In the early 1950s, the artist Joan Eardley could be seen transporting her easels and paints around the Glasgow tenements in a pram. She painted and photographed the ragged children of Glasgow’s inner city slum housing. The artwork she produced is also ragged and childlike. Bold colours and brash strokes. She incorporates collage with newspaper scraps added like crude nursery school graffiti. Her subjects are innocent and bright eyed. Cheeky. Poor children painted with compassion. Her photographs share the same humanity.
The post-war Glasgow was a city in planning turmoil. The controversial Bruce Report proposed completely ripping up the town centre, clearing the slum housing and starting from scratch. Glasgow Council never followed through with report’s more extreme recommendations but the slum housing was cleared and the city’s poor cleared and moved to new high rises on the outskirts, and the New Towns of Cumbernauld and East Kilbride.
I use Joan Eardley’s artwork in class because it has a beating heart and a non-judgemental social conscience. Pupils can reflect on her free, childlike style and consider how this generates emotion and storytelling. Her artwork is a wonderful way to encourage pupils to be expressive and observational too. To sketch loosely, to mix colours, to experiment with pastels and paint, to cut out newspapers/magazines and mix elements of collage, and to look completely differently at portraiture. But NOT to copy.
Tracing the paintings back to examples of her photographs also inspires many deep questions and enquiry about the children, her depiction of poverty (and Scotland), the children’s lives and whether they were being taken advantage of. How would we react today if a random artist asked us to come to their studio to be painted? And if Joan Eardley was alive today, what would she paint?
I have used her artwork to stimulate discussions and debates about street children throughout the ages, whether they be in the Victorian era, the 1950s or now. This in turn links naturally with Children’s Rights and Global Citizenship.
Later, Joan Eardley moved to the small Aberdeenshire fishing village of Catterline (not far from where I grew up). Her new subjects became the sea and the landscape. She often painted outside in poor weather but her paintings lost none of their sense of freedom and joy.
I have been an admirer of Joan Eardley for a very long time. I love sharing my passion for her art with the pupils and revealing a little of the magic of how she told her stories so they may find new ways to tell their stories and find a voice.
(A post written for #teacher5adaysketch on http://staffrm.io/@mrm/nfQyGkvByD and Twitter)