Keep the Pavement Dry

Friday 18 October saw the opening of the Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival, with the venues of The Gallery at Bank Quay House, The Pyramid and Warrington Museum & Art Gallery being linked by a trail of drawings cleaned into the pavement surface.

The artworks are the culmination of a commission I’ve been working on called ‘Keep the Pavement Dry’ and began life during a number of photography walks around Warrington in Early September.  Groups of enthusiastic photographers joined me on research walks around the town with the brief to ‘be curious’.  Walking around the town with fresh eyes, looking up, crouching down, peering through or climbing over, photographs were taken of often overlooked parts of architecture.  The photographs, shared via an online blog, provide a snapshot of Warrington and are an interesting exercise in how different people are drawn to a range of details in their environment.
During the walks I became interested in two key elements of the townscape.  The first element is what inspired the title of the work, ‘Keep the Pavement Dry’.  Queens Gardens, in the centre of the Cultural Quarter, houses a white painted, cast iron piece of street furniture.  The tall, narrow, ornate canopy stands in the centre of the gardens raised on steps.  On one side is a profile of Queen Victoria, whilst on the other three sides is the inscription ‘KEEP THE PAVEMENT DRY’.  Curiosity was aroused and I looked into why this instruction, endorsed by a stern looking Victoria, should be on this item of street furniture.  A short internet search discovered that this is a common inscription on public drinking fountains, it seeming that mischievous Victorians would be only too happy to splash water around the place without this reminder.  The bowl of the Queens Gardens drinking fountain was removed at some point (someone told me how, as an enthusiastic child, he tripped while going up the steps surrounding the fountain and split his forehead on the edge of the bowl).  Knowing that my process of creating a trail of drawings around Warrington was going to involve spraying water onto the pavement, this seemed too great a coincidence to ignore.


The second element of the townscape that piqued my curiosity was also Victorian in origin – cast iron railings.  Warrington is renowned for it’s ornate ‘Golden Gates’ in front of the Town Hall, but it was the overlooked railings that were of greater interest to me.  Railings moderate our movement around a city, separating private and public spaces, marking out the boundaries of property or preventing us from falling into basements.  During the second world war many iron railings were removed with the intention of helping the war effort, resulting in fewer barriers to movement, a democratisation of public space.  The railings adjacent to the Golden Gates were victims of this cull, the cropped curls still visible on the low wall that edges around Bank Park.  This absence draws attention to the railings that still exist, their decorative points extending upwards, preventing us from falling down into basements or from balconies.
I worked the decorative designs from these elements of Victorian street furniture into drawings, first on paper and then using the computer.  Linear elements were combined with flowing organic designs to create a set of stencils that could point people in a certain direction around the town, moderating and influencing their movement in a similar way to railings and providing maybe a more gentle guide than the stern instruction to not splash water all over the place.
The drawings were cut into thick plastic using a laser cutter, creating stencils that could be placed on the pavements around Warrington.  Further walks around town located pavements which were suitable for the process of jet washing the drawings in place.  The requirement for a flat, smooth, suitably dirty paving stone meant that large areas of the town had to be disregarded due to tarmac footpaths being present.  Locations were chosen considering how people move through the town with junctions and corners being the key locations for the drawings.  The work considers what routes are taken from the town centre into the cultural quarter.  Can this intervention effect movement towards the festival venues? 

My practice involves drawing, often with graphite and an eraser, so the process of using a jet washer to erase dirt from the pavement is not such a big leap away from a more traditional artistic approach.  Assisted by Warrington’s Town Centre Wardens who provided equipment, manpower, a knowledge of where to get a water supply and a can-do approach, installation of the work began.  The stencils were placed onto the pavement, considering which direction people should be led in, then water was jetted through the stencil, removing the dirt from the pavement in that particular area.  When removed, the stencil reveals the clean, erased, pavement contrasting with the dirtier, original surface.  The A1 stencils were placed around 150 times around the town, creating a drawing approximately 120m long if all laid end to end, making this a physically demanding drawing process due to it’s sheer scale.
The drawings have begun to interrupt people’s movement within Warrington, with people having been sighted hopping over them, walking around them and showing their curiosity with a double take as they walk past them.  The designs will gradually fade as footfall, air pollution, weather and street cleaning activity redistributes the dirt, resulting in the pavement naturally returning to an unembellished surface once the festival ends.
The best way to see the work, is to just wander around Warrington, especially Queens Gardens and the Cultural Quarter with a curious eye, whilst hopping between the broad range of exhibitions and events at venues and in the Town Centre.  Below you’ll find a map which shows how the drawings are located around Warrington, with each pinpoint clickable to reveal a photograph of the artwork.

View Keep the Pavement Dry in a larger map

With thanks to:
Culture Warrington, The Gallery at Bank Quay House, Warrington’s Town Centre Wardens, Creative Remedies Photography Group, Eco Street Adverts, all the photographers who contributed.