‘Jump In, Let’s Go!’ Sports Hall Mural at Fosse Mead Primary, Leicester

Jan – June 22

Last spring I received an invitation to visit Fosse Mead Primary Academy. An email had landed in my Inbox which contained a very tempting line, “There is a fantastic sports hall I would like painting”. A date for a meeting was quickly arranged and on 8th June I drove to Leicester to discuss the possibility of a monumental painting project.

It was back in 2015 when I first met Principal Jay Virk. She was at Rowlatts Mead Primary at that time and we’ve worked together several times over the past few years. Having now moved across the city to take on the challenge of a different school, she told me of her plans to improve its status and also to transform its sadly neglected buildings into an educational establishment children in the 21st century deserved.

The main building needed updating urgently and improvements could only be achieved by construction workers being on site for the foreseeable future. However housed in a separate building there was a superb sports facility, which was both ‘tired’ and ‘uninspiring’. It deserved a facelift and was the ideal starting point for children, staff and parents to see that significant change and improvement at the school was actually going to happen.

So what was my impression on entering this building for the first time? The size of the space was enormous, and the prospect of painting its walls filled me with sheer excitement and with fear and dread in equal measure. The atmosphere felt dim and gloomy. A plan is in hand to replace the lighting but this wouldn’t happen immediately, so it was important that some brightness was brought to the room. The project would also be seriously demanding both mentally and physically, and the thought crossed my mind whether I possessed the capabilities to do it.

Despite those doubts, as a disciple of Los Tres Grandes since my days at art school, I simply couldn’t turn down the opportunity of painting on such large walls. On my return home I recalled the two occasions I’d visited the Sistine Chapel to see the jaw dropping magnificence of that wonderful ceiling and altar wall, and reminded myself that I was only the same age that Michelangelo was when he painted The Last Judgement, and the conditions I’d be working under would be far superior to the circumstances he had to face.

There are two sides to that argument though. He may have had to work in war torn sixteenth century Italy but I’d have a multitude of ball games and inside lunchtimes to deal with. Michelangelo never had to commute the distance I’d have to travel each day either. My daily 119 mile A605, A14, M1 adventure was an experience in itself and totalled close to 10,000 miles before I removed the bails and called close of play, and which wasn’t without incident. However, someone ‘up there’ was looking after me.

As for my fuel bill, it’s best not to think too long about it, there’s only one word to describe it. Astronomical. Pump prices rose with each passing week and the prices displayed at the Leicester Forest East Motorway Service Area that startled me when I began in January, ended up being less than what I found myself paying at a normal petrol station when I finished in June. Let’s just leave it at that.

The Design

The brief Jay asked me to fulfil was for the walls of the hall to be a celebration of sport in Leicester, to identify the many clubs one could engage with in this very sport filled city and to inspire an involvement with physical exercise. Not being from the area my research proved an education in itself and revealed some surprises. Leicester is rich with sporting pursuits and must be one of the most sporting cities in the country. I quickly tied myself in knots as I found far more activities than I could possibly include on the four walls.

As well as the better known professional and semi-professional sports such as football, rugby union, cricket, basketball and speedway, activities such as badminton, numerous cycling disciplines, athletics, hockey, American football, rowing, netball, swimming, tennis, squash, roller skating, gymnastics, rugby league, golf, baseball, trampolining, korfball, boxing, lacrosse, bowling (10 pin & flat green), climbing, horse racing, martial arts and petanque are all represented in the city – so I was very aware I could easily offend through omission. All I could do was to make some bold decisions, present my design and hope for the best.

I spent a month working on design ideas before presenting version 15 at a consultation meeting at the school on 18th November as a three dimensional model, which to my relief was given a unanimous thumbs up. At this stage the triangular upper sections of the side walls were still considered as an option to be painted, but were later dismissed. Of the clubs and sports chosen all are accompanied by their relevant logos except for athletics, badminton & swimming. I found such a large number of clubs in existence for these disciplines I decided it would be better to employ the symbol of the national or regional governing body.

In addition to the figures engaged with sport alongside their respective club logos, two further exercise activities were included. ‘Skipping with Henry’ is a timetabled exercise for all year groups, hence the inclusion of a trio of children in school colours placed in the centre of wall 2. Also included in the weekly timetable, as well as being an after school club, is a Dance Fitness class, provided by Moving Together, a creative dance company based in Leicester. This was a late modification made to wall 4.

No photographic references were used for this project, I adapted illustrations I’d found instead which allowed for the possibility of exaggeration and distortion to play its part. A subtle mix of gender and race was naturally an important design consideration too, as were variations in build and stature in order that as many representational elements were covered as possible, to the extent that I even ensured there was a follicly-challenged man! All of the figures therefore are anonymous, all that is apart from one. Although I haven’t actually painted a portrait of Emma, who visits Fosse Mead Primary each Thursday to lead the Moving Together class, the ‘Dance’ figure is based upon a ‘flipped’ photograph of her, taken while performing a Bollywood dance routine in India.

The Mural

I began painting the walls on 6th Jan, the term timetable continued as normal and children and staff witnessed the progress of the mural on a daily basis. Unfortunately, after just a couple of weeks of painting, I returned a positive Covid test and had to self isolate which wasn’t the best of starts, but following this setback eventually a working routine established itself. The children quickly became used to the familiar site of me gradually inching my way around the room daubing paint on their sports hall walls, and I became used to being hit by shuttlecocks and balls employed in a variety of their sporting activities.

My original intention was to paint the anonymous figures in a calligraphic fashion, as though they were applied with a super large Sumi-e brush, which was why I used illustrations rather than photographs as references. Unfortunately I had to abandon this idea due to the texture of the walls which were very unforgiving. Nevertheless I still feel I succeeded in presenting figures in animated dynamic poses suggesting energy and power rather than them appearing like static statues chiselled from stone.

The careful selection of attitude and posture of the figures enables the composition to flow continuously around the space without there being a definite beginning or end. The inclusion of the abstract and spontaneous colour daubs linking these figures, where the graduated colour is determined by the colours of logo or outfit worn in these areas, assists with this impression. The circle element is also a simple graphic geometric connecting device, included in the design for no other reason than to suggest the action of a bouncing ball, or of background soap bubbles floating effortlessly in a breeze.

The painting hasn’t been signed as it remains unfinished. New wall furniture may yet be mounted above the goal on wall 4 so I made the decision that the painting of the swimmer should be postponed. Once this element has been installed the size and position of this final figure and accompanying logo can then be placed in relation to it. As I have been invited to return to the school for another project next year this would be the perfect opportunity to paint the final piece of the jigsaw and complete the circle.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the time I’ve spent at Fosse Mead Primary and I look forward to working at the school again. The staff and children have been great, they’ve made me feel very welcome and I have many warm memories. The difficult times were when numerous Dodgeballs, Footballs, Basketballs and Cricket balls were flying around the room. The hall seemed to develop a shrinking feeling at those times and my cordoned off space appeared to act like some sort of ball-magnet! My daily leave-home-at-7.45-return-home-at-6.45 routine proved pretty tiring too.

Perhaps the highlights of the last few weeks however, apart from lunchtime visits to the staff room which I often found filled with laughter, would be any class led by Mr Johnson, or Mr Ahmed, as both are excellent teachers. It was a pleasure to be a fly on the wall and be a witness to any activity led by them. Preparations for year group assemblies were also entertaining, the downside being that some of the songs they practised repeated themselves in my head for several days afterwards. However Emma’s Dance Fitness routines on Thursday afternoons were a particularly special couple of hours, when themes such as Musical theatre, Bollywood, Street dance, Samba etc. were explored. There’s always likely to be a reluctant child or two but the larger majority inevitably responded to her infectious enthusiasm and instructions with energy and enjoyment by the bucketload. Not only that, on Thursdays, until the after-school football club arrived at 3.30, I was never hit by a ball!

Afterword

Facing a delivery from G Penton, eyes on the ball, elbow up, trying not to give him a tickle

As with previous projects my design took into account the ‘afterlife’ of the painting. In addition to its function as a wall decoration I give much thought to its benefit as a learning tool for all year groups by including opportunities for counting, shape and colour recognition, encouraging exploration and expansion of vocabulary and grammar by identification of noun, verb, adjective etc, as well as ‘I spy’, ’Spot’ and ‘Find’ games.

This last example has developed into something personal in recent years. Perhaps inspired by Terence Cuneo’s mice, or maybe by Stephen Cartwright’s Osborne yellow ducks, as a supporter of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club my habit of including their geometric Wolf head logo in the composition has continued into this project. Four ‘Wolfies’ are concealed somewhere in the room however Mr Ahmed, the ‘King of the Whistle’, has already won the prize as the first to locate them all. He’s very competitive and has very sharp eyes, and found them all a little too quickly considering those included in the ‘Vivaldi’ mural at St Brendan’s Primary, Corby and the ‘Reelin’ in the Years’ & ‘Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal’ murals at Meadowside Primary in Burton Latimer have still not been noticed.

I choose odd titles for my murals maybe, they often have a musical association but allude to my own circumstances too. Despite them being commissions all of my ‘Bigger Pictures‘ are very personal as I put so much of myself into them. I don’t approach mural painting any differently to any other painting project. It isn’t a job. They mean much more to me than that.

So why have I given this painting the title ‘Jump In, Let’s Go!’? Well, it’s a statement of encouragement and invitation to anyone and everyone to throw off their inhibitions and engage with physical activity which, as ‘Body Coach’ Joe Wicks would agree, does benefit one’s mental health. Exercise helps you to become ‘fitter, healthier and happier’. But it’s also a line taken from a particularly good song by Sheryl Crow. ‘Every Day Is A Winding Road’ isn’t only a song about somebody’s life, it’s also an apt description of my trials and tribulations to get to Leicester each morning!

Fosse Mead Primary Academy, Balfour Street, Leicester, LE3 5EA

Wall 1

Leicestershire County Cricket Club

Leicestershire Foxes

https://www.leicestershireccc.co.uk/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leicestershire_County_Cricket_Club

Leicestershire County Cricket Club Women

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leicestershire_Women_cricket_team

Leicester City Football Club

https://www.lcfc.com/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leicester_City_F.C.

Leicester City Women Football Club

https://www.lcfc.com/women https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leicester_City_W.F.C.

Wall 2

BMX & Bike Trails

https://nicelocal.co.uk/east-midlands/entertainment/western_park_freeriders_bike_trails/

Leicester Forest Cycling Club

https://www.leicesterforest.com https://twitter.com › leicsforest

Lougborough Lightning Netball

https://www.lboro.ac.uk/sport/performance/lightning/netball/

Leicester Running & Athletics Network

Iran.org.uk/member-clubs

Wall 3

Leicester Hockey Club (1885)

http://www.leicesterhockeyclub.com/

Leicester City Hockey Club (1894)

https://www.leicesterhc.co.uk/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leicester_City_Hockey_Club

Leicestershire Badminton Association

http://www.lbabadminton.org/clubs.html

Leicester Tigers Rugby

https://www.leicestertigers.com/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leicester_Tigers

Leicester Tigers Rugby Women

Women reach Sevens final in first outing | Leicester Tigers

Leicester Falcons American Football

https://twitter.com/FalconsGridiron https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leicester_Falcons

Leicester Lions Speedway

http://www.leicesterspeedway.com/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leicester_Lions

Wall 4

Leicester Rowing Club

https://www.leicester-rowing.co.uk/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leicester_Rowing_Club

Moving Together

https://www.movingtogether.co.uk/

Leicester Cobras Wheelchair Basketball

https://www.leicestercobras.org.uk/

Leicester Riders Basketball

https://riders.basketball/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leicester_Riders

Leicester Riders Women Basketball

https://riders.basketball/wbbl/about-the-wbbl/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leicester_Riders_(women)

https://twitter.com/RidersWomen