was a daunting prospect to be greeted by so many expectant faces, I could even hear a whisper of Corporal Jones’ “Don’t panic Mr. Mainwaring” resonate in my head when I walked into the hall, but all seemed to work out well in the end.

Being so absorbed and engrossed with such an active session I was too preoccupied to make a record of the work produced, I was so engaged it was the last thing on my mind. So thank you Becky for taking these………………

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