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‘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://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loughborough_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

Library Mural at Meadowside Primary, Burton Latimer

July – August/September 20

Meadowside Primary, Park Road, Burton Latimer, Northants NN15 5QY

Library Mural at Meadowside Primary, Burton Latimer

July – August/September 20

‘When dark clouds pull the sky
I have cast my eye
To the path where we are treading

Oh I could wrack my brain
Trying to explain
Where it is I think that we are heading’ (Dr Strangely Strange)

It’s been a strange year. We’ve all had to adapt to a new world situation. No-one has been able to follow a regular routine. We’ve had to be flexible and inventive in our working practices, and I’m no exception. Over recent weeks I’ve been reminded of a track from a much played album of my youth, Nice Enough To Eat. As Dr Strangely Strange said at that time, and which feels just as relevant now, it’s been ‘Strangely Strange but Oddly Normal‘.

The pandemic and lockdown, and the sudden sale of my studio, also created a domino effect with my timetable. My previous project had to be painted in two blocks which caused this project to follow in the same vein. This meant that, for a while, I actually had two projects underway at the same time. This has never happened before and I was very uncomfortable about it, so I feel a great sense of relief that both have had a happy ending.

In July last year I completed my first project at Meadowside Primary, the ‘Reelin’ In The Years’ mural painted in a busy corridor. I worked with adults and children walking around me each day, and had conversation with those interested in my progress. But the world was a different place then. This time around circumstances had changed and I’ve painted in relative isolation.

The location was a computer room/library, however as the subject was similar to my previous project, which it overlapped, I have to admit to having feelings of déjà vu. I’ve now painted 6 mural projects with a story book theme, (‘Gruffalo Wood & Dear Zoo‘ at Fulbridge Academy, ‘Gentle Giant‘ at Titchmarsh Primary, ‘Once Upon A Time‘ at Rowlatts Mead, ‘Land Of Make Believe‘ at King’s Cliffe and ‘Vivaldi‘ at St. Brendan’s) and the challenge has always been to ensure that each had an identity of its own. Hopefully I’ve succeeded in producing something distinct, fresh and original each time.

I developed ideas for this design during the lockdown, when I also met with Head Josie Garnham to discuss it and began painting shortly before the end of the summer term. Then I returned in September so, for the second project in a row, it feels an unusual amount of time passed between start and finish date.

An enclosed space this time, with one wall much taller than the other three. Since I’d measured the dimensions of the walls some renovation work had taken place on the roof and I found the ceiling had been lowered, so needed to make an on-the-spot decision and slightly alter the layout of wall 4. The shoulders of the Iron Man should have been the same width as the new bookshelves so that they became an extension of the giant’s body, but in the end this wasn’t possible. In order to maintain the scale of the giant the compromise was to not only lose the top of his head but also to suggest he was standing behind the shelves instead. Despite this unexpected modification I think the design still works.

As with other designs, I prefer not to simply paint a parade of characters, but to suggest a new world for them to occupy, as if they all lived together and know each other. My belief is that this might stimulate children to invent storylines of their own. In this continuous composition I have consciously selected poses that incorporate a variety of facial expressions to encourage descriptive terms and help expand vocabulary, as well as situations offering opportunities for ‘How Many …..?’ and ‘Find The ……?’ games.

When I first visited the Computer Room/Library it was perfectly acceptable and functional, but feel it has now evolved into a completely different learning environment, adorned with characters which were suggested by the children and which all year groups might be motivated to investigate. The bright colours create a warm, friendly and welcoming atmosphere. The room feels much more inviting and a very enticing place to sit and quietly read. There’s a world of imagination to be explored within the pages of books, and what a wonderful space it’s become to spend time in.

Yes we’re living in strange times, but they’re oddly normal too. Sometimes it feels like it’s just a bad dream and that we’ll eventually wake up to find that nothing’s changed. But it has. We have to adapt to the new and odd normal, and blunder on till we emerge safely on the other side. The world isn’t the same place, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s not easy to keep spirits up. Everything has changed, for everybody, so it’s important we surround ourselves with simple pleasures that can make things feel better.

Little things can make a big difference, and I feel very pleased with how this little thing turned out. These are strange times. It’s important to try our best to make good things come out of them.

Story Book Character references:

Owl Babies (Author: Martin Waddell  Illustrator: Patrick Benson)

Harry PotterQuidditch (Author: JK Rowling Illustrator: Chris Wharton)

Jack & the Beanstalk (Fairy Tale) (Illustrator: CB Canga)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Author: Lewis Carroll Illustrator: John Tenniel)

The Sheep Pig (Author: Dick King-Smith Illustrator: Melissa Manwill)

Stick Man (Author: Julia Donaldson Illustrator: Axel Scheffler)

Winnie the Pooh & Piglet (Author: AA Milne Illustrator: Ernest Shepard)

Percy the Park Keeper (Author & Illustrator: Nick Butterworth)

The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Author & Illustrator: Beatrix Potter)

Stig of the Dump (Author: Clive King Illustrator: Edward Ardizzone)

Three Little Pigs (Fable) (Illustrator: Stephen Cartwright)

War Horse (Author: Michael Morpurgo Illustrator: Rae Smith)

Elmer the Patchwork Elephant (Author & Illustrator: David McKee)

Horrid Henry (Author: Francesca Simon Illustrator: Tony Ross)

James & the Giant Peach (Author: Roald Dahl Illustrator: Nancy Ekholm Burkert)

Treasure IslandHispaniola (Author: RL Stevenson Illustrator: Rowland Hilder)

The Iron Man (Author: Ted Hughes Illustrator: Chris Mould)

The Chronicles of NarniaLamp post (Author: CS Lewis Illustrator: David Hohn)

Meadowside Primary, Park Road, Burton Latimer, Northants NN15 5QY

‘Vivaldi’ Mural at St. Brendan’s Primary, Corby

Completed August 20

St. Brendan’s Primary School, Beanfield Avenue, Corby NN18 OAZ

‘Vivaldi’ Mural at St. Brendan’s Primary, Corby

18 – 24 August 20

Following a 5 month interlude, last week I returned to St. Brendan’s Primary in Corby to complete the ‘Vivaldi’ mini hall mural. On the one hand it felt like no time had passed at all and yet so much has happened. It was good to be back, I’ve never experienced such a long interval within a project before and coming back to the painting was like meeting up with an old friend.

It took a short time to pick up my momentum again but the Spring themed wall, which was the last to be painted when the Coronavirus lockdown placed a halt on proceedings, has now reached a conclusion.

Although I say it myself, the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs of the mini hall reveal a remarkable transformation. The change that has occurred in our world this year has made many feel uncomfortable and some children may feel apprehensive about their return to school next week. However I’d like to think that this combination of storybook characters within a collection of art history related landscape settings has created very a bright and happy atmosphere, and one that will be enjoyable to live with.

27 March…….

24 August………

 

THE FOUR SEASONS continued:

Spring Book Characters & Paintings

Almond Blossom 1890  (Vincent Van Gogh)

Horrid Henry  (Author: Francesca Simon Illustrator: Tony Ross)

Day the Crayons Quit  (Author: Drew Daywalt Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers)

Kameido Plum Garden 1857  (Ando Hiroshige)

The Gingerbread Man  (Animation: Barker Animation)

Peter Rabbit  (Beatrix Potter)

Little Red Riding Hood  (Publisher: Usborne Books Illustrator: Stephen Cartwright)

Springtime 1886  (Claude Monet)

Cherry blossoms in the Grove of Suijin Temple and View of Massaki on the Sumida River 1856  (Ando Hiroshige)

 

Summer Additional Painting

Woman with a Parasol facing right 1886  (Claude Monet)

 

The whole story……………with a happy ending!

St. Brendan’s Primary School, Beanfield Avenue, Corby NN18 OAZ

‘Vivaldi’ Mural at St. Brendan’s Primary, Corby

Feb – March 20

Once upon a time…….

A new location, St. Brendan’s Primary in Corby, and a school with a musical reputation. Therefore when Headteacher Leanne Brydon invited me to design a painting with a collection of children’s book characters in four sections for their ‘Mini Hall’, the Red Priest came to mind immediately so I suggested illustrating a season for each wall. The working title for the project therefore became ‘Vivaldi’ from the very beginning. I considered calling it ‘Frankie Valli’, but somehow felt that didn’t work so well.

Leanne provided me with a list of 25 characters and I almost managed to include them all, Thomas the Tank Engine being the one that missed out. Rather than painting a simple procession of figures I created compositions of them within a landscape setting, which offered the opportunity to introduce and investigate images of various styles from differing eras of art history.

There’s always a story behind a picture, and of the person who produced it, and much to learn. For example on the Autumn wall I purposely selected the ‘Tree of Life‘ section of the Palais Stoclet frieze by Gustav Klimt. On the one hand I wanted to suggest a link to the world of decorative arts and surface design rather than another figurative representation of a natural form, but it wasn’t only that, there’s an important current affairs narrative to explore too. Klimt died in 1918 during the Spanish flu pandemic which swept across Europe and the world, which was one of the deadliest in human history. Bearing in mind the trauma of the current Coronavirus outbreak which has now brought this project to a halt, its selection as a comparison was well founded.

This project began with a presentation to a whole school assembly in which I introduced myself and a brief outline of the wall paintings at Altamira, Lascaux and the Sistine Chapel ceiling, as well as the designs I’d proposed for the walls of the Mini-Hall. During the course of the last 23 days I’ve also spent time meeting with several groups of classes and individual children.

However, despite working for the last week in an empty school and being so close to completion, the current government physical distancing advice has forced me to a halt, so unlike previous project overviews, this one is different as the painting is still unfinished. I’m very disappointed but don’t want to be irresponsible, and in any case I must be careful. Although I don’t want to admit it, my recent medical history places me very close to the vulnerable category, an experience which was the subject of a previous blog.

To coin a cricketing metaphor, I’ve decided to pull up the stumps. This blog therefore is only a latest summary of the scorecard as I’m now back in the pavilion. It’s not a declaration, simply a break in play. When conditions allow my innings will continue. It’s very frustrating and I’d like to be able to blame it on the light-meters, or the sort of rain you don’t get wet in, but it’s a tad more serious than that.

Hopefully, once the umpires are back out and considered conditions to have improved, the heavy roller will be ordered and play will resume. Till then, I’m having to take an early tea and dive into a Victoria sponge.

The story so far………

THE FOUR SEASONS:

SUMMER Book Characters & Paintings

Harry and his Bucketful of Dinosaurs  (Author: Ian Whybrow Illustrator: Adrian Reynolds)

Wheatfield with Crows 1890  (Vincent Van Gogh)

Winnie-the-Pooh & Piglet  (Author: AA Milne Illustrator: EH Shepard)

The Tiger Who Came to Tea  (Author & Illustrator: Judith Kerr)

Noon – Rest from Work (after Millet) 1890  (Vincent Van Gogh)

Pippi Longstocking  (Author: Astrid Lindgren Illustrator: Ingrid Vang Nyman)

The Cat in the Hat  (Author & Illustrator: Theodor Seuss Geisel)

 

AUTUMN Book Characters & Paintings

Elmer  (Author & Illustrator: David McKee)

Tree of Life 1905  (Gustav Klimt)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Author & Illustrator: Eric Carle)

Peter Pan  (Author: J M Barrie Illustrator: Bob Brackman)

Ejiri in the Suruga province 1830-32  (Katsushka Hokusai)

Mog the Forgetful Cat  (Author & Illustrator: Judith Kerr)

Cruella de Vil (Author: Dodie Smith Illustrator: Marc Davis)

Paddington Bear (Author: Michael Bond Illustrator: RW Alley)

Plop – The Owl Who Was Afraid Of The Dark (Author: Jill Tomlinson Illustrator: Paul Howard)

Biff, Chip, Kipper & Friends (Author: Roderick Hunt Illustrator: Alex Brychta)

 

WINTER Book Characters & Paintings

The Gruffalo  (Author: Julia Donaldson Illustrator: Axel Scheffler)

Hunters In The Snow 1565  (Pieter Bruegel the Elder)

The Big Bad Wolf  (Aesop)

Three Little Pigs  (Fable)

Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland  (Author: Lewis Carroll Illustrator: John Tenniel)

Burglar Bill  (Author & Illustrator: Janet & Allan Ahlberg)

Winter Landscape 1811  (Caspar David Friedrich)

#111 Drum Bridge and Sunset Hill, Meguro 1857  (Ando Hiroshige)

 

St. Brendan’s Primary School, Beanfield Avenue, Corby NN18 OAZ

Remembrance Mural at Rowlatts Mead Primary Academy

Sept – Oct 19

‘When I am laid, am laid in earth, may my wrongs create
No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate’. (Dido’s LamentHenry Purcell)

Same place, but with a new name. Since my previous visit to Rowlatts Hill the school has now become Rowlatts Mead Primary Academy, but other than the change of logo nothing looks changed.

It was a swift return, having been only a short time since the completion of the Rainforest/Under The Sea themed corridor but in truth this project was actually an unfinished element of that previous visit. I had left in order to fulfil a promise of completing a painting at Meadowside Primary in Burton Latimer before the end of their summer term, but with an assurance that I’d return immediately afterwards so that this one would be finished before November.

The completion date of this project was critical as the subject I’d been asked to illustrate was the theme of Remembrance. It was a significant challenge and a subject I’d been faced with a few years ago, at Warmington School, but this was different and the design posed a succession of difficult decisions and dilemmas.

The location identified was the entrance and reception area of the school, the first impression to any visitor, therefore it was important that the appearance of this very serious subject was given the sobriety and gravitas it deserved. Any memorial to the fallen has an air of solemnity however I was determined it would appear neither clichéd or dour. The visual language of the composition needed to convey a dignified presence, incorporate a recognition of activity both past and present in the theatre of war but also that the sacrifice made has been in order for the world to be a better place.

I devote many hours to the design stage of any project. Being a fixed and permanent feature on a wall the painting of a mural is a tremendous responsibility. It’s a big investment and located in a public space, it’s so important to get it right.

The easy option would have been to paint a mournful memorial with a subdued palette, but the end result would have been predictable, unimaginative and dull. Fortunately I don’t work that way. My priority is always to create a stimulating image with underlying stories to investigate. I felt more was possible. In my mind’s eye I could see something brighter.

I preferred to approach the subject through the eyes of an Impressionist and present a contemplative landscape, as well as implementing the full spectrum of colours. A hostile critic once famously characterised Impressionism as, ‘the crude application of paint, the down to earth subjects, the appearance of spontaneity, the conscious incoherence, the bold colours, the contempt for form’. I feel this description identifies my painting technique perfectly.

The allocated space had four definite divisions. First, a self-contained vestibule; Second, a short wall which then turns into a corridor; Third, the corridor wall itself; Fourth, the wall between two office doors.

It was a significant problem to overcome. Not only to find a way of piecing together a design that flowed and linked naturally across four sections with built-in barriers, such as doors, a 90º corner and window frames, but also one that could be enjoyed as a painting in itself, and able to successfully communicate a serious underlying message.

Following several unsuccessful attempts the composition I eventually settled upon to present at a design meeting at the school was well received. Only one alteration was requested, that being the replacement of one of the historical figures for a contemporary one. (My original design included Subedar Major Thakur Singh Bahadur of the 47th Sikhs, who was among the first to receive the Military Cross for gallantry in action on October 27, 1914 at Neuve Chapelle).

My predominant influence and inspiration was the late work of Claude Monet. In particular, that which led toward and included his last great masterpiece, the Grandes Décorations for the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.

The painting begins with an image based upon one of Monet’s Saule Pleurer (Weeping Willow) series of paintings, and the theme of his garden in Giverny continues to include two interpretations of the Water Lily pond. There is no horizon, simply a reflection of sky on the surface of still water.

At the corner, where the wall turns into the corridor, a solemn statue of a soldier stands in front of a monumental poppy based upon a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe.

Another painting by Claude Monet, his Coquelicots (Poppy Field), forms the basis of the composition on the corridor wall and the admin office door, towering over which stands a landmark of local interest, the Arch of Remembrance in Victoria Park, Leicester. Two military portraits emerge from this landscape, the first a contemporary figure, Lance Corporal Michelle Norris MC, the second an historical one representing Asian involvement with the British Army, Khudadad Khan VC.

The final figure which completes the design is one that illustrates the caring side of conflict, that of nurse Edith Cavell.

(A more detailed commentary of all of the design elements can be found at the foot of this blog).

The elements in detail:

Claude MonetWeeping Willow 1918 (Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio)

Monet painted a series of 10 paintings depicting this majestic tree growing beside the lily pond in his Giverny garden. Painted toward the end of the First World War the tree has great significance, it is a symbol of sorrow, as a lamentation on the state of the world. French deaths in WW1 totalled over 1.4 million with 4 million wounded, a quarter of all French men born in the 1890’s had been wiped out.

These paintings were an expression of grief, Weeping Willows were seen a symbol of death and mourning, a common sight in French cemeteries and often personified as a woman or used to symbolise female mourning. The tree was the subject of ‘Élégie’, one of the prose poems by JJ Grandville in his book Les Fleurs Animées (Flowers Personified) published in 1847. “Come into my shade all you who suffer, for I am the Weeping Willow. I conceal in my foliage a woman with a gentle face. Her blond hair hangs over her brow and veils her tearful eye. She is the muse of all those who have loved…….She comforts those touched by death”.

Claude Monet – The Water Lilies: Clear Morning with Willows 1915 – 1926 (Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris)

The vertically structured Weeping Willow paintings were ultimately overtaken by the expansive horizontal format of his final monumental Water Lily series. In these he dispensed with the horizon completely to focus solely on the reflections of the sky, the surface of the water, the flowers and lily pads floating in a world seen upside down. This series known in English as the Water Lilies is a translation of the French word Nymphéas, which is related to Nymphes (Nymphs), female spirits who live in sacred places. The water lily is closely related to the lotus which the Egyptians identified as a symbol of birth and immortality, while in Buddhist and Hindu philosophy it represents the mind rising up from the mud and opening itself to wisdom and enlightenment.

A collection of these great paintings were eventually donated to the state and are now permanently housed in the Musée l’Orangerie in Paris. They fill two large oval rooms, a collection which Monet hoped would offer beauty to wounded souls, calm nerves and offer the viewer ‘an asylum of peaceful meditation’. He felt his late paintings were an attempt at healing – his artistic response to the traumatic events of the war. They were intended as an invitation to sit and observe the painted reflections in the water as one might the continual turn of waves on a seashore, or the flames of a living room fire.

Ambrose Neale – Serviceman from London and North Western Railway War Memorial 1921 (Euston Station, London – Memorial designed by Reginald Wynn Owen)

The central figure is derived from one of the four bronze figures representing an infantryman, artilleryman, sailor and airman, located on each corner of this memorial. He stands, head bowed, hands resting on an upturned rifle, which is reversed in mourning.

Georgia O’KeeffeRed Poppy VI 1928 (Private Collection)

“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time”.

“So I said to myself, I’ll paint what I see, what the flower is to me, but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it. I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers”.

“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not”.

“I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty”. (Quotes by Georgia O’Keeffe)

Claude Monet – Coquelicots (Poppy Field) 1873 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

A field strewn with poppies continues Monet’s presence and influence of the composition. Although having no connection with the theme of war, I felt nonetheless it was an appropriate choice. It continues the Impressionist theme around the turn of the wall into the corridor and implies an atmosphere of loss and melancholy. A young family walks through a poppy filled landscape, the father figure is absent.

Lance Corporal Michelle Norris MC

Private Norris was just 19 when she was recognised for her bravery for her actions during the war in Iraq in 2006 and became the first woman ever to receive the Military Cross. I selected this portrait to replace that of Subedar Major Thakur Singh Bahadur, MC which featured in my original design.

Khudadad Khan VC

At the age of 26 Sepoy Khudadad Khan was the first native-born Indian to be awarded the Victoria Cross. His bravery was also the subject of a play, ‘Wipers’ by Ishy Din, performed at Leicester’s Curve Theatre in 2016. It was written to ‘honour the contribution of the million South Asian soldiers who fought alongside their British brothers during the First World War’.

Sir Edwin Lutyens – Arch of Remembrance 1925 (Victoria Park, Leicester)

A recognisable and identifiable local landmark, the arch is situated on the highest point of Victoria Park. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens an inscription above the north-east arch reads: REMEMBER IN GRATITUDE TWELVE THOUSAND MEN OF THIS CITY AND COUNTY WHO FOUGHT AND DIED FOR FREEDOM. REMEMBER ALL WHO SERVED AND STROVE AND THOSE WHO PATIENTLY ENDURED

Sir George FramptonEdith Cavell Memorial 1920 (St Martin’s Place, London)

The final element of the composition is a portrait of Edith Cavell, a British nurse working in German-occupied Belgium during the First World War and celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers from both sides without discrimination. She also helped British, French and Belgian soldiers escape by arranging for guides to smuggle them out of Belgium into the neutral Netherlands. For this she was arrested, tried and found guilty of ‘assisting men to the enemy’ and executed by a German firing squad on 12th October 1915.

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

Gruffalo Wood & Art History Timeline Mural at Meadowside Primary

May – July 19

It was six years ago when I first worked with Josie Garnham. Back then she was Head of Titchmarsh Primary School and had a different name. She then became Executive Head of both Titchmarsh and Warmington Primary Schools and over the next couple of years she invited me to lead several art workshops with children as well as to paint murals. In fact there were seven ‘Bigger Picture’ projects in total. It’s been three years since our last collaboration and a lot has changed in both our worlds in that time. I was so pleased when she made contact to work with her again.

It’s a school that’s new to me, Meadowside Primary in Burton Latimer, a place I’ve always referred to as Weetabix Town, and Josie was appointed Head last year. Having spent much of the last couple of years working with Fulbridge Academy and Rowlatts Hill the first thing that hit me as soon as I walked in the door was the empty magnolia painted corridor. During a tour of the school she outlined her vision to significantly improve the appearance of several areas, but top of that list was that first seen corridor as one enters the school.

A ‘Gruffalo Wood’ reading/retreat area next to the admin office was beginning to be established, and Josie asked if the corridor leading towards it could bring the subject of landscape within the walls of the building, with ‘meadow’ being the predominant theme for the painting. Rather than invent an imaginary pastureland scene I suggested that we could transform the area into a space that presented a potted history of landscape painting.

I’d made a couple of visits to the school and taken measurements of the walls in order to make a plan, however as I developed my design ideas they became more than a little ambitious. Me being me, and to make my job even harder, because that’s what I do, I decided it would make a much more interesting painting if I divided the composition into three sections, which reflected the shape of the corridor.

The first section was already established, being agreed that there would be a Gruffalo Wood with a landscape theme leading to/from it.

The final section would naturally be at the opposite end of the corridor, where there was another entrance/exit door, and in this portion I thought a short art history lesson could be incorporated as a timeline.

The area between these two sections was an opportunity to identify and celebrate local artistic achievement. As the school is less than 5 miles to the centre of Kettering, I felt this section could give prominence to the work of a trio of Kettering artists (Alfred East, Thomas Cooper Gotch & Walter Bonner Gash) who had quite a reputation in their day. The Alfred East Gallery is located in the centre of the town and so included in the design are interpretations of some paintings from the permanent collection which are sympathetic with the corridor theme.

The project began with a request to paint a landscape themed painting, the composition I delivered is an edited illustration of the development of image-making through the ages stretching back 40,000 years. All the images I selected have a back story that can be explored further, so the inclusion of QR codes are also an additional feature for personal investigation.

Featured on the walls are Cave, Neolithic, Egyptian, Mycenaean, Byzantine, Classical Greek, Gothic, Romantic, Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Expressionist, Cubist, Surrealist, Modernist and even Spiritual examples, before contemporary Children’s Book Illustration gets a mention. Oh, I forgot the Middle Ages, there’s the arrow in the eye of King Harold section of the Bayeux Tapestry thrown in for good measure too.

Out of a molehill I made a mountain. Do I make things difficult for myself or what!!!!!!!!

Meadowside Primary, Park Road, Burton Latimer, Northants NN15 5QY

 

References:

Cave

Neolithic

Egyptian

Mycenaean

Byzantine

Classical Greek

Middle Ages (Romanesque)

Gothic

Kettering Artists

Romanticism

Impressionism

Post-Impressionism

Expressionism

Cubism

Surrealism

Modernism

The Gruffalo 1999

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

The Doors

Oct 18 – Mar 19

See what I did there? Closing in on a finish with the Rowlatts Hill ‘Under The Sea/Rainforest’ corridor mural but nevertheless, any excuse to have The Doors added to my Blog Title Soundtracks page……

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

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