Rainforest Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy

Feb – April 19

My design for this part of the corridor was inspired by a passage I read in one of my Dad’s old books, found while clearing my parents’ home a couple of years ago, The Reader’s Digest Book of World Travel (First Edition). The article, titled ‘Angkor, the lost kingdom’, was itself derived from ‘Angkor, lost city of the jungle’ written by Clarence Hall for The Reader’s Digest, January 1963.

During the centuries when the great builders of medieval Europe were raising magnificent cathedrals and massive fortresses, the Khmers were building Angkor on the other side of the world. Over this incredible stone forest of temples, pagodas and palaces still hovers the haunting mystery: what happened here?

On a January afternoon in 1861, A French naturalist named Henri Mahout was hacking his way through the almost impenetrable jungle of Cambodia when, suddenly, he burst into a clearing and stopped dead in his tracks. Before his astonished eyes loomed the outlines of a huge stone structure. Its long grey battlements appeared to stretch into infinity, magnificent terraces and galleries vaulted upward, and five towers shaped like lotus buds soared into the heavens. Touched by the setting sun, the whole grey mass burned fiery red.

His search for rare insects forgotten, Mouhot plunged about for days, exploring not only this great temple – which he called ‘a rival to Solomon’s’ – but also scores of other structures which he found half submerged in the jungle. Excitedly he recorded his conviction that here were ‘perhaps the grandest, the most important and the most artistically perfect monuments the past has left to us’.

However, the drama and exhilaration of this description is a myth. Henri Mahout did not ‘discover’ Angkor at all. The account I read portraying Mahout as an Indiana Jones type character making a spectacular discovery was printed in 1967 and has been proven inaccurate. Thanks to an article written by Zak Keith in 2005 which set the record straight, I have since learned that it was a story which took hold after his journals were shipped to Europe after his death.

Nevertheless, despite my original starting point being erroneous, it still proved significant for the outcome of the finished painting. From the very beginning I wanted to produce a composition which would stimulate the senses of the children living with the painting and make them curious to learn more about the natural environment. Not only that, I also hoped it might prompt them to invent their own stories as they wandered along the corridor. During the course of painting this project I have already witnessed several of them imitating a swimming technique as they walked along the ‘under the sea’ section. I’m sure that as they walk through ‘the jungle’ they might emulate the hacking action of an explorer fighting a way through overgrown vegetation with an imaginary machete too!

In an earlier blog I mentioned that I was indebted to Site Manager Matt Hassall for his assistance in helping me realise my design ideas. I was very fortunate to be able to call upon his services to construct the sculptural elements and to make alterations to the lighting in the corridor, they have made such a difference with the final presentation. Thank you, Matt. You’re an absolute star!

I’m very pleased with this project, the transformation in the appearance of this space can only be described as extraordinary. However, it is not yet finished. Although the painting is completed, I have now handed the baton to Matt to bring the project to its conclusion. When time allows, Matt will eventually resurface the floor and add sounds which, in true Rowlatts Hill fashion, will really be the cherry on the Friday Pudding Club Cake!

Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy, Balderstone Close, Leicester LE5 4ES