Here – Cultured St Helens

Since they opened back up in March 2021 it’s been great to get back working in schools. ‘Here’ is one of those projects, delivered by Cultured St Helens. It uses new technology to create a portrait of St Helens, exploring the history, geography, social make-up and diversity of the town. Artists and performers (of which I’m one) have worked with schools to create artworks which Impossible Arts will bring together for a final outdoor augmented reality exhibition in October 2021.

I’ve been working with Rivington Primary, Mill Green school and Blackbrook St Mary’s Primary as part of the project, combining performative actions with drawing and print techniques as we look at the past and present of St Helens. What has also been great during these projects (and has happened a lot more in the last 12 months) is the opportunity to collaborate with other artists in the delivery of the work.

With Rivington Primary I’ve worked with Mako Create, who took charge of green screen filming, and Altru Drama, who led a creative writing session, as we created a work about the traces and echoes of Victoria Park. What will happen when children from today bump into King George V and Queen Mary during their 1913 visit? Will they ever get unstuck from the climbing frame? Their drawings, words and actions form a video work that will be part of the AR trail around St Helens in November.

The sessions at Mill Green school have been a chance to work with artist Dave Bixter who combines his drawing practice with music and technology. We’ve looked at the skylines of St Helens, layering drawings, shapes, movement, print and sound to create and audio-visual work that will sit against the real skyline of St Helens.

Blackbrook St Mary’s have done most of their work with Henry Iddon and Jess Wheeler, connecting to their cross-school project about the conservation of rainforest habitats. I was invited in to run a print session with year 1 where we used stencilled screen-printed slogans devised by the pupils to print onto T-shirts. The children made studies of leaves in their sketchbooks and created rubber stamps out of them to make each of their t-shirts an individual representation of the rainforest.

You’ll be able to see more of these works once they’re out on the Augmented Reality trail in the Autumn.

Wishes on a Dandelion – Sherdley Primary’s 50th Anniversary

Every Dandelion you see today grew from the seed from another dandelion. Maybe the dandelion seed was blown by the wind, or maybe it was blown last year by one of the children from Sherdley Primary.

The seeds that grew last year’s dandelions might have been blown by another child who’s grown older and gone to high school now. Their dandelion’s seed might have been blown from it’s stem by a parent when they went to school. Dandelions can grow in all sorts of places and live for more than 10 years, so maybe, just maybe the dandelions we see today can be traced back to a child who was here when Sherdley Primary opened 50 years ago.

This is the premise on which a whole-school programme of arts activity was based to celebrate Sherdley Primary School’s 50th Anniversary in April 2021. Using something that we can see now in the present, to celebrate the past and make wishes for the future. Children from every class were invited to make prints onto a postcard and to find a dandelion clock and make a wish for Sherdley Primary’s future, with each class from Y1 through to Y6 taking part in additional art workshops that led to the designs for an anniversary mural and garden in the grounds of the school.

Delivered in partnership with Cultured St Helens these workshops included observational drawing of natural forms, stamp-making, experimental drawing using gestures, shadows and spotlights and workshops plus workshops by partners UC Crew which connected Hip Hop Arts and its values to those of the school community.

Pupils hands were covered in chalk and charcoal as they created larger scale drawings of each other’s shadows expressing emotions, seed-filled sculptures were constructed, sketchbook pages filled with drawings of flora and fauna that was gathered from nearby greenspaces, and spray can techniques were practiced in the sunny spells between April showers.

All of these elements were brought together into a design that uses stenciled elements that I have used in my previous works such as Keep the Pavement Dry and Migrate combined with the graffiti art skills of James from UC Crew. This was complemented by the beginnings of an anniversary garden in front of the mural sown with perennial flower seeds, dandelion clock sculptures containing more seeds and golden stones with drawings of dandelions edging the planting areas.

Two trees, hands and leaves are spray painted onto the side of a storage container. Petal shapes are formed on the soil in front, edged by golden stones.

Constellations of Kindness

Stars are the specks of light in the dark skies, and are there even when we can’t see them. They have been used as symbols of guidance, energy, hopes and positivity and in the Autumn of 2020 Allanson Street Primary School and St Peter’s C of E Primary School used them to create images, actions and objects that mean something to us as individuals.

Beginning by passing our positive actions around the class with a symbolic handful of light, we worked to create a number of art installations which take the idea of stars and how we view them collectively in constellations as a metaphor for how a community can work together. The story of Hoshi and the legend of the origami lucky stars inspires a creative activity where the classes worked together to create their own jars of paper stars, which led to some pupils setting up their own club following the sessions.

One night while watching the stars, something happened in the sky that made her sad and she began to cry. The stars were falling out of heaven like a shower. So many of them were falling that she was afraid there would be no more.

The story of Hoshi

With magazine cuttings, found text and images pupils used compositional skills to lay out a design that created a message linked to emotions and kindness, then used drawing pins to prick holes into black card along the outlines of those shapes. Placed together against a window, these formed our third art installation, full of symbolic objects and positive text. A short poetry session using the principles of Concrete Poetry creates an additional literacy related artwork.

The incredible deep splash
a few amazing homes.
A great tender cat,
fantastic animal friends
were being brave & fun

A new rebooted world. Brave NHS
incredible NHS,
look how the NHS helps us.

A good new heart
in our little wonder world.
Incredible world.
Team up, play
like a little wonder.

Y4, St Peter’s C of E Primary, 2020.

This set of workshops gives pupils the confidence to develop a collaborative contemporary artwork using visual symbolism and metaphor, which connects to the PSHE, Art & Design and Literacy curriculum. This workshop is part of Cultured St Helens programme (LCEP). If you’re outside St Helens and would like to book this session for your school or organisation, get in touch.

A summer of Projects

Look at this, I have a long-neglected news page on my website. That’s the way with the projects I work on, lots of things happening in the background that occasionally put on a public face. There’s been quiet, ongoing projects, ideas developing with schools and some bigger projects where it’s important for the work to just stay between me and the people that I make it with. August is nearly here, and a flurry of work directly with people is coming to a close, so I thought I’d share some of that over the coming weeks. For now, here’s some pictures of what’s coming…