This exhibition is a great opportunity to see how my recent work is communicating with audiences. I was selected for this opportunity by the Assembly House curatorial committee, and that selection itself is always a boost to one's esteem, as you have in some way passed a first 'test' as to your work's ability to communicate.
The main theme behind this body of work was a response to a conversation I had whilst making a drawing of a tower block in central Leeds on one of my walking and drawing days.
The sketchbook drawing might not seem much of a starting point, but the conversation I had was a powerful one. I was told that the tower block was not a very nice place to live. It was hard to maintain any social interaction, especially as people in it were from all sorts of very different communities, the only thing they had in common was that they needed housing. Some of the people that had found themselves housed there had made their way across the Mediterranean and they had horror stories about the journey, these stories seeming to be common currency amongst the people that lived here.
My conversation also brought out the fact that the idea of England as a wonderful land of opportunity was something soon forgotten as the reality of life became apparent. In many ways there was relief and gratitude, but also a realisation that someone well educated, (as my conversationalist was) was not going to be able to use that education and that their employment prospects were going to be menial labour.
On returning to the studio I was already aware that I had an image of a hollow modernity as a starting point. The tower that as an idea had once expressed optimism in a modern future, was now discredited, no one wanted to live in these buildings, which was why they were now being used to house recent migrants into the city. I was also very aware that the refugee crisis was on the new nearly every day and that thousands had already died crossing the Mediterranean. I also had to somehow communicate something of the futility of these deaths.
Initially the tower block was simply menacing and it sat behind views of typical Leeds views that I had made many a sketchbook drawing of.
A very rough sketch of a church tower surrounded in scaffolding suggested something else to me about the past in the present and the present shrouding the past, this would emerge as a shaping factor when I began to really draw towers.
Something was going wrong and my time in the studio had to find images for this.
Modernism began to feel as if it was inhuman and my first image was of empty buildings floating over the city and I began using the three key Modernism colours, red, white and black. People were falling, and somehow the fall was becoming mixed up in my mind with the Christian 'fall' of the angels that followed Satan being pitched out of Heaven.
I also developed what I thought of as a 'God's eye view', a viewpoint I wanted to use because so many of the people I spoke to at this time who had come across as migrants had a strong faith and often stated that the situation was due to 'God's will'. In the drawing above we see what is happening through a gap in the clouds.
This celestial viewpoint became more and more important to me and for a while dominated the imagery I was using for these drawings.
I also began to imagine a room in the tower block and the things that would be in it. In tis case decorative ceramic plates for the wall depicting what was going on in my head, and this imagined room would eventually have its own wallpaper, depicting 'the Fall'. But that would come later, and would be a very important aspect of the exhibition and the focus for my interaction with an audience.
Eventually the drawing above would be stripped down to its essence. The boat and wave form becoming a clear motif and symbol for the fragility of lives when cast adrift in a stormy sea. The simplified drawing also became a template for other ideas including the possibility of making this in ceramic, thus solidifying what had been up until now conjecture.
At the same time as images of the wave were developing, the image of a huge literally skyscraper of a building, that stood for both the aspirations of those crossing the sea and the suggestion that on arrival things were not what they were envisioned to be was also coming into being.
This image would eventually be refined to this 'upside-down' image that linked in my mind two spaces, one on the English south coast where I knew migrants had landed and the other in Leeds, where I knew some migrants had managed to reach and settle.
Getting to Assembly House, 44 Canal Road, Armley, Leeds, LS12 2PL
Assembly House is in Armley, Leeds, on the junction of Canal Road and Pickering Street, just up the road from the Armley Mills industrial museum. Walking from the City Centre takes about 30 minutes along the Canal Path or Kirkstall Road.
The number 5 bus service runs directly past the studios and can be caught from Leeds train station, Kirkgate and Wellington Street.