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The Casablanca Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary School

16.11 – 4.12.15

Why ‘The Casablanca Mural’? Humphrey Bogart famously said in the last line of that movie, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, and I looked upon my invitation to work with Rowlatts Hill Primary School in Leicester in the same way.

However, instead of Louie, read Jay Virk, Head Teacher of the school who sent me the invite. Not that Jay bears any resemblance to the Claude Rains character at all. What she does have however, and in abundance, is the patience of a saint. It was the 25th November 2014 when Jay first made contact with me and it was a week short of 12 months before I actually began work on her project.

There were good reasons for this of course. Of all the schools, in all the towns, in all the world, Jay had walked into Fulbridge Academy and seen some of the corridor murals I had painted just as I had begun working on the monumental ‘Sistine Chapel’ project. This took longer than I anticipated, and I also squeezed in a couple of drawing workshops at Warmington and Titchmarsh Primary Schools at the beginning of March too, which concluded with a mural painting for the Titchmarsh School library, so I was unable to even make a visit to Rowlatts Hill to discuss her proposal till April ’15. Not only that, I had already committed myself to another project at Fulbridge to follow-on from the ‘Sistine Chapel’. I still had a Music History timeline to research, design and develop for their Music Room (now renamed ‘The Cavern’), which I then drew onto the walls during the month of July.

The months of August and September were spent making preparations for my ‘Landmarks & Milestones’ exhibition at the Castle theatre in Wellingborough, but I returned to Rowlatts Hill in October to familiarise myself with the space. Although ‘The Cavern’ was not finished I decided I would delay the painting stage of this project till the New Year as it was likely to take several weeks to complete, whereas the length of Jay’s project was a little easier to determine. Also I didn’t relish the prospect of making the longer daily commute to Leicester in my little 19 year old Corsa when driving conditions were possibly going to be foggy and icy.

With my modified workplan set, I began preparing designs for the walls Jay had shown me as my blank canvas. She asked if I would transform a corridor by illustrating a collection of people who were a source of inspiration through their creativity, inventiveness, innovation, ingenuity, imagination, originality, artistry, insight and vision. Jay had asked for suggestions from staff and children, and although she found restricting the list to 16 names difficult she felt those put forward were a good reflection of their community. The list presented to me was:
Rosa Parks
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Nelson Mandela
Malala Yousafzai
Mother Teresa
Anne Frank
Mohandas Gandhi
Queen Elizabeth II
Albert Einstein
Richard III
Florence Nightingale
Charles Darwin
William Shakespeare
Mary Seacole
Vincent van Gogh
Stephen Hawking

The reason I’ve selected ‘My Hero’ by the Foo Fighters as the title of this blog is because of its chorus, “There goes my hero/Watch him as he goes/There goes my hero/He’s ordinary”. The personalities included in the composition may be household names but really they are just ordinary people who have done extra-ordinary things. Within the context of a Primary School whose principles are to encourage children to achieve well and to become something special themselves, I felt this sentiment particularly appropriate.

On 2nd November I returned to meet with Jay and also with Grant Penton, Business Manager at Rowlatts Hill, to present my proposed designs and to discuss my selection of the various photographic and painted source material. All the images chosen have a backstory which can be investigated further. Their response was both enthusiastic and positive. Although I had suggested keeping the list to 16 names my design actually included 17 portraits, with the Queen appearing twice. As she became the longest-reigning British monarch on the 9th September 2015 the design began and ended with her image, the first from a photograph by Dorothy Wilding taken in 1952 the second from 2015, which acted like ‘bookends’.

Two weeks later, on the 16th November, I began daubing the walls with paint but 18 portraits actually appear in the final composition. Due to an error of judgement on my part during the painting process a larger than intended space began to yawn out at me, which offered the opportunity for the inclusion of an additional hero. I spoke with Jay, who in turn conferred with her colleagues, and when she returned asked if Jessica Ennis-Hill could be included. In terms of her being an inspirational figure to young people I felt this to be a perfect choice, especially with the prospect of the Rio Olympics being a major feature of the forthcoming 2016 sporting calendar.

The painting stimulated much conversation with both staff and children as it gradually evolved on the walls over the 12 days it took to complete. There were some memorable moments too; I thoroughly enjoyed overhearing my ‘neighbour’ Alex teaching his year 3 group; was both touched and lost for words when a child walked quietly up to the wall and bowed his head at the image of Mohandas Gandhi; and a big thanks to Grant, Matt, Nathan, Karla & Liam, those wall vibrating Tuesday evening ‘Moose Knuckle‘ rehearsals were very special. Many, many thanks Jay for inviting me to work at Rowlatts Hill. It was a pleasure. Let’s do it again sometime.

The Casablanca project was enjoyable from start to finish and although I say it myself, I think it turned out okay. I feel very pleased with it. Here’s looking at you kid!


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