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Garage Door

Alexandra Road, Peterborough 1978

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Rainforest Mural at Dogsthorpe Junior School – The Movie

6 – 27.6.14

Dogsthorpe Academy, Central Avenue, Dogsthorpe ,Peterborough PE1 4LH

Rainforest Mural at Dogsthorpe Junior School

6 – 27.6.14

On 1st April I received an email message from Charlotte Krzanicki, Head of Dogsthorpe Junior School ‘I have a project for you to get your teeth into!’ It could have simply been an April Fool gag, but intrigued by the invitation I called her bluff and we arranged a date for a meeting later in the month.

When I arrived at the school on the morning of 22nd April I found Charlotte in her office and was surprised and very pleased to find she had also invited fellow artist and chum Katie Smith along too. A few years ago we had seen each other quite regularly and got on very well, but then ‘Black Sunday’ intervened and we’ve not had the opportunity to work together since. If Katie was going to be involved, then I knew that whatever project Charlotte was about to propose it was going to be a winner.

Dogsthorpe Corridor1After a catch-up chat Charlotte took us for a walk around the school, passing through a long and very white hospital corridor. Some image making workshops were suggested but the main purpose of my visit was to be shown this long tunnel which Charlotte had a vision of being transformed into a Rainforest.

My task was to paint the space and Katie was to be involved with a 3D project with groups of children to produce some large sculptures which would be installed in the corridor when the painting was completed.

A collection of trees could be seen through the windows and Charlotte wanted the garden area and the feeling of outdoors to be continued into the school itself. When asked how long it would take I must have been drunk with the thought of being offered my largest painting project ever when I rashly suggested ‘about a week’. What was I thinking??!!! The corridor measured 75′ x 7′ x 7′ and I had suggested painting both walls and the ceiling.

Work began on 6th June when I arrived at school at 8.45 and immediately went out with Estelle, the school site manager, on a shopping trip for painting materials and on our return I began work in earnest making the first marks on the wall. That first morning I quickly learned what impact this project might have when I overheard a couple of children speaking to each other at one end of the corridor, “Do you think the teachers know there’s a man scribbling on the walls down there?”

Dogsthorpe Corridor2   Dogsthorpe Corridor3

On day 3 I was accompanied in enthusiastic fashion by the assistance of children from year 6, who worked with me on a rotation basis arriving in groups of half a dozen at a time. On that day the walls changed from an ice white into a range of colours suggesting a rainforest floor. The change was immediate. As soon as one entered the corridor the space already felt completely different. It is very difficult to describe in words but the atmosphere had altered significantly and the painting was still at a very early stage.

Over the course of the next week I worked alone but the painting progressed very quickly. My approach to painting has always been to work fast in order to capture the moment and working with large mural projects is no different, and once I’m ‘in the zone’ time completely disappears as my concentration levels rise. Nevertheless, five days of painting soon passed and my ‘safety net’ day became used up too. I had a commitment to begin a project at Newark Hill Academy the next day and I wasn’t prepared to break that promise. I had to leave the corridor in an unfinished state. Frustrated and irritated, these words are much too inadequate to describe how I felt on leaving the painting incomplete – and in a public space too!

The following week I returned to the corridor and with another day and a half of painting I had found a conclusion. A Rainforest has been established and with it 37 creatures to track down. From start to finish my original estimate for painting the corridor was not so far out after all, ‘about a week’ actually turned out to be eight and a half days.

 

Image making workshops at Newark Hill Primary

12.3.14

To bring my charcoal & chalk pastel workshops at NHPS to some sort of conclusion, this morning the group used the whole session to work on the same drawing. An owl in flight was our subject again. There is a good reason why I have repeated this theme and it will be revealed to the group next week. Time has been an issue in previous sessions and it was interesting to see whether the extra time would benefit or be detrimental to their work.

I’m often asked how I decide when a painting of my own is finished and it’s a difficult one, however I certainly know when I’ve killed it. It’s important to push the envelope, to move an image around to get the best one can out of it, but it’s easy to be tempted to go too far and then it’s a matter of repairing the damage. With digital work the ‘undo’ button can be a lifesaver, and sometimes I wish this facility was available with oil paint. Today, on the whole, I think the group took advantage of the extra time although it’s interesting to compare the images at break with the final results.

Break time…………

Full time…………..

The children employed many of the techniques explored during the past few weeks of image making and I feel the results show them moving forward very quickly. The work is adventurous and inventive. Some particularly good images have been achieved, particularly for children still in year 6.

A Postcard from Crete

10 – 17 April 2013

A first visit, a new landscape to stimulate the senses and much to learn. An invitation to visit Agia Pelagia, near Spili, in the centre of the island. A landscape filled with the clamour of goat bells and the ‘singing’ of crickets and cicadas; the dappled shade and sunlight filtering through glittering leaves of ancient olive trees; a sky of clean, crisp azure unpolluted by the chalky scrawl of vapour trail graffiti; waves lapping lazily on multi-coloured pebbles of deserted and secluded beaches; wind and rain lashing through deeply cut weather beaten gorges; the cool, damp atmosphere of liberally scattered miniature chapels adorned with decaying wall paintings and icons; the distinctive flavour of locally brewed wine and raki; villages woven together with ramshackle houses swathed with character; battered cars, battered roads and an economically battered population – but the warmth and convivial nature of the Cretan people is an inspiration. To return is a must. It’s a different pace, and another world!

How do I deal with this???!!!! A first impression. 6 adjoining notebook scribbles of the extensive panoramic outlook from Peter & Monica’s terrace

SLATER-Scan 17   SLATER-Scan 1   SLATER-Scan 14

SLATER-Scan 15   SLATER-Scan 16   SLATER-Scan 4

SLATER-DSCF5432   SLATER-Scan 5   SLATER-Road to Ligres

Travelling toward Ligres

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SLATER-DSCF5449   SLATER-Ligres Beach   SLATER-Ligres Beach Taverna

Working on the deserted beach at Ligres

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Notebook scribbles from the patio of the Villas, Agia Pelagia

SLATER-The Sea through the Gorge i

The Sea through the Gorge, from the patio of the Villas, Agia Pelagia

SLATER-DSCF5538   SLATER-Looking South from the Villas ii

Looking south from the Villas, Agia Pelagia

SLATER-DSCF5543   SLATER-The Sea through the Gorge ii

The Sea through the Gorge, from the patio of the Villas, Agia Pelagia

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From P&M’s terrace, a preliminary scribble

SLATER-From P&M's terrace L   SLATER-From P&M's terrace R

Looking toward the White Mountains from P&M’s terrace, with a strong breeze blowing!

A new year, another bigger picture project. It was suggested toward the end of last year by Iain Erskine, Head of Fulbridge School, Peterborough. ‘I’ve a job I’d like you to think about,’ he said, ‘for the gable over the front entrance’. I’ve painted gable ends before but never within the confines of a triangle, so it was new territory.

Fulbridge

The subject of the painting was to celebrate the conversion from school to academy status, as well as an opportunity to upgrade and perform necessary maintenance to the front of the building. It would also highlight and promote its reputation as a school of creativity.

The school’s mission is ‘Unlocking Potential: We believe that if we give children the roots, they will grow wings and fly’. Being an avid follower of Jethro Tull since the late sixties, this concept naturally caused their 1995 album ‘Roots to Branches’ to spring to mind and images began to fill my head. A composition I painted in 1981 also became an important source and influence too. After discussing ideas with Iain I began producing a variety of designs based primarily upon these two themes before presenting him with an initial scribble, which was then taken further as a coloured visual.

SlaterFulbridgeAcademyDesign

The central motif is based upon the Fulbridge oak tree logo, with entwined roots spreading far and wide. White doves are scattered around the composition which increase in size as they take to the air. The school motto reflects and softens the angle of the gable and the new academy name takes pride of place. Two small child figures are located like bookends to each side, holding a paper chain of figures. There are many cultures and languages spoken within the school, and this motif shows that all children entering the building are as one, with an equal opportunity to shape their own future.

The painting from which these two figures were taken was painted in sepia tones, and I decided I would employ a similar palette for this project. The gable of wooden boards has been in place for several years, so I felt there shouldn’t be a dramatic and stark change. After all, the school is already ‘outstanding’ and its policy remains the same, there is no need to make it appear that it has become a different place. A sepia tone would not only look similar to the wooden boards but would also have a timeless quality, which was why my original composition was painted with such a palette.

SlaterImagine

The image began life as a drawing commission from a chum to illustrate an apolitical ‘social ideal’. It is titled ‘Imagine’ and was my response to the assassination of John Lennon. It illustrates a simple but enduring message, one relevant to every generation if we are going to live together in harmony and with respect for each other. It was painted in oil on canvas and I wrote a poem to accompany it.

Imagine

Imagine a time
with no mass unemployment
Imagine a world
without nuclear deployment
Imagine all people
respecting each other
Imagine them living
as sister and brother
Imagine all countries
without class distinction
Imagine world wildlife
with no fear of extinction
Imagine no hunger
no greed and no poor
Imagine no hatred
no malice, no war
Imagine……………

It is a sentiment that is never out of date, and relocating the figures from this painting to the new composition was like passing the baton. It felt the right thing to do.

‘Let me bring you songs from the wood/To make you feel much better than you could know
Dust you down from tip to toe/Show you how the garden grows
Hold you steady as you go
…………………Let me bring you love from the field/poppies red and roses filled with summer rain
To heal the wound and still the pain/that threatens again and again…………………Songs from the Wood/Make you feel much, much better’……..

Jethro Tull struck the right chord in 1977 with their album ‘Songs from the Wood’ – as so often with Ian Anderson lyrics, he knew how to hit the nail right on the head. We all went down to the woods from the Totem Pole today (9.11.10) and everyone was in disguise, not for a picnic but for an introduction to Forest School principles (http://www.forestschools.com/). We didn’t go alone either, our guide and instructor Mark Whelan divided the day into two clearly defined sessions; the morning spent indoors, the afternoon spent in the great outdoors engaged with forest skills and activities.

The morning began with a presentation of photographs illustrating children at play – in groups and as individuals where imagination and invention was a key and natural ingredient. Risk and danger was an integral element of play in past times but the over riding message was the sense of enjoyment and fun of being outside. The expressions of joy on the faces of individuals frozen in time was unmistakable. Comparisons were made with our own childhood as we were asked to list our personal memories of play; climbing trees, hide and seek, ball games, swimming in rivers, exploring and playing in the street being common to all. Generations of youngsters have enjoyed similar experiences and what was learned through play was character building and life enhancing – through developing friendships, teamwork, respect for safety through practical involvement – all a natural part of growing up.

The first activity Mark introduced after asking us to collect five sticks was to bind them together with a piece of string by means of a clove hitch. Simple maybe, but very awkward when trying to work with two arthritic thumbs. We completed the task and then manipulated it into a five point star – Mark quickly found out he was in for a very tough day!

The afternoon was spent in a woodland environment. Mark suggested that we divide ourselves into three groups; for shelter building, clearing and preparing an area for a fire and collecting kindling and wood for it. Safe boundaries were then identified to N, S, E and W of the Base Camp and playing out a Hide & Seek game not only brought out the inner child in us, it reiterated and reminded the group of ‘go’ and ‘no go’ areas. In my mind I recalled a short essay by Laurie Lee, ‘Eight Year Old World’ which was included in his book ‘I Can’t Stay Long’. Imaginations can run riot in places like this. We weren’t exactly singing in the rain, but calling out responses to ‘1-2-3 Where are You?’ in our individual and unique dulcet tones was pretty darn close.

The longer we spent outdoors, the more Ray Mears-like Mark became. Despite the wind and downpour, he demonstrated fire lighting efficiently and successfully – even rubbing two boy scouts together wouldn’t have created a spark in those conditions. Employing the outdoor environment as a classroom is second nature for Mark, his passion and interest for his subject was certainly infectious and illustrated how important it is to keep a contact with our natural world. There is a danger that the city based and increasingly indoor lifestyle of young people could lose touch with it completely. Todays activities were of particular interest to me, as a landscape painter my work embraces the sensations associated with being en plein air. However it doesn’t stop there, I believe that walking the landscape has helped heal me and because of this, many compositions contain symbols and subliminal messages. There’s a lot of me in there. Much more than merely ‘the view’.

Nature is available for exploration seven days a week, free of charge and age is no barrier to enjoyment – the only requirement is to be dressed appropriately for the conditions. To hear the wind whistling and singing in the tree canopy we all experienced Songs from the Wood that afternoon, whether they were related to Jethro Tull or not. Spending a few hours with nature for company was refreshment for the soul, and reminded us that there’s a treasure trove outdoors waiting to be explored, far preferable than another afternoon spent indoors with central heating in a stuffy room. As far as we were concerned, despite the rain, walking in the fresh air on a carpet of autumn leaves and spending a few hours with nature for company was, in the words of Tom Hanks in ‘Sleepless in Seattle’…………………like magic!

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