I've just got the memory back from an old computer so thought I would show this. I was lucky enough that I had a friend who was an art teacher at the prison, she asked me if I could come in and give a talk about being an artist, to show my work and give them inspiration and motivation. I did, in return they inspired and motivated me! This set of paintings took about a year to complete, each individual panel is 1m x 1m, making the final painting 3m x3m when hung together. The picture as a set is based on a couple of earlier paintings of mine, "Trailer Park Eden" and "Bitter Sweet Blue Symphony."
While we were painting together during this project The Lightbox, (a local) modern art gallery was in it's final stages of building. With this in mind It seemed the perfect setting to display our work, promoting art in the (their) community. Unfortunately they didn't see this and sadly it is yet to be exhibited.
It was finished a couple of weeks before I gave birth to my second daughter Iris. For these two reasons, giving birth and the intensity of the project I needed to change my art, it's style and direction forever. A year away from painting took me to where I am today with my Itchycoo series. Although I had thought I would never paint a dot again, unfortunately now there are more than ever, they just kept returning!
Below are two of my paintings that I used for the base of the art collaboration project.
Above: Bitter Sweet Symphony
Below: Trailer Park Eden
What I wrote about the art project in early 2007:
Emma Hill working with prisoners from HMP Coldingley
I have been working with prisoners at HMP Coldingley since November 2005. Initially my interest in working at the prison was purely curiosity – what would the prison be like, what kind of artwork has been undertaken before, would a prison atmosphere be conducive to artistic endeavour and what would the prisoners themselves be like?
I was surprised at how much effort the prisoners put into their work, the positive atmosphere in the classroom and how much each prisoner looked forward to their art classes. It soon became apparent that the prisoners gained a great deal from these over and above a better understanding of art itself and the accomplishment of a finished piece:
- An improvement in communication skills
- An ability to concentrate for prolonged periods of time
- The ability to work with others
- Self- motivation
- A desire to learn more
- A sense of achievement
- Improved self-esteem
- Positive attitude
Background to the proposed art project for The Lightbox
My own artwork consists of brightly coloured canvases painted in acrylics with an underlying structure of swirls, ribbons and motifs taken from nature which is then overlayed with many thousands of individual dots of colour. Inspiration has come from aboriginal art, impressionism, pointillism and popular culture. From a starting point of small individual canvases I now specialise in larger works made up of individual panels which are linked together both in the underlying pattern and signature dots. These panels whilst designed to hang together can also work as stand-alone pieces. In addition, the individual panels can be transposed and rotated but will still work together to form one overall flowing image.
I explained my method of working to the prisoners at Coldingley and they quickly understood that in order to achieve a coherent multi-panelled artwork it was important that they should be able to work together and appreciate not only each other’s input but also my task of pulling the whole work together by the ultimate application of coloured dots.
The initial small multi-panelled artwork was very successful. Positive feedback from fellow inmates and staff at Coldingley has been reinforced by comments from external viewers through my agent, Kay Austin, at New British Artists.
Art Project for The Lightbox
I have already made moves within the prison and with the original prison artists to take this project on to achieve an artwork consisting of 9 panels of 1m x 1m canvases laid out on a grid of 3m x 3m.
The subject matter for this piece is a hanging garden. I will apply the underlying basic pattern, readily identifiable with my own work, and it will then be the prisoners’ task to embellish this with images of their own in keeping with the theme e.g. birds, butterflies, fantasy creatures and landscapes. Whilst I will guide and help them achieve what is in their imagination I anticipate that, in common with the first small artwork, a great deal of subliminal imagery will emerge. I see this as an extremely important element of the work, allowing each individual artist to express themselves in their own way, but the completed artwork will also incorporate my own artistic identity, both in the starting point and in the ultimate application of dots of colour.
The Importance of The Lightbox
The Lightbox will be an outstanding architectural landmark for Woking. The designers, Mark Barfield Architects, are already well known to the public through the success of The London Eye. I believe that this new public museum and gallery will give the people of Woking and beyond a warm, accessible space in which to view stimulating exhibitions.
We hear a great deal about ‘art in the community’ and it is important to encourage an all-inclusive arts programme which will open up dialogue between communities. One community within the Woking environs is HMP Coldingley, and whilst the local population is well aware of its existence there is, quite naturally, little discourse between the two above and beyond local employment.
The Lightbox has the ability to open up communications between the public and the prison through my art project at Coldingley. In addition to providing a public hanging space for the finished artwork I see this as a tremendous opportunity to open up a debate on a number of levels:
- Questioning established ideas about the prison system
- The nature of prisons as centres for rehabilitation and education
- The function of art as therapy
- Whether art is viewed by the public as a legitimate use of prisoner time
I would like to encourage the public to enter into this debate by displaying background information on the artwork, statistics on prison population education (e.g. 33% unable to read, 52% have dyslexia etc) and individual statements from the prison artists alongside the artwork. I would then like to invite the public to respond to the artwork in the following ways:
- To post their comments on a public notice board next to the artwork so that these comments will become part of the work itself – a reciprocal narrative between those who have produced the work and the viewers.
- A ‘comments box’ for those who would like to express an opinion in a more private manner. The box itself would reflect the environment in which the artwork was made. It would be made out of matchsticks by one of the prisoners – a craft highly regarded and long established in prisons throughout the UK.
The most important element of all this is that these public comments will be reported back to the prisoners so that they may gain a new insight in to the public’s reception of their work.
I am aware that there are existing charities and institutions who do a great deal to encourage further education in prisons, some use art as a means to engage individuals who have had difficulty learning in a traditional school environment and through traditional methods. I am also well aware that lack of education does not automatically lead an individual to a life of crime.
I see the public display and feedback as a unique opportunity to set in motion an open dialogue and greater understanding between these two communities which may help to encourage contact and understanding, reducing prejudice, challenging stereotypes and enabling prisoners to question their past and future behaviour.
I anticipate that this project could generate a great deal of interest from the public and the media.
(This made it into Woking's News and Mail.)
The Journey along the way:
The centre piece that never was - to be.
The comments box for people to post their views about the painting or art in prison. It has been made out of matchsticks, with a butterfly detail on the top.
Statements from the art class at HMP Coldingley.
“I find painting to be the best way to express my feelings, in understanding myself and the way I think the world should be. I also like the idea of working in a group as this helps us to learn from each other. I think that this has a stronger and more meaningful effect.
I think painting is very important to the world in general. Art has to and needs to change in time. I think it is very important to put a lot of love, peace and nature into art as I think the world lacks these things. I also think that art can have a healing effect if it is done from the heart and with clean meaningful thoughts”.
“I have been drawing for some years. When I first began I wasn’t very good, but with practice I have become better. What I like about art is that it is a creative process which helps free my mind and that helps to channel my thoughts. I took art classes at school and went on to pursue it at college, and in a way, I wish I had stuck with it because I would like to have become a graphic designer or something along those lines. I haven’t drawn for years and it is slowly coming back to me. Being in jail I find art classes something to look forward to as a productive experience and also a release – something, which eventually, we will all have.”
“Individual artists, creating a piece, as a collective, being married together, by an overlay from another, who happens to be ‘Emma’.
Being part of the group, was enjoyable, and when completed, gave me a sense of pride and achievement.
Art humanises people above being perceived as just criminals”.
“I enjoy painting as it is relaxing and sociable as we have been working as a group. Art for me is a great way to pass time by doing something that is stimulating for the mind. I also enjoy modelling – in match sticks to be precise. I do this alone in my cell and find it very satisfying.”
“I enjoy doing art because it is a way of expressing myself and a way of escaping everyday life in prison. I’ve always been interested in art, drawing and painting. It is a good way of relaxing.
I enjoy doing group work as by working together we come up with different ideas. Since I have been making art, I feel that I have progressed quite a lot. While working in a group you can get help from other prisoners and they can tell you if they think that something looks wrong”
I’m interested in taking the art course; it may improve my painting skills and give me something to focus on to pass time.
They can lock the locks but they can’t stop the clocks.”
“There is more to HMP than just bars and criminals.”
This was the start:
The first day I came to visit I left 12 pieces of A4 paper with a sketch of a design that I had drawn the night before. Each person was given to paint / colour in and that was all it was.
It was interesting to see the mix and contrast of style.
This was the next painting, I started the shape and painted the lines where they were free to express themselves filling the gaps with what they wanted. It was from here I decided to start on a project involving everyone, where every individual contribution was valued.
The base layer of our project - pre tweaking and pre dots.
The Final Painting: The End.