Trying something different, or how one thing can lead to another

Most artists eventually find themselves specialising in a single or a small number of media and subject areas. However it is useful sometimes to work outside those areas. Two projects that I undertook in the past involved 3D work – not my usual practice – but influenced my future work in unexpected ways. The most significant of these was Lilies for Oscar Wilde.

Lilies for Oscar Wilde

Lilies for Oscar Wilde was a collaborative project involving about 60 artists from the Reading area. Oscar Wilde of course was incarcerated at Reading Gaol. The project brief was to make a Calla lily, approximately life size, to commemorate Oscar Wilde’s written work. I made a lily based on one of his children’s stories but then decided to make a second one. To my shame, having lived in or near Reading for well over 20 years, I had never read The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

So I read the ballad with an aim to doing a second lily based on it. Never did I imagine that reading a poem would have so much influence on my life as this was to have. I was struck immediately at how powerfully the poem conjured images in my mind.

In Reading Gaol by Reading Town

I thought of the ballad a lot in subsequent months, and produced some other work inspired by it. I also wondered how some of my fellow Reading artists might respond to the poem. I thought that somebody should organise an exhibition of visual art inspired by the ballad and by local artists. Then it occurred to me that, although I had little experience of organising an art exhibition, I could find somebody who did to work on it with me.

So I ended up working with Jenny Halstead, a very talented, experienced and well respected local artist and a member of the Pastel Society. We recruited a total of 20 local artists to participate and In Reading Gaol by Reading Town was put on in September 2019.

In the few months prior to September 2019 it is fair to say I had The Ballad of Reading Gaol constantly on my mind. I knew that Reading Gaol had been closed at the end of 2012 and nothing much had happened to it, other than when it was opened briefly for an exhibition by Artangel. I then became aware that there was a campaign to have it converted to an arts centre, and that local MP Matt Rodda had started a petition to this effect.

Reading Gaol Hug

I felt a little uninspired by the petition, it wasn’t enough. Then I had the idea of surrounding the gaol with people. I mentioned this to a few people. The idea had wings. Next I knew I was the main organiser of the Reading Gaol Hug which, on a rainy Sunday 13th October 2019, successfully had the Gaol surrounded with people linking hands. It’s true to say that I got very little painting done for a 6 month period in 2019 for one reason and another.

Now, early in 2021 I am still involved with the Save Reading Gaol campaign. Who knows if it will be ultimately successful, but we have some amazing backers including Banksy.