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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 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 Academy, Balderstone Close, Leicester LE5 4ES

Give Peace A Chance Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy

24.4 – 3.5.17

‘All we are saying

Is Give Peace A Chance………….’

A wall alongside the previously painted ‘Casablanca’ mural, intended to appear as a stained glass window with ‘Peace’ as its theme. The design is based upon ‘Dove of the Holy Spirit’ c.1660, above the Throne of St. Peter, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

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

Once Upon A Time Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary School – The Movie

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

Once Upon A Time Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary School

7.9.16 – 13.2.17

‘If you want to view paradise

Simply look around and view it

Anything you want to do, do it

Wanna change the world? There’s nothing to it’

I know I’ve used the phrase ‘most challenging project’ before, and I hate to repeat myself, but this was another albeit in a slightly different way. In fact I even reached a point where I thought I’d have to abandon this one. Before I’d reached a half-way stage I took a break of 4 weeks and couldn’t envisage myself returning to complete it. In fact I couldn’t even see myself picking up my brushes to paint ever again. I would describe that break as the most difficult of times.

Fortunately I was surrounded by some very good people. Considerate, patient, kind and understanding people. Last year didn’t begin well, and ended very badly. I was pleased to see 2016 disappear. Turning the calendar to reveal 2017 felt like breathing fresh air and making a new beginning.

rhstaffroomDespite my personal problems, working at Rowlatts Hill Primary School in Leicester is a very enjoyable experience. I have always been made welcome and there’s always cake, or chocolate, sometimes samosa. Let’s just say I’ve never gone hungry. Two years ago I painted a corridor wall with portraits of their selected ‘Heroes’ and before I’d finished Head Teacher Jay Virk had invited me to return. She spoke then about another project she had in mind by showing me the entrance to the Foundation Stage area of the school, which at that time was simply a small enclosed corridor with magnolia walls.

The Proposal
Jay wanted the area to be welcoming, exciting and colourful and asked if I’d design and paint a mural that would fill the space, which would both entice young children to read and instill in them the desire to explore the wonderful world of books.

However before I could embark on it I had another mammoth project to complete, ‘The Cavern’ music room mural at the Fulbridge Academy, with which in many ways this project had distinct similarities. It took a long time to finalise the design for ‘The Cavern’, there was such a rich source of material from which to select I felt overwhelmed. I encountered the very same ‘problem’ with Jay’s Foundation Stage entrance. I was spoiled for choice and the final decision of which books to include, and which to leave out, proved heartrendingly difficult.

‘Once Upon A Time’ became the working title for the painting and the more I researched, the more I delved into a world of superb illustration. I decided that not only would this painting be about the stories and their authors, it would also acknowledge and celebrate the work of the excellent children’s book illustrators who bring these stories to life. The world of make believe and imagination invented by the author has no boundaries, and to generate the images that visualise and make sense of that dimension is a very special skill indeed.

My ‘short’ list began by researching many ‘Favourite Children’s Books’ lists as well as making a note of the books and stories used in the school. As with the ‘Cavern’ music room project, the design developed as a historical timeline too rather than favouring one particular era, however there were some titles which were obvious certainties for inclusion. The design was drawn and redrawn many times before the final selection established itself, and even then late additions appeared during the painting stage.

The Location
The space had some awkward and unique features which played its part in the development of the design; a ceiling and wall height that changed part way along the corridor; two large windows; two large glass double doors and two wooden doors; plus a strangely positioned vertical post support feature resulting from a previous building modification. Other than that, it was plain sailing, except that the walls had some unusual features of their own with raised surfaces that jutted out, as well as the usual light switches and fire alarm box, and raised conduits to conceal electric cables. In other words, unlike the ‘Heroes’ corridor, they weren’t flat. The design really needed to disguise all of these abnormalities if that were possible.

As I have mentioned, there were many permutations of the design before a conclusion was found however from the moment I was first introduced to the space there were some things I envisaged immediately. To begin with I saw Lewis Carroll’s ‘too big’ Alice filling the facing end and extending across the door. I felt that the part of the story when she became a giant in a small room reflected the nature of the confined space. Not only that, the ‘Alice’ door would be regularly opened for the children to enter their own ‘Wonderland’. At the opposite end, above the double glass doors, I foresaw the butterfly from ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ as a visual metaphor. The story of a caterpillar evolving and eventually taking flight would be synonymous with the children leaving the early years area to spread their wings and make their own journey through the school.

I also intended to paint some exceptionally large images next to the large glass double doors at this end of the corridor, their reflection would suggest a continuation of the design into the main school. I deliberately selected two large and instantly recognisable heads for this purpose, half a Gruffalo was located on one side and half a Harry Potter on the other. The idea for this came directly from having grown up watching comedies like Harry Worth on TV.

For the remaining door I imagined one that was aged, forgotten, covered with ivy and concealing a secret garden. It’s actually an intervention room, but anything could be hiding behind a closed door, and it doesn’t have to be something frightening.

The oddly positioned ceiling support was the most awkward ingredient to incorporate into the design. I’d spoken with Jay about painting the ceiling so decided I could disguise it as Jack’s beanstalk growing up into the clouds. However, finding a suitable illustration which would work with it proved very troublesome. Despite investigating a plethora of drawings of this classic story I could find nothing that would be compatible with this strange architectural feature. Then, just as I began considering alternative stories which might be sympathetic with this structure, I had almost completed the painting by this time, by chance I came across a piece of work by Shawna Tenney in a book titled The Truth About Ogres. It was a terrific illustration and perfect for what I so desperately needed…………..except for the fact that I would have to reverse the image in order for it to work in the space available. As I’d already had to ‘flip’ an illustration by Quentin Blake in order that the seagulls attached to James’ Giant Peach could fly around a ceiling light, I felt reassured that this minor edit wouldn’t be detrimental to the original illustration.

The Design
My design had made a beginning but the rest of the space remained an unfinished jigsaw, and the number of pieces hadn’t yet been determined. The ceiling was an enigma as I hadn’t painted one in detail before however here was an opportunity to follow the example of so many Baroque churches (such as Sant’Ignazio in Rome) and stately homes (such as Burghley House in Stamford) and expand this confined space into an endless sky. I wanted the composition to suggest a possible storyline too so that it didn’t simply appear like a gallery of static characters, but as though there was a conversation going on between them and suggest they might come alive and play together when all the ‘grown-ups’ weren’t around. On the one hand the painting might encourage children to explore the books the characters came from but on the other it could also be used as a learning resource for the children to simply look around and invent their own stories.

This stage of the design process took several weeks as my ‘short’ list of potential candidates for inclusion were placed in different positions, and illustrations were researched to consider alternative poses. There were options provided by different illustrators too. Although some of the characters have a particularly distinctive appearance some books have received attention from a variety of illustrators to offer a different image. There are many Peter Pans, Long John Silvers and Jacks with giants and beanstalks out there. I have tried my best to acknowledge the sources of the images I have used, but I apologise for any inaccuracies and omissions as this is unintentional, I would like to ensure that the proper credit is recognised toward both authors and illustrators.

The Secret Garden door offered the possibility of extending the overgrown ivy across the wall as a textured backdrop to the composition, and the simple act of including a tree nearby in Tom’s Midnight Garden became a most important element to advance the design. It allowed foliage to extend across the ceiling to connect the two sides of the corridor, supply a branch from which Max (from Where The Wild Things Are) could swing, conceal the upper part of the BFG, and also locate a position for Winnie the Pooh to float as a little black rain cloud.

The ceiling not only provided a solution for the post support feature by including Jack and the Beanstalk but gave the opportunity to incorporate flight. There were many candidates but Mary Poppins, the intrepid Charlie Small, SuperTed, The Snowman, Peter Pan and James and the Giant Peach were perfect to fill that role.

I’d describe the production of the design as ‘tricky’, but it would have been impossible to make a perfect selection. There will always be a feeling of disappointment that important characters are missing, I have regrets that Black Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Famous Five and Rupert Bear are not present, but I had similar feelings about omissions in the final design of ‘The Cavern’ too.

My selection for the final design reading from the left as one enters the corridor was:
The Gruffalo
Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler

Stig of the Dump
Clive King/Edward Ardizzone

Mary Poppins
P L Travers/Mary Shepard

The Adventures of Charlie Small
Charlie Small/Nick Ward

SuperTed
Mike Young/Philip Watkins

Peppa Pig

Find the Duck
Stephen Cartwright

Where the Wild Things are
Maurice Sendak

The BFG (& Sophie)
Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake

The Tiger Who Came to Tea
Judith Kerr

Thomas the Tank Engine
Rev. W Awdry/Reginald Payne

Finn Family Moomintroll
Tove Janson

Matilda
Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake

The Cat in the Hat
Theodor Seuss Geisel

The Borrowers
Mary Norton/Diana Stanley

Mister Tickle
Roger Hargreaves

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Jeff Kinney

Burglar Bill
Janet & Allan Ahlberg

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll/John Tenniel

Treasure Island
Robert Louis Stevenson/Monro Scott Orr

Asterix
René Goscinny/Albert Uderzo

The Jolly Postman
Janet & Allan Ahlberg

A Bear Called Paddington
Michael Bond/Peggy Fortnum

Tom’s Midnight Garden
Phillipa Pearce

Winnie the Pooh
A A Milne/EH Shepard

The Sheep-Pig
Dick King-Smith/Layn Marlow

Flat Stanley
Jeff Brown/Scott Nash

The Tale of Peter Rabbit
Beatrix Potter

The Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett/Russell Barnett

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake

Charlotte’s Web
E B White/Garth Williams

Horrid Henry
Francesca Simon/Tony Ross

Funnybones
Janet & Allan Ahlberg

Harry Potter
J K Rowling/Mary Grandpré

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Eric Carle

On the ceiling:
The Snowman
Raymond Briggs

Jack and the Beanstalk
Joseph Jacobs/Shawna Tenney

Peter Pan
J M Barrie/Alice B. Woodward

James & the Giant Peach
Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake

As all the characters on the walls were make believe, upon completion I painted my signature as a fictitious character too, Sir Lancelot, one ouatsignatureof the Knights of the Round Table of Arthurian legend. He made his first literary appearance in the 12th century……………but it’s also an anagram.

I began transferring my design to the walls at the beginning of September and a ‘Varnishing Day’ on 13th February saw the painting finished, which gives the impression it had taken 7 months but, without including the time taken to produce the design, it had actually amounted to 52 days.

It seemed a strange coincidence that 13th February was my final day. That same date in 2016 was when my wife and I found my Mum in a confused state at her home after she’d spent the previous 14 hours lying on her living room floor. She’d suffered a stroke and for the next 3 weeks she was confined in a hospital ward followed by another 2 weeks in a Care Centre. In May she was in hospital again after experiencing heart failure and although she did mange to return to her home another series of mini strokes followed and saw her condition deteriorate in the autumn. On the morning of the 13th November she was found with hypothermia and a more than irregular heartbeat after another night on the floor. Although she was wearing her emergency bracelet she hadn’t pressed the alarm button and despite the attending paramedic’s insistent and repeated request to be taken to hospital she refused, preferring to remain in the comfort of her own home. She’d had a dreadful year. She understood the implications. She’d had enough.

We stayed by her bedside night and day for the next week and she died on the evening of the 19th November. She was always interested in what I was doing and to learn details of my next project. As far as ‘Once Upon A Time’ was concerned, she’d offered suggestions for inclusion and interested to follow the development of the design. She was also keen to see my photographic diary each week as the painting stage progressed. This has been a very difficult project to complete. It’s the first painting I’ve done that she’ll never see.

The Casablanca Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary School

16.11 – 4.12.15

IMG_0737 IMG_0739 IMG_0750IMG_0747

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

The Casablanca Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary School

16.11 – 4.12.15

Why ‘The Casablanca Mural’? Humphrey Bogart famously said in the last line of that movie, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, and I looked upon my invitation to work with Rowlatts Hill Primary School in Leicester in the same way.

However, instead of Louie, read Jay Virk, Head Teacher of the school who sent me the invite. Not that Jay bears any resemblance to the Claude Rains character at all. What she does have however, and in abundance, is the patience of a saint. It was the 25th November 2014 when Jay first made contact with me and it was a week short of 12 months before I actually began work on her project.

There were good reasons for this of course. Of all the schools, in all the towns, in all the world, Jay had walked into Fulbridge Academy and seen some of the corridor murals I had painted just as I had begun working on the monumental ‘Sistine Chapel’ project. This took longer than I anticipated, and I also squeezed in a couple of drawing workshops at Warmington and Titchmarsh Primary Schools at the beginning of March too, which concluded with a mural painting for the Titchmarsh School library, so I was unable to even make a visit to Rowlatts Hill to discuss her proposal till April ’15. Not only that, I had already committed myself to another project at Fulbridge to follow-on from the ‘Sistine Chapel’. I still had a Music History timeline to research, design and develop for their Music Room (now renamed ‘The Cavern’), which I then drew onto the walls during the month of July.

The months of August and September were spent making preparations for my ‘Landmarks & Milestones’ exhibition at the Castle theatre in Wellingborough, but I returned to Rowlatts Hill in October to familiarise myself with the space. Although ‘The Cavern’ was not finished I decided I would delay the painting stage of this project till the New Year as it was likely to take several weeks to complete, whereas the length of Jay’s project was a little easier to determine. Also I didn’t relish the prospect of making the longer daily commute to Leicester in my little 19 year old Corsa when driving conditions were possibly going to be foggy and icy.

With my modified workplan set, I began preparing designs for the walls Jay had shown me as my blank canvas. She asked if I would transform a corridor by illustrating a collection of people who were a source of inspiration through their creativity, inventiveness, innovation, ingenuity, imagination, originality, artistry, insight and vision. Jay had asked for suggestions from staff and children, and although she found restricting the list to 16 names difficult she felt those put forward were a good reflection of their community. The list presented to me was:
Rosa Parks
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Nelson Mandela
Malala Yousafzai
Mother Teresa
Anne Frank
Mohandas Gandhi
Queen Elizabeth II
Albert Einstein
Richard III
Florence Nightingale
Charles Darwin
William Shakespeare
Mary Seacole
Vincent van Gogh
Stephen Hawking

The reason I’ve selected ‘My Hero’ by the Foo Fighters as the title of this blog is because of its chorus, “There goes my hero/Watch him as he goes/There goes my hero/He’s ordinary”. The personalities included in the composition may be household names but really they are just ordinary people who have done extra-ordinary things. Within the context of a Primary School whose principles are to encourage children to achieve well and to become something special themselves, I felt this sentiment particularly appropriate.

On 2nd November I returned to meet with Jay and also with Grant Penton, Business Manager at Rowlatts Hill, to present my proposed designs and to discuss my selection of the various photographic and painted source material. All the images chosen have a backstory which can be investigated further. Their response was both enthusiastic and positive. Although I had suggested keeping the list to 16 names my design actually included 17 portraits, with the Queen appearing twice. As she became the longest-reigning British monarch on the 9th September 2015 the design began and ended with her image, the first from a photograph by Dorothy Wilding taken in 1952 the second from 2015, which acted like ‘bookends’.

Two weeks later, on the 16th November, I began daubing the walls with paint but 18 portraits actually appear in the final composition. Due to an error of judgement on my part during the painting process a larger than intended space began to yawn out at me, which offered the opportunity for the inclusion of an additional hero. I spoke with Jay, who in turn conferred with her colleagues, and when she returned asked if Jessica Ennis-Hill could be included. In terms of her being an inspirational figure to young people I felt this to be a perfect choice, especially with the prospect of the Rio Olympics being a major feature of the forthcoming 2016 sporting calendar.

The painting stimulated much conversation with both staff and children as it gradually evolved on the walls over the 12 days it took to complete. There were some memorable moments too; I thoroughly enjoyed overhearing my ‘neighbour’ Alex teaching his year 3 group; was both touched and lost for words when a child walked quietly up to the wall and bowed his head at the image of Mohandas Gandhi; and a big thanks to Grant, Matt, Nathan, Karla & Liam, those wall vibrating Tuesday evening ‘Moose Knuckle’ rehearsals were very special. Many, many thanks Jay for inviting me to work at Rowlatts Hill. It was a pleasure. Let’s do it again sometime.

The Casablanca project was enjoyable from start to finish and although I say it myself, I think it turned out okay. I feel very pleased with it. Here’s looking at you kid!

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