The Fulbridge Academy Sistine Chapel Project – The End……….

9.12.14 – 27.3.15

The Fulbridge ‘Sistine Chapel’ project has reached a conclusion. On Friday 27th March I put away my paints for the last time. The mobile scaffolding tower has been returned and the large central space of Fulbridge Academy High is no longer ‘under construction’. It has at last become ‘a room’.

I began painting the walls on Tuesday 9th December and before I started work the original completion date I’d suggested had been the end of January, but with the possibility of perhaps ‘spilling over’ into Feb. However, after only the first few days the scale of the task became very clear, it would take much longer than I’d anticipated. I knew I was taking on a big job but now I was faced with the actual reality of it. It would be a serious challenge, both physically and mentally, but the only way it would be accomplished would be by consistent and determined effort. I just had to have my head down, stick with it and dig in for as long as was needed.

My last day of work before the school closed for the Christmas break was Friday 19th December and at that time all that had been achieved was the rendering of the painted background texture outside each of the studios but already a significant change had taken place. The cold atmosphere of the ‘whiteout’ had disappeared, the application of colour had lightened and generated warmth, with reflected colour onto the ceiling being an additional and interesting bonus too.

Following my original completion date prediction Iain had set in motion plans for an Opening Ceremony to unveil the new building, with guests being invited to the special event on 30th Jan. This being the case, I began painting the central area of the corridor first where 4 separate designs worked closely together. The mural was still far from finished by the time the ceremony took place but it still gave a fairly clear indication of how the end result might appear once completed. The truth of the matter however was that at the end of January I still hadn’t even reached a half way stage.

At this time I was already over half a stone lighter than when I’d started the project but still pleased with my physical condition. I was feeling tired but I wasn’t flagging. It was good to know that I was obviously a lot fitter than I thought I was. On the evening of Thurs 5th Feb I saw ‘The Agony & the Ecstasy’ playing on the big screen as part of the Classic Films season at the Castle in Wellingborough, which felt very appropriate. Having painted and climbed up and down scaffolding day after day for so many weeks I felt a pronounced and distinct affinity with the role played by Charlton Heston. I’m not making comparisons with myself and MichelAngelo by any stretch of the imagination, but I certainly counted my blessings that Iain didn’t bear any relation to Pope Julius II played by Rex Harrison. Not once did he exclaim “When will you make an end?!!!”

The painting didn’t just ‘spill over’ into February, it continued beyond the Spring half term break and then into March which was to cause me a predicament due to an overlap of projects. When I painted a mural with children at Warmington School last November, based upon Monet’s large water lily Grand Decorations for the Musée de l’Orangerie, Executive Head Teacher Josie Milton had asked if I would return to work with the children again ‘in March’. She invited me to lead some drawing workshops at Warmington as well as at Titchmarsh Primary School where I would also paint a mural on the wall of the library. At the time the invitation was made the thought never occurred that my Fulbridge ‘Sistine Chapel’ would still be unfinished.

At the beginning of March I therefore took a two week break in order to keep my promise to Josie but returned to Fulbridge on Friday 20th, and completed the painting as the school ended the term to begin their Easter break.

So how long did it take? An accurate measurement is difficult as time spent included visits to the school to discuss the project and to see the Fulbridge High construction site, research and development of the designs and making necessary modifications and adjustments, preparing the artwork to assist the drawing and transfer of design to the wall, and although I may keep a diary of these background activities I didn’t record an account of actual hours. I don’t think any artist does. A mural project is much more than simply turning up and painting on a wall. However that figure is one that can be measured with accuracy, it took 45 painting days.

The final stage of the painting was to complete unfinished features, repaint an area to repair the wall where a sign had been removed and to unify the painting by means of a painted graphic texture. Four sections of the original long white walls had remained untouched and from a distance this gap suggested a French Tricolore at one end with an Irish one at the other. I had not foreseen this implication at the design stage so felt a sense of relief when at last the starkness of these previously untouched areas were painted. The inclusion of a collection of spontaneous and improvised ‘dancing’ graphic shapes as a third layer of the painting, especially within these four still vacant spaces, had always been an essential and integral element of the original design plan. Circles and stars of differing sizes were painted as a light and unobtrusive linking strategy, and what an important ingredient they are.

It was the addition of this graphic texture which provoked the most questions from the children, and there were many questions covering a wide range of subjects during my 10 week tenure. ‘Why are you painting circles?’ ‘What are the bubbles for?’ ‘Why are they different sizes?’ ‘Why are they that colour?’ ‘Why are they there?’ ‘How do you know if they’re in the right place?’ Pertinent questions, but not easy perhaps to understand the reply which related to the balance of the composition. It is simply a feeling, a sensation, which is as near to impossible to express in words as any explanation can be. It’s a very personal thing. It either feels right, or it feels wrong. That’s the best I can do.

It’s interesting that this feature of the painting attracted such close attention but nevertheless proves my long held belief that the smallest cogs in the biggest machine still play a very important and necessary role, regardless of what that ‘machine’ might be.  If they don’t work, then nothing does. It’s all about being a part of a team. In this case, in this big painting, despite the larger elements taking centre stage, once again it’s the smallest of ingredients that’s made it all come together.

And at last it has all Come Together. Right now. Over me. And I’m very proud of it.

Side A:

Side B: