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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

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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

BBC Radio Leicester visit Rowlatts Hill

14.3.19

https://www.rowlatts-tmet.uk/bbc-radio-leicester-feature-march-19/

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

Tree Canopy & Waterfall Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy

Jan – Feb 19

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

Under the Sea Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy

Oct 18 – Jan 19

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

Under the Sea & Rainforest Murals at Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy

Oct 18

‘I’m gonna get by, with a little help from my friends’

Before I’d even completed the Gladiator project I’d been invited to return to Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy, the transformation of a long corridor being the tempting prospect. At the time of being asked it felt like a long way off into the future, I had a daunting sports hall project at Fulbridge Academy to fulfill, as well as ‘Heroes’ and ‘Storybook’ themed murals promised for King’s Cliffe Primary before I could start thinking about commuting along the A47 toward Leicester again.

Nevertheless, time ticked by and as the last of those projects neared completion I arranged a design meeting to discuss the germ of an idea I’d had circling in my head during the previous weeks. On 28th September this concept was discussed and a plan was set in motion to transfigure a very bright and magnolia painted corridor with an ‘Under the Sea’ and ‘Rainforest’ theme.

This would be my fifth project at Rowlatts Hill. Casablanca was my first in 2015 and, as Rick said in his last line of that movie, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. This project could have followed a similar pattern to previous projects, this time however I was tempted to try something different. Rather than focussing only on painting the walls, I had a feeling that more could be achieved. I’ve developed a good relationship with the school and the previous Gladiator project had given me much food for thought, so asked if I could solicit the assistance of Site Manager Matt Hassall.

During the course of the last few years Matt has become a good friend and his talents are many and varied. He has been responsible for several sculptural elements around the school and it was he who concluded the Gladiator project, installing wall and floor furnishings in the Roman themed cloakroom and laying a grass carpet along the grapevine adorned fields of the corridor. By enlisting his skills I felt certain we could ‘push the envelope’ a little.

Principal Jay Virk has shown me a lot of trust, allowing me the opportunity to become more adventurous with each project, previously however I’ve presented her with a decent design visual so she had a chance to picture how the finished piece might appear. This time however, as there were so many ‘unknowns’, I couldn’t do this, and at the time of our design meeting my ideas were either still in my head or very much ‘in the air’. Like Yves Kein she took a big leap of faith. Although I could present a basic idea of my plans there were so many ingredients that could prove to be a movable feast, I knew much of it would have to be resolved as it went along. Drawings presented at the design meeting therefore were ‘sketchy’ to say the least, even though I supplemented my concept with a substantial collection of photocopied reference.

Jay wanted the ‘Under the Sea’ corridor to play a part in illustrating a story, to reinforce David Attenborough’s Blue Planet message relating to our responsibilities for the future of our planet and to sustain his campaign against plastic pollution in the sea. A corridor is seen in transit and so my design concept was one which could be read as one moved along it. There is a ‘bad’ and a ‘good’ end, the change occurring as one progresses. The palette gradually changes from bright, to dark and dull. Sea creatures change from being healthy, to facing a life and death struggle. Sea bed coral changes from being colourful, to colourless. Remains of ancient educated civilisations are revealed, possibly engulfed long ago due to rising sea levels. On the one hand these are sites of intrigue with potential for archeological research, whereas more recent finds could simply be considered as ‘debris’, be it accidental disaster, the wreckage of war or the dumping of waste.

In creating the sensation of being under the sea Matt would play a major role. Both walls and ceiling would be an integral part of the plan, with the surface altered to generate the impression of craggy rocks and a rowing boat with oars being included as three dimensional elements. Lighting would be changed too, from a line of three static formal white lights to a mixed collection of nine white, green and blue lights housed on movable arms which could be individually twisted to aim rays at different areas of the corridor. Finally, with a scuttled galleon included within the composition it would only be appropriate for the very stark white radiator to also be painted, disguised to feature a lost pirate treasure chest.

At the half way point along the corridor, between the ‘Sea’ and ‘Rainforest’ sections, is an area where there are two double glass doors. Rather than it being a ‘dead zone’ and a sudden leap from one theme to the other I felt it would be important that this small area created a smooth transition, even though there was a very limited amount of wall surface, the link relying mainly on what would be painted on the ceiling.

My intention was to paint a tree canopy which would encourage one to look up and around above the large glass doors, with Matt creating a waterfall to walk under as one moved between this area and the ‘Sea’ corridor. With a steep rock face and the suggestion of crashing water painted within the doorway entrances, this is an example of the improvisation which would be required and which could only be properly resolved once the project was underway.

The tree canopy ceiling painting would then introduce the ‘Rainforest’ itself, beginning with a lake or pond to link with the water theme and the density of the forest increasing the further one ventured along the corridor. It would begin as a friendly and inviting ‘Gruffalo’ wood, but gradually become a darker space, one perhaps more likely to be associated with a ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ related theme. With Matt’s help and expertise, sprawling tree shapes would sprout from the walls and across the corridor as sculptural elements, and the lighting would change from white to a cocktail mixture of white, red and green. In addition the ceiling would not only be painted but also covered with large camouflage nets to create an undulating effect, the netting helping to cast a series of tree canopy-like shadows on the walls. These nets would then also be dressed, with imitation leaves and pieces of wool.

Three single and two double doorways are located within this area and my plan was to disguise them all, using the temple of Ta Prohm at Angkor Wat as my model. The ‘Sea’ corridor featured an ancient civilisation which as time passed had disappeared and I wanted something similar for this composition too, that another ancient and educated civilisation had once prospered, had disappeared and its neglected buildings been reclaimed by nature. I wanted to illustrate that all life is transitory, that we all have a responsibility for our future and are still a part of this ongoing cycle.

The plan was approved, the corridor stripped of its noticeboards and the walls prepared for painting. On 29th October I arrived to find a long bright corridor waiting for me and it looked even longer than I’d remembered it on my previous visit. It would be an honest admission to say that I felt more than a little overwhelmed. Following my warm, Rowlatts Hill open arms ‘Welcome Home’ reception at the door, I made myself a cuppa and was soon left alone in the corridor to ponder the task ahead of me.

Deep in thought, I prowled to and fro along the full length of the corridor like a caged animal trying to build an image of the finished piece in my head. There were so many questions still unanswered, but nevertheless, the mental image looked okay. I needed to make a start, but where? The space felt so very big. I took a deep breath, thought of my favourite lines from chapter 64 of the Tao Te Ching, picked up a piece of charcoal and started making a smudgy mess on a wall.

” The giant pine tree

grows from a tiny sprout.

The journey of a thousand miles

starts from beneath your feet”.

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

Gladiator Mural (Part 4) at Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy

April 18

The final stage of the ‘Gladiator’ corridor at Rowlatts Hill, a grass carpet has now been laid to bring the project to a conclusion. It is the final piece of the jigsaw, the cherry on the Bakewell tart, the penalty save in added-on time. The before and after pics show a significant transformation. Well done Matt Hassall, and thank you. You’re an absolute star. It really looks terrific!

Gladiator (Part 4) – The Floor

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

Give Peace A Chance & Gladiator Murals at Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy – The Movie

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

Gladiator Mural (Part 3) at Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy

31.5 – 8.6.17

‘Don’t stop until you are proud’

The third and final part of the ‘Gladiator’ project was to be painted on the floor. Physically, painting large walls is always a challenge. Painting ceilings is even more onerous, there is no escape from the strain on neck, back and shoulders. A floor however is probably the most demanding. Back, neck, knees, calf muscles and hamstrings complain after long sessions of bending and crouching in an almost fetal position. Wrist and elbow feel the pressure too from reaching and supporting one’s weight. Even with the use of kneeling pads for protection, there’s no respite at all.

Having said that, unlike the two previous occasions when I have painted a ‘fl-ural’, a ‘Volcanic corridor’ at Fulbridge Academy and a ‘Rabbit Hole’ at Titchmarsh School, this at least would be on a much smaller scale. The area to be covered measured only 1150 x 1170mm, nevertheless I use the word ‘only’ reservedly, I knew from experience that even this would not be a short undertaking, nor would it be an easy one. If the painting proved successful though, it would not only be the icing on the ‘Pudding Club’ cake for the ‘Gladiator’ project, it would be the cherry on top too.

I began to develop design ideas by researching Roman floor mosaic motifs, and while engaged in this task an article about an archaeological discovery in the centre of Leicester appeared on the BBC news page. I incorporated features seen in the photographs from both this reference and from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services website and employed a similar but brighter palette in order to make a connection. I retained its simplicity by restricting the design to four colours, with two blue tones, a red, an orange (rather than the brown/grey of the original) and white.

On showing my design to Principal Jay Virk it was given an immediate and enthusiastic thumbs up. I prepared actual size artwork to assist the transfer of design to floor, and pencil crayon drawing soon evolved into a fully fledged ‘fl-ural’.

The painted ‘mosaic’ acts as a very effective final statement to the ‘Gladiator’ project, and symbolically like a full stop at the end of the last sentence of an immensely enjoyable novel. Following the application of four coats of varnish this brought my residency at Rowlatts Hill Academy to a conclusion. A quote painted on the wall at the end of this corridor has been staring at me for the last couple of months. It reads, ‘Don’t stop until you are proud’. It’s always difficult to assess a painting while working in such close proximity with it, but I’ve reached a point where I’m feeling pride about this one, so I’ve stopped.

Last September I had made a promise to complete three projects at the school, and which I had estimated would require approximately 12-15 weeks to fulfill. However, due to the unforeseen circumstances outlined in my ‘Pure Imagination’ blog, instead of three months my stay had come close to being nine.

Working at Rowlatts Hill has been an absolute pleasure and I thank everyone for being so supportive and understanding about my personal situation. I could easily make a long list of all the teaching and support staff I’d like to thank, I have been made extraordinarily welcome and enjoyed some very good company. In particular I am indebted to Jay and Grant, Principal and Business Manager at Rowlatts Hill. We began with a working relationship, we now enjoy a meaningful friendship. In addition similar feelings apply to Site Premises ‘Captains’ Matt and Nathan too. The assistance and support I’ve received from both has been invaluable, their good humour consistently uplifting and, to say the least, incomparable. I’m really going to miss you chaps.

Thank you Rowlatts Hill. To paraphrase the opening line of Charles Dickens‘A Tale of Two Cities’, what has been the most difficult of times has also been the best of times.

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

Gladiator Mural (Parts 1&2) at Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy

20.2 – 5.5.17

Hard on the heels of the ‘Once Upon A Time’ mural, my brief for this follow-on project was to transform the appearance of a fairly narrow and very busy corridor and create a taste of Tuscany, a landscape filled with grapevines and warm sunshine. This space, located outside two Year 3 classrooms, leads to a Roman themed area of the school and Principal Jay Virk suggested the final scene from Ridley Scott‘s ‘Gladiator’ movie as a clue of what she envisaged in her mind’s eye. Remembering his home built at the end of an avenue of cypress trees Maximus, Russell Crowe, imagined himself walking through a wheat field in a gently undulating Tuscan hillside to return to his family. To him, this was an image of Heaven.

However, the ‘Gladiator’ mural would be painted in three parts, and as this would be the largest I decided to begin with the smallest section first, so Heaven would have to wait till ‘Part 1’ was completed.

Gladiator mural (Part 1) – The Portrait

The wall seen at the end of the corridor was located within a cloakroom area already having the appearance of a Roman villa, which posed a problem. The design had to work both as an integral element of an exterior landscape scene as well as a Roman interior. The difficulty was resolved by giving the impression the wall surface was made of marble with a plaque, inscribed with a portrait of a Caesar, mounted on it. The trompe l’oeil plaque and portrait was inspired by a Roman coin auctioned in Switzerland in 2015.

 

Gladiator mural (Part 2) – The Landscape

Left Wall:

Right Wall:

The corridor walls have an imagined landscape view and at its end, before entering the Roman area, a grapevine covered pergola helps disguise a door frame. This portion of the corridor is quite dim, so the pergola generates the illusion of being the cause of the shade, whether walking in one direction and out of the ‘sunshine’ or from the other on leaving a bright ‘interior’.

Looking back, the landscape on the wall above the stairs was based upon the house seen in the previously mentioned final scene of the ‘Gladiator’ film, the perspective of the avenue of cypress trees painted to work with the angles seen as one walks toward it.

The walls on each side of the steps are painted in a fragmented, abstracted manner as the landscape gradually simplifies and metamorphoses either into a portrait of the Queen or a stained glass window, the final elements of the ‘Casablanca‘ and ‘Give Peace a Chance‘ murals which are located in the adjoining corridor.

In time, the surface of the corridor floor will be covered with a grass carpet which will further assist with the illusion of walking through an avenue of vines, and the small area of floor between pergola and portrait will become the final section of the Gladiator mural. This will be Part 3 of the project, to be painted next, and which will involve the painting of a mosaic.

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

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