At the start of the year I decided that I wanted a change. I love my work but after a long winter of sitting in a room in East London writing and drawing, I fancied doing something a bit different. I think I might have grumbled about it on Twitter... And Facebook... Maybe on my blog, too... And in the pub - because all of a sudden friends (very kindly) started sending me weblinks to all sorts of exotic and different gigs that they thought I might be interested in.
The most exciting of these opportunities was an artist residency in Colchester, as part of firstsite's month-long WHAAM! season, celebrating 'comics, art and contemporary culture'. I emailed in a proposal and some work samples and was absolutely delighted when they chose me. I know some of my friends also applied for the position and I'd just like to take this opportunity to say...
Seriously though, I know the quality of artists interested in taking part was incredibly high (partly because I know some of them) and I still can't quite believe that I was lucky enough to sneak in.
So, over three weeks in April, the gallery space in firstsite on Short Wyre Street in Colchester was completely mine. It was a terrifying prospect and unlike anything I'd tried before.
I ran a couple of workshops before the residency started - again, something completely new to me. These were brilliant and I thin the kids who signed up had a good time. It also helped me feel at home in the big white room - which very quickly stopped being a white room as soon as I told the kids that they could paint on the walls. We hung up the comics and characters they'd created and all of a sudden it started to feel like home.
Part of my proposal was that I wanted to have a complete tapestry-like work at the end of my residency - a melange of comics created in a hundred different ways by a hundred different hands.
I wanted to involve the visitors as much, and in as many different ways, as possible. As luck would have it, my first week coincided with the school Easter holiday so lots of curious kids were popping in and dragging unwitting adults behind them. Even the most reluctant guardian ended up contributing to the jungle of comic strips that we hung in the window.
I solicited ideas from the visitors and drew up a list of topics about which people wanted see comics. I used this on a Voting Wall to guide my work and dictate what I did and when. Everyone who came in and chatted with me had a different take on Colchester, a new nugget of knowledge about the town that they wanted to share or an idea which I couldn't have had on my own - and I'd just like to thank everyone who took the time to talk to me while I was in residency.
Like I said, by the end of April I'd hoped to have a complete anthology work which, at least according to my staggeringly naïve proposal, would be immediately exhibitable online and in a gallery and suitable to be printed as a gorgeous book. Of course if you sit in a big room, with a big window facing out onto a busy street and ask people to come in and engage with what you're doing they really will. This was amazing and life changing in ways that I'm still figuring, but it also meant that my estimate for how productive I'd be was wildly inaccurate.
And so I've only just now finished putting everything together, collating and finishing all the strands of work I began in the gallery. I'm very proud of what we all produced. I think it's a really interesting collection of work that flows together and tells a larger, implied story about Colchester, its people and how art can connect us in new and exciting ways.
I hope you like it.