‘Audience’ was a commission I completed for Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College in Birmingham, where I also work as a Fine Art Lecturer. The college was re-locating to a new state of the art campus and commissioned different artists to make site-specific artworks for the new building. I was commissioned to make four very large portrait paintings of students and staff for the Main Hall.
I initially spent several weeks drawing volunteers of staff and students, completing 40 pencil portraits in my lunch hours and when I wasn’t teaching. Back in my studio I then scaled each one up in charcoal, cut them out, and then spent a long time re-positioning them, exploring individual compositional ideas. When satisfied I would then tape them down on a large piece of paper, and use this as my template to scale up onto the canvas. The canvasses, each one being 8 feet tall and fifteen feet wide, would be the biggest paintings I had worked on. I put the frames together, stretched the canvas and primed each one myself.
My own studio was not big enough for such large paintings, so it was agreed that I could use the hall in the old college campus to work in over the summer break and then move them to the nearby new site in September. I believed I could complete them in six weeks, with some time spent in the evenings when necessary. However, on arriving to work on the first day of my summer break, with the canvasses still to be made up, I was told by site security that I would only have five weeks before the keys for the site would then be handed over to the new owners, and that the college was only open on summer time opening hours; opening at nine and closing at half past three each day. I have never worked under such pressure in my life, with so little time to spare. The college was also being dismantled around me with the building ringing to the noise of tables and chairs being dismantled and recycled by the removal firm. I even had the flooring that I was working on ripped up around me one day whilst I still painted. It was a very surreal, stressful and exhausting experience. The paintings were still wet when they were cut and folded to get out of the hall and moved to their new home.
It was great working so big, and having the opportunity to paint every day, which I love to do, in such a concentrated period, but the situation I found myself in did also mark the end of my interest in portraiture for the time being.