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Bill’s blog for Creative Roots project

Bill’s blog for Creative Roots project

Bill’s blog for Creative Roots project

This blog is guest written by Bill Chambers.

Bill Chambers is a freelance artist and printmaker working in community arts and education.

I love printmaking and I’ve been doing it for so long now that I ought to be an expert. I fell for it at college in the early 90’s and on my first visit to the print room I was in awe. It was so different, so tranquil with it’s quiet industry and age old machinery, it’s areas and it’s rules.

Am I an expert?

The truth is I just love printing. It’s my vocation. As I have got older, I have come to realise that I am lucky to have a vocation at all and although that call from the Tate Gallery may never materialise and I have yet to earn a proper living as an artist, I know how it makes me feel and that’s good enough for me.

From the outset every artist has a choice to make and most try to find work part time. This is what I did until I became a father and it was time to get a proper job! I studied for a PGCE in Secondary Art and Design but never became a school teacher. Instead I was lucky to get a position as a Printmaking Technical Demonstrator for the Art Foundation course in Cardiff. The Art Foundation ethos is based on Bauhaus principles and ours set out to nurture creativity through play, freeing our young students to look beyond the attainment goal, the pass or the fail.

Confidence is the thing and printmaking gives me confidence. Creativity is hard so I turn it into a process. There is no magic involved or the heavenly touch of divine inspiration. Only work, practice and the hands on physical act of making. Playing with the materials and experimenting with the process gives form to my ideas as the print progresses in stages and is passed from head to hand and back again. Printmaking is a way of creating art like no other. You literally have to think in reverse. It demands your attention and offers clear boundaries. The process of developing a print from a plate or block stops my fear of the blank canvas and acts as a vehicle that carries me along.  To be a printmaker is to work without fear of failure and with each new print revealed a new path is opened.

My mum always supported my wish to be an artist and my art school education means that I can happily own these words and believe in their significance to me and the society in which we live. As an artist I know instinctively that art provides more than just a platform for creative expression, it has the power to motivate us, build confidence, foster new connections, and give us pride and self worth. All these things are essential to life whoever you are, what ever your story and wherever you may end up.

I didn’t really know what to expect at our first workshop in a room off B wing at Parc Prison, so I approached the session like any other. I was there not to teach but to share. Creativity is a great leveller and I knew instinctively that in a place like this, to be treated as equal and ordinary has an extraordinary power. I am hugely grateful to the support of Dee and Marega who allowed me to just concentrate on the art. In this room we were just people with a shared goal. The men were genuinely interested in the workshop that we brought to them and there was curiosity outside on the wing too. Locating the workshops here and not on the education wing meant that Creative Roots could be independent and apart from the structures and hierarchy of the prison system. It also neatly demonstrated that a creative space is actually a place inside your head, that to step over the threshold from wing to workshop was to open a door to within ourselves. This may sound like bullshit but most if not all of the men that we worked with knew this already. Of course they did.

The location presented challenges, with men often dropping in and out or late or being distracted by the commotion of the wing outside the room. They came and went as they pleased, sometimes just to sit and observe. Drugs were our biggest issue. Both a source of admiration for those who seemed to be winning the battle and sadness for those that were in retreat. Of all places I cannot imagine a worse place to overcome drug addiction. It had a deadening effect on them.

It can take time to develop a working culture in a group but the ritual of meditative preparations at the beginning of each class helped to focus the men and underline the session’s purpose of concentration and standing outside of the day to day experience of being ‘inside’. I developed relationships with the men over the weeks and was pleased to observe how outwardly proud they were of the work that they had made and how they looked forward to the workshops to come. The exhibition event held at the visitor’s centre was genuinely moving and memorable for all involved.

For my artist’s response to this project, I settled on an image made by one of the men: a wolf. I wanted to use the same processes that I had shown to the men and the wolf seemed to me to embody a spirit of dignity, loyalty, instinct, ferocity and freedom. I was struck by the thought that in the world of men these qualities are often what drives us for better or for worse.