When people commission you, they're doing so from a catalogue of things they've already seen - ie; your folio. Which is what a folio is for. But this means they're always choosing from what's gone before. But it's the stuff that you do outside of your folio, often the unpaid work, which moves that folio forward. Otherwise, your folio would stay frozen in time - and you'd become boring and uncommissionable in no time.
So shows, personal projects, requests from mates, tattoos, unpaid pitches, these all provide such opportunities. As do local art projects. I have to be frank and say I have never get involved in those - our local paper has a history of featuring aspiring young creatives, musicians, actors, artists, only for them to crash and burn before ever reaching their potential. Call me superstitious, but no. I shan't be going in the local rag, or doing anything which might get me in it.*
I made an exception for this project, run by my friend and ex-teaching colleague Alisha Miller. I really wanted to do it. 'Decorate a meter-high MDF sunflower however you like, to be put on show as part of a trail through Nuneaton Town Centre with loads of other sunflowers.' 'Does it have to be about Nuneaton?' 'Up to you.'
So I thought about what I know of Nuneaton. I do have a real fondness for the place. My Dad worked there as a probation officer in the 70s and early 80s, and we often went to his office and hung out. We also went to Wales Chippy as children - and still do now, for a crinkle-cut treat - and my first pair of contact lenses (so grown up at 16!) came from the optician in Bond Gate.
Growing up, 'the hard kids' came from Nuneaton. We were scared of them but secretly fascinated. I thought about how public art projects in troubled places can be received. Badly - a waste of money. Graff'd up, kicked, leaned on, spat on, decorated with chips and 'chuddy'. In fact our sunflower broke before painting, and I felt bad for my butchered piece of public sculpture, but the idea was born.
What, I thought, would happen if the vandals loved a piece of art so much they wanted to express that, but in the same way they'd express sneering cynicism?
Real graf from the area was collected for reference, and the rest is a combination of real-life names, dialect and phrases, acrylics, Molotow paint, Tipp-Ex, Poscas, Hardcore© markers and sheer physical exuberance.
The result is summarised with the bit of blurb generated for the label:
'What would it be like if the vandals loved what they saw? Nuneaton, much-maligned and oft-abused, holds many fond memories for me. Lifelong relationships were formed in the Sunny Nunny of my youth.
The flower underneath is pretty, but the love and raw enthusiasm expressed over it is beautiful.'
In the end my piece was censored and politely stood in a gents' clothes shop with its naughty back to the wall, its broken stem mended, so it didn't communicate quite the way I had intended it - loudly, rudely gleeful, and outside, happy to degenerate with the elements. I'm not sure it's what was expected, which was, of course, the point. Alisha loved it, and the energy and humour I piled into it is there for all to see.
You can see my delinquent sunflower at Cream, Abbey Street, Nuneaton, until 28th September: https://www.facebook.com/TheCreamStore
Collecting 'graff' on my travels.
Ed helping me with painting.
*Solo One, our local superstar graffer living in London for the past 15 years, is the exception to this rule. He was in the local paper for his criminal offences. This actually had the opposite effect from the one the paper usually has, as his client list will tell you.