Street Art Adventures 3

Street Art Adventures 1 & Street Art Adventures 2

Yesterday I finished the angel at Parson Cross. Here is the final piece:

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It’s been a great learning experience for me as I love getting to grips with a new medium. It always takes a while to work out what a certain material will and won’t do, and trying to force it against its natural inclinations is a recipe for frustration. So, for example, watercolours can be beautifully luminous because on wet paper they have a life of their own as the colours spread and run. Fight this and you end up with a muddy mess, go with it and you can create amazing images that are spontaneous, light and lively. Oil and acrylics both (on the whole) stay where they’re put but acrylics can dry so quickly whilst oils can take (literally) weeks before the paint won’t smear again. I find that it’s the limitations of a medium that inspire the greatest creativity – when you allow it to be what it truly is, that’s when beauty emerges. The same could be said for people, places and communities.

I particularly like the detail on the face of the angel. I’d practiced in the studio on smooth wood boards but they have a different texture and absorbency to the breeze blocks and so I had to adapt again to the different way in which the paint interacted with the surface. I love the way the paint has settled on the rough bricks and the random mists and spatters of colour; beauty emerging in an ordinary place, out of my control.

Once again the most moving aspect of the process was the response from passers by. As people talked I got a sense of the community owning the image (and it is theirs not mine). Some would say how they’d been wondering who had been painting the angel, some told stories about the building: people who had worked there, played bingo there, or teenagers who had explored it as a derelict site and ventured up on the roof*.

It struck me how sad that such an iconic building at the heart of a neighbourhood could fall into  ruin; the owners live far away and have no stake in the community but people on the street had dreams about what it could be used for if only they had the resources.

So, the angel finished and we have two other sites in mind to complete for advent. I hope this image stands as a messenger and a symbol of strength, hope, goodness and beauty emerging in a place where so many people wouldn’t expect to find it. In making this painting I experienced all those things, not just from the art, but from the community itself.

 

*Please don’t try this at home kids

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D:Sign 3

D:Sign 1 & D:Sign 2

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This was the most difficult of all the 12 photos to shoot.

It’s held together behind the scenes with safety pins, cotton thread and cocktail sticks and I had to suspend it in my bedroom window to get the light how I wanted it. It took many failed attempts to get it all balanced and I had to take the shot quickly as the model collapsed shortly afterwards.

No doubt someone can tell me how I could have done it all by manipulating a simpler image on my laptop with photoshop or somesuch but I don’t have those skills and also, it’s important to me that things are real.

I wonder why this is the case, after all this is a photograph – already removed from the physical thing it depicts and whilst, in the past I might have been able to hold the negative in my hand which at least had some physical relationship to the original object (the photons reflected from the object being photgraphed will have interacted with the film in my hands) this image only exists as a series of 1’s and 0’s on my laptop’s hardrive. Would it make a difference if someone had cleverly manipulated an image so that it looked exactly the same as the real thing that took so much frustrating trial and error to construct? I suppose the answer to that question depends on how important you feel the relationship between the process of creation and the final piece of work is.

To my mind the significance of the final image (photograph, painting, sculpture or whatever) is not just the thing in itself but the story of creation that it embodies. Furthermore, I have a hunch that this resonates strongly with one of the important things about being human, an idea I hope to explore in the future…

 

 

 

Street Art Adventures 2

Thanks for all the encouraging comments for this work both on the blog and emails from across the world – I’m quite overwhelmed that my tentative attempts at street art should draw such a response.

I’ve been out again today in a grey Sheffield November and here are the photos of my progress (including a bonus action shot courtesy of my friend and colleague Nick Waterfield)

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I was quickly approached by a guy from the estate who used to do street art when he was younger and he gave me some great advice as to how I could improve my technique and was kind enough not to criticise the work too much as he pointed out what I was doing wrong. It was great to hear about his exploits as a teenager but it seems sad to me how the creative energy of youth has been criminalised. He also wondered how long it would take the teenagers from the neighbourhood to draw a giant cock between the angel’s legs… well we shall see.

Other passers by were worried that I had come from the council or the owners of the building to paint over the angel – one lady saying how her 4 year old grandson loved it and had to touch it every time they walked passed.

This creative process is an ever deepening experience for me. Nick said that his favourite part of the image was the feet, solid and grounded. I like that, I want the image to be of the place and not imposed on the community. And it is evolving as I talk to the people passing by. My natural tendency when drawing figures is to make them long, slender and waif like (like me) but as time passes this angel is getting squatter and tougher – Nick says ‘It’s as if he could burst out through that wall’

Street Art Adventures 1

Recently I have been given the opportunity to explore making art on the streets around the Parson Cross area of Sheffield. The plan is to produce a series of images in the area for Advent to explore the idea of hope and life emerging in the ordinary places where we all live and work. Little did I realise how profound an experience this would turn out to be.

This is what happened when I began to paint on the walls of a derelict Bingo Hall on a roundabout near the heart of the estate…

 

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The image is by no means finished yet, and time will tell how it turns out, but more important to me is the experience of the process of creating something in such a public space. Whilst I have made art on the streets in the past it has always been on my own paper, on an easel – a creative space that I own and I control, even if I can’t control the public space around me. This was different though, I have never felt genuinely scared making art but I felt real trepidation as I sprayed the paint onto grey breeze blocks.

For some time I have thought that when we act courageously and creatively we open up the potential for love to break through into the world (Jesus called it the Kingdom of God) but I hadn’t realised how vulnerable and exposed it would make me feel.

As soon as I began to paint then cars on the busy roundabout began to honk their horns. I faced the wall, not wanting to see the expression on their faces. But when I eventually plucked up the courage to turn around I saw that the drivers were giving me thumbs up as they went past.

And then the passers by, mostly young men as it happened, who would approach me to say how great it was that someone was doing something like this, or that I should add a ganja leaf to the design, or concerned that I might get caught. Taking the creative risk can draw out so much goodness in people.

A teenage lad, on his half term break, came and watched me for a while. We chatted about his life and he eyed the paints, it was clear he was itching to have a go. In the end I let him and he cut out a small heart stencil and sprayed 3 red hearts connected together in one corner of the image and he told me that this was ‘the second best thing that’s ever happened to me’.

At times police cars cruised around the roundabout slowly and eventually a community support officer approached me to ask what I was doing. I explained the project and that I had permission to work here and he told me that they’d had a few calls from people concerned about what I was doing.

As I reflect on how different people responded it was the young men in their late teens and twenties who came and spoke to me in support, middle aged people mostly scurried past with their heads down, I wonder who called the police? I’m not criticising those who did, it’s good that there are civic minded people about, but it is interesting what actions (and what kind of art) attracts or alienates different types of people. The Officer took down my details and it was one of the few times in my life when I have emphasised the fact that I am a Reverend! He was a good man and we chatted about the community.

Late in the afternoon, as the image began to come together from the random lines and colours, a couple stopped to chat. I don’t recall mentioning to them that I worked for the church but the man showed me a rosary round his neck and said he was a Catholic although he hadn’t been to church for years. The woman was pregnant with her fourteenth child and worried about the future, they wanted me to write their names on the wall and pray for them. I told them that this picture was my prayer for the whole community. Then I pointed to the pattern that the lad had stencilled earlier in the day and told them that those three hearts would be the prayer for the two of them and their unborn child. They were deeply moved and grateful and I was left dumbfounded at how simple symbols and actions can have such a profound effect on people.

Thinking about that afternoon I am in awe at the depth of humanity I encountered and how my fumbling act of creation somehow made the space sacred. I had the sense of participating in something much bigger than I am, something way out of my control. Call it what you like; as a person seeking to follow Christ I might call it the Spirit of God, but those words are so frail and inadequate to encompass the reality.

In the Old Testament, God speaks to Moses from a burning bush and tells him to take off his sandals because he is standing on holy ground. Next time I am out at Parson Cross to finish off the painting on that shabby building, in the midst of the detritus of the street, perhaps I should do it in bare feet…