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The Fulbridge Academy Sistine Chapel Project – The Beginning……….

Sept – Dec ’14

Shortly after completing the Fulbridge Diner mural I received another message from Principal Iain Erskine. He had a proposal to discuss with me in relation to a new building being constructed close by the original school.

This new facility, much needed as student numbers at the Fulbridge Academy were expanding rapidly, would accommodate children in years 5&6. Iain had a very clear idea of what he wanted and had made specific suggestions with regard to the design of the building, which the architects had delivered, and the construction was entering its final stages.

A Wayfind Strategy

I was aware of this extension to the school as Iain had spoken to me about it on several occasions during the past year and I had been shown the architects drawing about a year ago. The message I received on the 25th September however suggested that Iain had considered a change of plan with regard to the appearance of the long corridor at the centre of the structure.

It was more a spacious ‘break-out area’ than a traditional corridor, being approx. 10′ wide and with a 12′ high ceiling, and had the potential to be divided into several smaller work areas as required. There were double doors at each end of this large space, one set leading to and from the entrance hall and the opposing end opening to an outside play area, and 8 classrooms could be accessed from it. However, as each room also had doors to outside, this space wouldn’t be the only route of entry to the classrooms.

FAH Plan

Rather than ‘classrooms’, Iain preferred that each would be referred to as ‘studios’ in order to reflect the emphasis on the creative arts, drama and performance led curriculum at the school. Each pair of rooms were to be furnished in bold colours (green, yellow, red and blue) and a series of large adhesive flat colour graphic images had been designed to fill the walls around the doors. The names for the studios were to be Hollywood, Broadway, Pixar, Universal, Bollywood, Disney, West End and Abbey Road.

The proposal received from Iain was that he’d had second thoughts about the graphics destined for the large central area and asked if I’d be interested to paint the space instead. He suggested that we meet up to discuss things further, with an invitation to make a visit to the construction site of the new building too.

On Weds 1st October we were greeted at the Eaglesthorpe entrance by the Carillion site manager, donned hard hats, high vis. ‘Kenny’ jackets, gloves, eye protection and site boots and taken on a tour of the building. It was taking shape but far from finished, however the sight of the large central corridor where the murals were to appear really whet my appetite. The sensation of this space already felt immense and overwhelming, and I felt the scale of the challenge immediately. Nevertheless, I dared myself to take it on. I’ve had many ‘Sweet Dreams’ of walls like this, but never thought I’d ever be offered the opportunity of painting them in the real world. Of course the walls weren’t finished yet, but I could imagine in my mind’s eye the dramatic effect of paintings on such a scale. It was a commission I had to accept, this was my one chance of fulfilling the dream of a lifetime.

Over the course of the next 7 weeks I made a series of drawings for the 8 sections of the corridor and on 27th November returned to Fulbridge to present my proposed design ideas to Iain. Following this meeting he took me to visit the construction site again and this time the building was nearing completion.

Once more we dressed in regulation Health & Safety construction site attire and upon entering the building, as carpeting had now been revealed, were asked to place elasticated plastic ‘covers’ over our borrowed ‘site boots’. The central area, with walls now in place and painted, looked even larger than I remembered and the thought flashed across my mind whether I’d made the right decision in accepting the commission. I tried my best to prevent an avalanche of feelings turning into a deluge of self doubt. Although I was very aware of the scale of the task ahead, suddenly it hit me as an immediate reality staring me boldly in the face. It wasn’t only the question of whether I possessed the ability of turning my designs into monumental sized paintings that had been circling around in my head, another ever-present nagging thought concerned the timescale of start to finish which I felt was impossible to predict.

FAH Whiteout1

As the design stage developed I had begun referring to this painting as my ‘Sistine Chapel’ project and a well known fact about the original MichelAngelo version was that it took him just over 4 years working with a team of assistants before his ceiling was completed. He began work in July 1508 and the frescoes were unveiled in October 1512. It measured over 5000 sq.ft. In comparison, my two walls measured approximately 12′ x 105′ each, a total area of 2520 sq.ft and I would be working alone. As I was steering well clear of employing a fresco painting technique the best prediction I could offer to Iain was that I felt fairly confident that my ‘Sistine Chapel’ would be completed in less time.

The following week I began making alterations to a selection of my drawings having found during our site visit that some of the studios had changed position from the original architects plan, and which had caused compositional implications with the designs I’d presented. I also began preparing artwork which would assist the transfer of design to wall.

Then, on Tuesday 9th December, I returned to Fulbridge Academy High and began a very close and intimate relationship with a mobile scaffolding tower and a sponge………….

FAH ST1

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Artist in Residence at the Voyager Academy

– The Cave Painting

29.11 – 5.12.13

An area in the entrance to the Academy had been allocated as the location for the ‘cave’ painting which, because of its situation alongside the busy concourse referred to as ‘The Street’, would be passed by all students attending the school at break times and as they moved between classrooms. Progress of the project would therefore be easily monitored and assessed by everyone.

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Work began on Friday 29th November. When I arrived Academy technicians Arthur & Liz had already begun erecting a structure using materials which had previously been used as the backdrop for a production of ‘Les Miserables’. Although the image of ‘Liberty Leading the People’ after Delacroix would be painted over I saw this initial starting point as possibly being a lucky omen. ‘Suddenly’ ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ that everything would turn out okay ‘At the End of the Day’.

After the flat 8’x4′ and 4’x4′ panels had been installed and connected, sheets of cardboard were stapled to their bottom edge in order that they reached the floor. More cardboard was attached after being torn into irregular strips to prevent edges appearing straight and formal, and I began the task of painting to create the illusion that the surface might actually be rock rather than canvas and cardboard.

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On Monday 2nd December I began working with small groups of year 8 students to paint the ‘cave’ wall. During the course of the week I worked with 10 different groups, each spending just under 2 hours with me. I began each session with a 5-10 minute introduction, showing images on my MacBook, to compare the painting of the Sistine Chapel with the cave in Lascaux, contemporary rock paintings in Australia, cave paintings of hand prints, figures and animals, work by Charles R. Knight, and also Pablo Picasso, in particular his series of etchings of a bull which was manipulated and abstracted in 11 stages. Lastly I showed some images by contemporary artists such as Banksy, and Laurel Barbieri.

Each group worked in both two and three dimensions. To improve the appearance of the cave further, large shapes were constructed using chicken wire and which were then covered with newsprint and paste. Once dry they were painted to represent rocks and boulders. The cave wall itself was painted with hand prints as well as being decorated with shapes of animals, and figures hunting and dancing.

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By lunchtime on Thursday 5th December, the painting came to a conclusion and the working space cleared and cleaned. A painting measuring approx. 7′ x 45′ had been constructed, prepared and completed in 5 days which was pretty good going. In the evening, to an invited audience of special guests and parents, the ‘Does Art Matter?’ themed project work and artwork went on display, with a performance of music and dance using the cave painting project as an impressive backdrop.

Many thanks Lindsay, Paula & Sara – it was a lot of fun. And well done year 8!!!

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