The Portal, work with HMP Wymott and the Harris Museum & Art Gallery

During November 2011 I’ve been working with 10 men and their tutors in the art class at HMP Wymott for the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston. The starting point for our work has been a painting of ‘Puck’ by the artist Richard Dadd.

“Puck”, a central character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, sits on a toadstool while smaller fairy figures dance around him in moonlight. Dadd’s painting evokes the play in an abstract way featuring superb draughtsmanship, a powerful poetic imagination, an intense love of nature, and a mastery of dramatic lighting. For approximately 100 years the painting was in Preston, having been purchased during the early 1850s by Thomas Birchall of Ribbleton Hall, Preston and held by his descendents until the 1960s. In 2011 the painting was purchased for the Harris Museum & Art Gallery with the support of The Art Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Friends of the Harris Museum & Art Gallery and a bequest from Mrs Dorothy Wade, administered by Arts Council England.”

Like the men who took part in this project, Dadd was an incarcerated man, and it is this situation that has inspired the Portal. The men produced collages which were compiled into a book seen here. Inspired by Puck’s ability to change situations in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the collages consider what their creators would change in their own lives if they had the magical juice of the love-in-idleness flower that causes such confusion in Shakespeare’s play.

Themes of time passing and a desire for luxuries are to be expected from those who have too much of the former and not enough of the latter, but from those basic responses flourish fundamental desires for love, health, family, nature and change, resulting in this appealing collection of collages.

The collages were an important step along the way to completing drawings, which we animated using series of still photographs. The book and animation, plus a drawing on perspex were exhibited as part of the 2011 Harris Open. Together they form a narrative about time passing and transformation providing a window to the lives of the men who created the works.

Made by:
Craig, Joe, John N, John S, Mark, Melvin, Michael, Mike, Rob, and Shane.

Harris Museum & Art Gallery Access and Inclusion Officer: Kyra Milnes

Lindsey Hill, Paul Sanderson and Suzanne Snape

Education Department:
Sue Blackledge and Suzie Doyle

Project volunteer: Sue Seabridge

HMP Wymott
Manchester College
Harris Museum & Art Gallery