The Alhambra Tiling Project
Randomly turning on the TV one day, I saw a programme from the Open University about symmetry and how there’s only 17 ways that two-dimensional spaces can be divided to recreate repeating patterns or fields. The tiles of the Al Alhambra Palace in Grenada were being compared with modern wallpaper designs from ‘Do It All’ in Milton Keynes, and instantly I knew I wanted to do something with it.
My motive was to try and make these tiles, which led to an in-depth study of clay and pottery classes at The Horniman Museum so I had access to a kiln. I developed a system to make tiles that was simple enough even a child could do it – and with two friends as primary school teachers, I went and did just that.
Sharing the skill of tiling
I ended up visiting seven or eight schools to showcase different tiling techniques and improvised clay modelling. There’s a profound history to this abstract form and, especially amongst children, it’s an eye-opening experience to the world around them and their origins; from my experiences, people are hardwired to want to explore and make things out of clay.
With a grant from the Arts Council and Awards for All, I continued to run classes with school groups at a private studio in Venue 28 until the council closed the space down. As a result, I lost access to my kiln for five years because I didn’t have anywhere big enough to keep it. By chance, a dear friend of mine purchased the workshop on Balgowan Road off eBay, and I was allowed to utilise this as my new studio.
I resumed workshops with the pupils from Balgowan Primary School, Farnborough Primary School, a youth group in Lewisham and a school for severely disabled children in Sutton – creating the mosaic wall that’s currently in the studio today. With help from the Greater London Authority, I also began working with the adults at Living Well on Lennard Road, creating a huge bespoke circular mosaic in their food hall.
Although the Alhambra Tiling Project was taking up most of my time, in 2015 I went on to star in my own hit movie titled ‘Garnet’s Gold’, which went on to win a Grierson Award.