Unfortunately the project was marred by delays. Firstly the relationship with Bidford youth club needed more time to develop and so next week was given here, then, the time needed to install the public art was far greater than originally anticipated. I had naively imagined that a couple of days work outside on the space would have got everything finished, sealed and looking good. A day was booked in the Arts Centre in early August with the intention of laying out all the images in their respective window frames end then installing them in place. I decided to use Scotch Photomount spray glue to stick the 3×4″ prints in place, despite its high price, because it allowed for a little repositioning but was a permanent glue, and it was tried and tested by me in the past. A couple of volunteers, who had participated on BBC workshops in the past, Stuart and Shirley Stickler helped with this process. However after a whole days work only half of one panel was complete and this needed to be varnished straightaway to protected from the weather.
The weather was another important factor in the delay of installing the artwork. August 2015 proved to be very wet in Southwest England. It was rare for a day to go by without a shower of rain. This rain played havoc with my outdoor work which needed extremely dry conditions until it became protected from the rain. Confounding this situation with wetness, when it wasn’t raining it was often very sunny, the sun shining directly onto the windows and making them very hot indeed. The black-and-white A4 card that had been pasted onto the window has shrunk slightly around the edges. Some of them had also started to peel from at the edges from the flat surface, and I needed to add stronger glue to hold them in place.
Another issue, which caused delay, was the varnish. I had spent a lot of time researching varnish, needing something that would give UV protection and protect the work from the rain outdoors. The yacht varnish that I bought was supposed to be clear, but when applied and dried it gave a yellow skin to the work making the images seem faded, like an old photograph. My experience of using varnish indoors on similar work in the past had been very very successful. The varnish from my previous experience had completely sealed the photographs, like a lacquer or resin might have done. I decided to remove the worst offenders of the yellowed pictures and replace them with new ones. I also ordered a clear spray on varnish that seemed to have very good reviews on the Internet being designed specifically for artwork. However this spray on varnish didn’t seal the images as I had hoped and I found that with bright warm direct sunshine often the corners of individual pictures curled upwards.
As the artwork started to evolve in the very public space I would often and sometimes continually get members of the public coming up and asking what it was, or commenting on how they liked it, or questioning what it was for? This was a thrilling, but unexpected part of making art work in the public realm. A part of making public art which I recognise as very important but had not factored in the time needed to talk to people who were interested in what I was doing. Having the public’s enthusiasm for what I was doing made the arts practice very rewarding. I was fascinated by the fact that so many people came over looking at the work but could only see small pictures on the window some on their side, some upside down, but they could not see the big picture. It was only when they walked away, viewing it from a distance, that they saw it as a photo mosaic of Bideford Longbridge. When questioned what the image was supposed to be I would often show them how it looked through the wide angle lens of my iPhone and they would instantly see the bridge.
Once all three panels were complete I waited for a very dry day when I knew that everything was absolutely bone dry and then sealed the whole lot under clear sticky back plastic. The clear plastic film was then trimmed all the way around the edge and sealed with exterior white sealant.
Over the last 25 years I’ve exhibited my work all over England, and also a few places in the USA, but never in my home town of Loughborough. Encouraged by my parents, who still live in the family home, I approached the Sock Gallery in Loughborough Town Hall over 18 months ago and was fortunate to be given this slot in their calendar. I have fond memories of Loughborough Town Hall having seen Def Leppard play here in 1979.
The gallery here is a wonderful place to show work; clean, light, well lit and well looked after. They even added vases of flowers which seemed to compliment the colours in the work! The 3 day exhibition turnaround is impressive; one day for the old show to be taken down, the next for filling and painting of holes, the third for hanging of the show. As an artist I was also impressed with the efficiency of the Sock gallery staff; communication was very good and Excel worksheet which self-generated picture labels and a sales sheet was well thought out.
The photomosaic created on a computer with Artensoft software gave me a good idea of the kinds of images needed for the piece in terms of their colour, contrast and arrangements of compositional elements and where they should be placed. Unfortunately, the software wasn’t ‘clever’ enough to keep each separate photograph to its format of 3×4, often cropping frames then magnifying them to a larger size. The computer generated photomosaic was to be my guide but in reality it proved to be a very loose guide and it’s only value was in selecting or suggesting a range of images to use.
Back on Jubilee Square the window’s, which had been covered with a white plastic film for many years, were cleaned of their greasy surface and roughened up with an abrasive scourer. A4 card was fixed to this surface with wallpaper paste to enable easy removal in the future. The card was white or black and it’s positioning in the grid was determined by the brightness or darkness of the image that would be on top of it, so that any ‘cracks’ between the prints would be a similar tone to the images.
I used a scaled down print of the Bideford Longbridge photomosaic on my computer, with grid lines, as my guide. At first I had positioned the 3×4” prints on my computer screen as layers on top of the photomosaic grid; then, precisely, used the same prints on the prepared window. However this proved to be an extremely slow process, locating specific prints, and ultimately it didn’t work anyway because of small discrepancies in the cut sizes of the prints in comparison to those on the guide. Very soon I reverted to drawing the grid and all of the key features of the image straight onto the prepared windows and working in a far more intuitive way. It was clear by now that I would have to trim and crop prints down to make the overall image easier to read so I made the decision to work from the irregular inside shapes of the bridge arches, so that their shapes were as accurate as possible. I was essentially making a computer generated photomosaic manually, a massive task for a picture 12ft x 5ft in size. This was a fascinating part of the process for me as I could no longer ‘see’ the individual prints as images in their own right, but as a relative colour and hue. I found myself looking for lines, horizontal, vertical, diagonal and curved; where those lines were created by a light area and a dark area meeting. It was a thrill to make the crown of an arch with an upturned image of Jubilee Square or the vertical wall of an arch with a coastal horizon. Prints were grouped by their colour, tone, line, shape etc and my creative approach was to keep same or similar images apart from each other and also to find interesting juxtapositions of unrelated images.
I got to see installed public art and experience a community led piece in the making at the Plymouth Art Weekender on Sunday. It was encouraging to see a lot of photographic image use in various temporary and semi-permanent ways which gives me food for thought for future projects.
The budget for this work was always going to be small and only sufficient to cover material costs, but as a founder of Bideford Bay Creatives with the opportunity to make a large piece of art for the town that I’m living in I was happy to proceed under these restrictive conditions which define the finished work. I decided to use Truprint to print the images because I’ve been very impressed with the quality of image in both colour accuracy and longevity in the past. Truprint was used in 2012 for my ‘Postcard from Manteo’ Open Studio where images were glued to the risers and varnished – these images are still there and look as good as when they were first installed.
Also Truprint is very cheap, approximately 5p for a 6×4 inch print – my intention was to get two images 3×4 inch on each print making them 2.5p each. My reason for such small prints, a size too small for any commercial printer to offer, was to achieve a truer representation of the original image through the photomosaic. Essentially, a photomosaic gets progressively easier to read as the number of images increases. However, the cost of the printing was small in comparison to the glue needed to fix the prints to the window surface; and this was compounded by the condition that the artwork needed to be temporary rather than permanent.
It would have been possible to have sized an MDF board for each of the three window frames, then to have constructed the photomosaic off site in my studio and so only spending time in the allocated space for the installation of the finished boards. However, as this was Public Art, I felt that the public had the right to be engaged with the artwork in progress, so I decided to construct the whole piece within the public domain of Jubilee Square.