Project Ramp in the 'blog Section'

PROJECT RAMP – at 300 Ladbroke Grove, London W10


This project was commissioned by Catalyst Housing and assisted by earmarked public art funds from RBKC. Catalyst consulted with 3000 residents from the Wornington Green Estate to try to come up with an idea for a piece of outdoor art for part of the 10-year regeneration of the estate. The residents dreamt up the idea of putting art on to the ramp at 300 Ladbroke Grove.

The ramp, a spiraling walkway into the estate, was described as an eyesore. Originally grey cement, it had been painted blue the year before in an attempt to make it feel fresher, but although walked up and down by hundreds of people each day, it remained somewhat uninviting and unpleasant.

I immediately saw an opportunity to transform this structure into a walk-in sculpture, to highlight the juxtaposition of the corners and the curves against the uprights of the walls. I saw possibility to create a relationship between the ramp and the red brick low-rise blocks surrounding it, to celebrate the lines, textures and the shapes of the balconies, doors and windows. Here was a chance to scream out in vibrant colour and to tie an urban cityscape to a new piece of art in its central ‘court yard’, and in doing so celebrate the last few years of the standing of these lived-in utilitarian buildings before they were demolished to make way for a the change of a new-build.

I worked with local residents who gave me photos, clippings, items and stories from their North Kensington heritage. This was a heritage I shared having lived two minutes away on Ladbroke Grove when we had our first child, the days when Colin was a busker on Portobello and I drew in the bars and cafes, capturing Carnival, the ‘Save The Electric’ campaign and the Sunday morning striptease at the Colville Arms.

I decided to take an imaginative approach and mix colourful digital painting with collage, so I took photos of the immediate vicinity – low-rise and high-rise, skyline, roads, doors, windows – to create a photo-based backdrop in blocks of colour. The aim was also to ‘frame’ the mainly black and white photographs given to me by residents and highlight them in a ‘market stall’ context. I wanted to create a relationship between this heritage and the culture of the ever-changing shop fronts of Golborne and Portobello, and the imagery of the market itself. There could be a fine line between celebrating this heritage and representing it like the discarded family photos in battered frames found in rummage boxes in the vintage end of Portobello: It was important to me that there was integrity in the way I included other peoples’ treasured memories in my art.

Given most of the wall was waist height, I wanted to create a real-time experience for children running up the ramp or being pushed in buggies, so the only complete characters I created in the drawings were themselves children. Their height was contained within the 1.5 meter wall, whereas adult characters were mostly faceless, appearing only from the shoulder down. It would be a busy world with much to see and imagine, the detail in the art intending to inspire a narrative rather than tell a story. I included some of my personal memories and took the chance to challenge some of the lazy stereotyping so constantly created and so easily absorbed.

Each day that I got up and faced my screen to work on Project Ramp, I did not know where the drawing would take me. The joy of working on a 200 meter length of ‘canvas’ meant I could be playful and just let ideas, marks and imagery flow. I swopped from Painter to iPhoto, constantly looking for through my photo libraries for that one image or shape or texture or colour that sparked an idea to build on. I used fills of colour, layers and a palette of both traditional and digital brushes to create a landscape that was in part representational – shop fronts, parks, streets – and in part completely imaginative and abstract.

Once compete, I had to split the lengths of image into manageable sections which were printed on di-bond metal and screwed into the wall. I decided to first paint the walls of the ramp a shocking bright red to draw the eye of people in passing vehicles on Ladbroke Grove, to create a strong statement and backdrop for the di-bond panels. There were 5 glorious days after red paint and before art install when I stood back and took in the beauty of the shape of this structure that had gone from dull cement to statement red. It had started to take on a new life and was ready for the art. The next part would be even more exciting.

The installation took longer and was much tougher than expected – heavy work for Michel and Adam from Coloursonic Ltd – we didn’t know until the drilling started that the walls were built around an impenetrable metal core that blunted about 30 drill bits over 3 days!

“Project Ramp” has now been up since May 2015 and will remain in-situ for 10 years. I feel elated that I’ve been able to achieve what I set out to do. Its been a joy to see children charging down the ramp and reaching out to touch a little character in the art who has become real to them. I’ve seen people really moved by the celebration of their friends and family long gone but saved in a snapshot via a  1950s photograph given to me to include. And I’ve had people tell me that the colour and the joy in the imagery just makes them smile and feel alive when they pass the ramp every day. There has been not a single mark of defacement or vandalism – instead people tell me they discovered something new today – something small they hadn’t noticed yesterday. This has been a real opportunity to realise public art in the true sense, to include and celebrate, and to get so much back from a community that was such a pleasure to work with.