On Friday 9 April 2016 Outside In Manager Jennifer Gilbert hopped on a train to Shrewsbury, got lost in the wrong shopping centre, but finally stumbled upon the art space that is now home to Art Studio 1 – a group of learning disabled artists working with artist Tanya Raabe who meet most Fridays in the old Co-op building in the town centre. Jennifer met with Tanya and artist Mark Lloyd who, in 2015, received an Arts Council England grant for his project ‘Trainlines’.
Tanya helped Mark to get this grant in response to her seeing his 30 year archive of work based around trains, railway stations and motorways. Having spent most of his adult life in day care services, this grant has enabled Mark to break out of that setting, experience creating work in an art studio alongside other practicing artists, and allowed for high quality materials to be purchased for his art. His mother Wendy attends every week with him, and is a great admirer of his work. For many artists with disabilities, family members are often not fully engaged with the artists and their work, so this is a refreshing sight to see as Wendy is so interested to see all of the works that he has created – past and present!
On arrival at the Studio, I spent a good while with Mark showing me his piles of art work of train lines and motorways. He has recently bought some new felt pen markers with his grant money, but only one picture in the pile was created in this new material – perhaps he was not used to working with this new streak free finish to his work. The rest of his work seems to be completed in cheap felt pens which leave a type of pattern on the surface when large blocks of colour are laid down. On the back of each train line drawing Mark has written the type of train and the journey route of that train – he even remembered from memory when each picture was created. I was surprised to see how bright these drawings still were even though some were created so many years ago – but I was told that he keeps them all in piles inside plastic bags to protect them and protect their colours from fading. What I was also surprised about was the fact that Mark does not use a ruler – the lines in these pieces were so straight, just wow!
His current piece that he was working on when I arrived is a painting on a canvas that has been taken from a photograph from a trip to Think Tank in Birmingham. It features an old bus at the centre of the drawing but Mark has also focused on the chequered ceiling, which didn’t really feature in the photograph, but which must have made an impression on him on his visit last year (see image at the bottom of this post).
The final thing that Mark showed me were some drawings on black paper. Tanya suggested it may be good to try different papers and coloured papers to see what was produced. Mark seems to have pressed quite hard in a soft pencil crayon on to this black paper, with many drawings featuring the Blackpool Illuminations which he visited quite recently. Others featured simple patterning that he created whilst spending time in the day services centre. It was thought that these patterns may have been done to just pass the time whilst in the centre.
I sat and watched Mark placing the marks on his canvas for a while whilst eating my lunch, and it was clear that he spent time thinking about the placement of his line and how it may affect the look of the piece. He has apparently been working on this canvas since before Christmas and it still only looks half complete. Whilst Mark continued to paint, Tanya, Jackie his PA and I discussed the next steps for Mark’s work including exhibitions, how to promote the work on social media and the idea of possibly selling the work. But the first step will be Tanya helping Mark to create an online gallery on the Outside In website – I cannot wait to see Mark’s work uploaded!
For learning disabled artists, opportunities to work within the mainstream are few and far between so this has been a great learning curve for Mark, Tanya as his artistic mentor and the day services that Mark has attended for so many years. Following this, it is hoped that Mark will continue to create and to use high quality materials for his work. His mother Wendy has said that both she and other family members and friends have noticed a real difference in Mark – not only has he become more verbal but he is seen by all as much happier. Alongside his non-stop creation of art, you could not ask for better outcomes!
What Tanya has set up here in Shrewsbury is a great venture that should be replicated in other places. A real sense of a community is beginning to form with six artists now in attendance each week. By being recognised as artists by the other artists using the space around them, this has allowed the artists to develop more confidence in both their art and themselves. I look forward to seeing this Studio grow over the next year and seeing how Mark’s work develops with his new pens.
Tanya has set up this blog if you want to see other posts from the Art Studio.