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C of E school art at the National Portrait Gallery

24 June 2016

© NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY, LONDON   

South of the River: Crowd Theory by Simon Terrill

South of the River: Crowd Theory by Simon Terrill

ARTWORKS by pupils from a Church of England school in south London are appearing on the walls of the National Portrait Gallery, in a new exhibition exploring personal and public spaces.

“Creative Connections: South of the River”, which opened earlier this month, showcases the final part of a four-year project, which seeks to link young people with contemporary artists, in order to create new impressions of some of the portraits in the gallery’s collection.

GCSE art students at St Saviour’s & St Olave’s School, an all-girls comprehensive in Southwark, have been working with the Australian-born artist Simon Terrill to create a series of photos and collages inspired by the achievements, and subsequent portraits, of nine celebrities who have connections to south London.

This includes the footballer Rio Ferdinand, the fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood, the Victoria Cross holder Johnson Beharry, and the gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who have all lived or worked in the area.

At the centre of this year’s collaboration is a time-lapse photo involving a smoke machine and more than 200 people, including students of St Saviour’s & St Olave’s. Pupils helped to set up the staging and lighting, as well as appearing in the shot of the school.

The result is South of the River: Crowd Theory (right), a giant panoramic elevated view of the school and a group portrait of its GCSE art students, who are lit up in groups in the half-light.

Mr Tirrell, whose continuing “Crowd Theory” project focuses on ideas of community and crowds, said: “Ideally, in a crowd, barriers between people dissolve and a new kind of space opens up — just for a fleeting moment that can happen. . . Everything about this project has been geared toward engendering that moment to happen.”

One student, Arafah, said of the experience: “I feel kind of like I’m chosen because this is not an everyday opportunity. It’s my chance to be in the National Portrait Gallery; it kind of makes me feel like I’ve been immortalised.”

She and her contemporaries have since been working on a variety of collages, also on display, to express the relationships between themselves, their area, and the sitters in the gallery portraits.

The head of art at St Saviour’s & St Olave’s, Jonathan Bishop, said: “They have had the opportunity to see art as something else, at a huge scale. . . Hopefully, that’s going to lead to more people wanting to take A-Level photography here, so there’ll be a legacy as well.”

The school admits students from all faiths, as well as from the C of E and other Christian denominations. “We were absolutely thrilled to be a part of this unique project,” the head teacher, Catherine May, said.

The director of participation at the National Portrait Gallery, Liz Smith, said that the gallery was proud of the work. “The gallery has ambitions for the project model to extend beyond London, and engage young people in researching and making new work about representations of self and locality.”

The exhibition runs until 6 September: www.npg.org.uk/whatson/creativeconnections.

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