This week saw the start of Acton Unframed’s Mural number 3 in Newburgh road. A collaboration between Brooklyn based artist Joel Bergner aka @Joelartista, and some of the pupils at Derwentwater Primary school, on whose 30 meter roadside walls it will live.
The foundations of this project sprang from a challenge local gallery, JG Contemporary, set during lockdown, inspiring local children to hand in any artistic creations to the gallery to be put on display in their windows. It was hugely successful and they were inundated with the most fantastic and imaginative work. It definitely put a little spring into the step of my budding artists, and a real sense of pride when walking past to check for the 500th time that their pieces were still pointable at through the window. I then had to explain that every time they bring home a delightful picture of a rook or some such, it’s unlikely to be whipped up by the Royal Academy and reprinted onto mugs after this local success, but it falls on deaf ears. This confusing and disappointing realisation will no doubt come back around at some point, but for now, nothing but pride and achievement.
Joel is the ideal artist for this project. He has worked with children and communities in around 30 countries, creating giant murals that reflect their community’s individual stories. With his non-profit organisation, Artolution, they specialise in how issues of trauma and social anxieties can be addressed through the medium of art.
Before the painting began the school ran a workshop with the chosen children from some of the older years, encouraging them to come up with their own images and characters for the piece. Joel would then create the wall’s background and the children would come and help paint on top. The process continues in layers every day, they paint, he paints, etc. The thought of having a group of over excited children armed with paintbrushes and a 30 meter canvas, brings a light sweat to my brow. Chaos? I went down to see it in action.
The year 5’s I met were all grinning away, eager to get started and obviously feeling proud of the opportunity they had been given. What an honour to be part of this permanent joy bringer, we got chalk, and the dazzling prospects of a hopscotch tournament when I was at school.
Joel has such a lovely demeanour, he spoke and the children listened.
It was inspiring to see how relaxed he was with them and how natural this interaction was. On seeing the paint tray, a palette of underwater blues and greens, I longed to shout ‘PAAIIINTFIIIIIGHHT’ but resisted. The kids were very respectful and ready to get down to business. When I aired my concern of possible mayhem and anarchy to Joel, he explained to me that of course there have to be definite guidelines to prevent it from getting out of hand, but there must also be room for spontaneity and expression otherwise what’s the point?
Anyone that gets to paint, and it can be any local volunteers, not just these particular children, must feel that they are allowed to be part of the constantly evolving process, rather than feel they are instructed to only do something pre-planned in a bit of a ‘paint by numbers’ style.
What will be inspiring, is to see its daily development, maybe it will take a while to reveal itself but that’s exactly what this technique is about. During this ‘interesting’ time in the world, it can feel suffocating, and that potentially one’s freedom can be whipped away at any moment, so having this giant wall of creativity, producing this breath-taking explosion of colour, feels like something that the kids can have some control over. There are restrictions in its development. There has to be some control within limitations in order to get the best out of the piece and its artists as possible. Who knows what the final result will be and that’s the beauty of it.
What I saw was happiness, joy, and excitement. It encouraged conversation about movement and texture and colour and visual possibilities. That’s what I want to see for the children of this community, and here they are allowed some ownership of their space. They’ll come every day to see what’s new, how has the wall changed, which bit is mine? When Joel tells them that they are now professional artists, that thousands of people will see this for years to come, they hold up their beaming paint spattered faces for a photo, unfazed.