“150” newly installed on Portobello Road in the 'blog Section'
This public art commission is currently on display on Portobello Road between Oxford Gardens and Golborne Road, North Kensington. The installation was commissioned by RBKC and is now hosted by The Spanish School, “Instito Espanol Vicente Cañada Blanch”. Thank you so much everyone who has emailed kind comments – and for all the posts on Instagram at fionahawthorne.art.
Prints of all pieces are for sale and can be printed at any size as outdoor work on metal or on paper for frames – contact me by clicking here
MORE ABOUT THE INSTALLATION.
Having won RBKC’s prestigious North Wall commission in 2013 for “Aspects of Carnival” I did not think I would be eligible to apply for another RBCK North Wall commision – it is a national commission and I did not think it could be awarded to the same artist again.
I felt moved and honoured when some market stallholders contacted me specifically to say they wanted my work to represent this subject that was, after all, about their lives, their livelihood. So thanks to them I did apply and was thrilled to become not only the first local artist to win the North Wall commission, but to be the only artist to win it twice.
Over the last two decades I have mainly worked on computer in a digital format, but for “150” I wanted to return to the joy of reportage: drawing at speed from life in-situ, on paper with pens, ink and watercolour. Luckily July was warm and dry – and it was great to be outdoors. I spent the month in cafes and on corners with sketchbook, pen and palette, sometimes sitting at stalls, sometimes in my car on a single yellow line with my paints spread out over the dashboard. I loved every minute – interacting, watching and working hard over many hours, seeking to capture the rare, dynamic energy of Portobello Market and Goborne Road: the stalls, traders, visitors, characters, moments, exchanges and life as it happened.
I did not set out to represent landmarks or particular characters, but just to draw what I saw each day. If recognisable characters of Portobello happened to be there at the time they might end up in the drawings, as might certain shops or stalls. And there was some surprises – so many phones in the drawings; so many new food outlets and stalls selling the best of olives, honey, cheeses and quince; how the biggest group I saw seemed to be professionals in their early 30s, shopping, eating, busy. But also how much of the life-force of Portobello is still there – the diversity, the music, the conversation, the madness, the vintage spread out on old sheets – always treasures to find, always people to watch.
I wanted the drawings to be displayed unedited, unpolished, sharing with the viewer the quick decisions to stop and not overwork a piece, to sometimes leave a line incomplete. We don’t often use reportage style drawing in British Art and Design, so all the more reason I wanted to give drawing to the public in this most honest form, without polish. I knew people would respond to economy and recognise marks that work; they would see that you have to be bold and confident and draw honestly and really look, not fall into motif. I wanted the humour to be in the line; I wanted to take the viewer with a on a journey.
At the start I did not have a clear vision for how I would scale and print the drawings for the wall: what size, on what material, would the background remain white, would there be space around, or would more colour be added? I drew only in A4 sketchbooks – a comfortable, unobtrusive size. I absolutely knew that for the project to work, the drawings would have to be strong and speak for themselves.
During July, the process of drawing was a total adventure, and also a gift in that it was a chance to hone my craft. By the end of the month I felt elated at how much I’d loved rediscovering drawing from life. I realised that through intense drawing my craft was growing and marks becoming more accomplished – it was a period of looking, focusing and I was so thrilled I could continue to learn and grow as an artist. All those years of having four young kids, when life was full and crazy and sometimes a blur of sleepless nights and homework and school projects and childrens’ milestones, and however hard I intended I often just couldn’t get to my studio. At times I had feared I would lose my touch – I had often felt outside and isolated from the trajectory I had once been on. I wondered how women artist survive, especially those managing kids on their own. But through this project I realised it doesn’t go… in fact it all goes in and more when you work with kids – their freedom of expression, their courage and playfulness nourishes marks and ways of looking.
I knew that the next stage – selecting, transforming, printing and presenting a selection of the 360 resulting drawings to form an outdoor display on 100 metres of outdoor space – would be a challenge. I had never seen line drawings printed large on metal, but I felt it was going to work.
In the end – and with the help of my family and my friend Diana – I selected 209 drawings and photographed each one, then in Photoshop took out the cream background tones to give the graphic feel of black line on clean white, sometimes adding more space around the images.
The most difficult part was deciding what size to print each piece… which tiny drawings to blow up large, how many with colour, how many just black on white? With over two hundred pieces of art, it was a real challenge finding a method of giving each piece a title so they could be sequenced in an order and then catalogued to make installation easier. I sorted the work into As, Bs, and Cs to correspond with the content, i.e. their location in the market – antique end, middle bit or vintage end. Paul from Coloursonic came up with the idea of creating 209 to-scale thumbnail images, which I cut out and used to work out a plan – stuck with bluetack onto 5 large sheets of cortex to represent 100 metres of Portobello Wall. Once I had this blueprint we were ready.
I completely trusted Coloursonic to come up with a material that would be just right for the project. We decided on di-bond metal unvarnised and screwed into the wall. Seeing the first printed samples was so exciting – the line almost sat on the white metal in slight relief, like it had been drawn with indian ink, but it was lightfast and would stand up to all kinds of weathering. Then Coloursonic developed a system of packaging the artworks to ensure we could find them in efficiently in the back of the van, ready to unwrap and hang all 209 in just two days.
Install days 1 and 2 were cold… in the drawings everyone was in shorts but on the street those two days it was coats and gloves! It was wonderful getting first reactions from the public as they walked by. I loved when a man recognised his mum sitting in her deckchair outside the jewellery shop where she works, even though she was just a scribbble. And when a group of people recognised Gaz Mayall with a glass of wine in his hand outside Galicia on a summer evening… they said the line of his back that ‘just said his posture’. And when a lady in a hijab gave me a hug and told me it was just so great to see herself represented, and she was going to come back tomorrow and bring friends.
I’ve loved this project. The best bit was simply the joy of drawing. But it has been an added bonus getting to meet so many great people who have told me what they think of the work, or have purchased prints, and getting to see which little bits of the market or which character they chose to bring into their homes and live with on their walls.
Thank you Portobello.
Thes photos below show the re-install in May 2016 – a year after the installation opened when we moved the pieces oposite from one side of Portobello to the other. Thankfully we were blessed with a hot day! And a group of kind friends who arrived with tools and team spirit and we did the move in one day.
“150” can be found on Portobello Road, London W10, on the wall that runs between Oxford Gardens and Goldborne Road, open 24/7.
The Istallation sadly and ironically made the national news a few days after Brexit. Click this link to see the story: ART ON THE NEWS
It also recently made The Apprentice!