In Year 2000 I was commissioned by Lyndons Arts Trust to engage with young people at The Harrow Club in West London to create an outcome that involved and encouraged dance and visual Art. Club, Notting Hill. I suggested participatory Jazzdance and Street Dance workshops together with art workshops, that could result in some site-specific paintings referencing Street dance and the artwork coming out of the workshops. We commissioned riven Lewis and Perry Louis (leaders in different ’schools’ of UK Jazzdance) to lead the dance workshops, whilst I was to lead the artworkshops and co-ordinate the project.
In reality none of this really worked as planned, and as is often the case, ‘theory’ and ‘plans’ need to be transformed by to fit the Reality-Situation.
In reality these were streetwise little tuff-kids and ‘Bolshy’, indignant teenagers, who no-way were going to co-operate easily with any ‘woolly-Lefty’s’ arty-Agenda. The Lads were certainly not in a million years going to be seen dead dancing as that was for only for Girls, ’Gays’ and ’Stiffs’ in their eyes.
So, we adapted…I hung around with the teenagers and Youth leaders, and earned a grudging regard for my drawing skills as I made numerous observational sketches of them in various activities, – playing cricket in the park, playing pool, and googling stuff on the computer…Meanwhile, I asked Irven, and Perry to model for me in a series of action portrait sketches, so that I had the material I needed to make the Dance murals anyhow, with or without approval of aforesaid Teenagers.
The Girls were a different story, however, and attended willingly and actively the dance workshops of Perry and Irven. It also turned out that they had already created their own Street dance group, and rehearsed weekly at the Harrow club.
A few weeks later there was a club event organised for the local Young People by Lyndons Arts Trust at The Subterrania Night Club, under the Arches at Ladbroke Grove, with local House and Garage Dejays. I remember about 30 or 40 teenagers at this event standing around awkwardly. The girls moved tentatively onto the dance floor, with a rather shy and vulnerable body language, whilst the Lads, stood round the edge also looking shy and vulnerable, or else ‘bigging’ themselves ‘up’ with laughter and bravado.
The dance workshops, and this subsequent social event became for me the subject of numerous drawings and later some paintings too, including those first shy dancers.
The hi-light for me of the evening at Subterania was when the Teenage Streetdance troope came up and performed live on stage with a confidence and proficiency that was a contrast to the first tentative dancers on the social dance floor below. Most of the ‘moves’ and sequences were learnt from watching and copying ‘MTV’ and music videos. But they had some of their own attitude and invention in the mix too.
This Street dance performance made the subject for the featured oil painting, which was made a couple of years afterwards (2002) in the studio, with close reference to the drawings I made onsite. I also used also some very poor quality photographs I took at the event, which were blurry and had this emotive, moody orange light.
The technique I devised for the painting was new to me, and quite a departure from my previous painting/drawing techniques. I drew out the composition initially in the same way as I did my big acrylic murals of the 1990’s, with a light-red crayon led, held in a clutch pencil. I painted in the figures in thin tones of reddish brown, an acrylic, and the lights in yellows and oranges. Acrylic dries rock-hard in seconds, and is therefore an inflexible medium, which is why I drew the composition beforehand to a high degree of resolution. I then mixed a then, transparent sepia glaze made from turpentine, linseed oil and oil painting medium. With this glaze, i applied a thin even layer over the primed, board that had already been drawn and under painted in acrylic. Oil paint with linseed oil added, takes several days to become tacky, and several weeks to properly dry. The painting/drawing underneath this even ground had disappeared, but was just about perceptible underneath. I then coxed the image, form and light back into the picture by selectively, gradually wiping off and reducing that oil glaze ground, so the picture crept back into life with a greater sense of atmosphere and dramatic lighting akin to the lighting of a night club.
The the much bigger site-specific paintings for the Harrow club were completed off-site, and installed late in yr 2001. When the Lads at the Harrow club saw these action-packed dance paintings being installed at The Harrow club, they could not at first believe that anything that ‘cool’ could be produced by a wimp like me, and at last I earned some grudging respect. Soon after that, the word ‘cool’ itself became ‘uncool’, and was replaced by the word ’sick’ in Teenage street-dialect, but that did not happen until around 2008.
These large paintings remained onsite at the Harrow club for about 3 years, before being moved to the nearby ‘Pupil Referral Unit’, a school for really hard kids that get kicked out of every other school in the borough. Throughout all that period the paintings were un-vandalised and seemed to be appreciated. After that they fell back into my own hands and have been subsequently exhibited in Glaleries in Loondon, Perpignan and Vienna, where they currently reside.
But this smaller painting is a minor spin-off from the larger project. The original was sold to Carole Duff.
Acrylic and oil on primed wood panel 37cm x 25cm.
Under the Arches Subterania