Notes from HMP Grendon
By Dean Kelland, Ikon’s artist in residence at HMP Grendon
“Somewhere in my drawer upstairs I have an original Frank Sidebottom badge that she had given me years ago.”
First handover day…on the train from Birmingham Moor Street…mind racing and thinking through ways I can work. Three years is longer than I am used to, so have to consider the pace of what I do. SWiTCH No mobile phones…no internet…just doors and locks, so many doors, so many locks. Saw a number of new faces, one of which I met in a corridor and who was introduced as the drama therapist. She smiled and in the brief moments we had she talked about shredding identities, I remain interested in the lone figure as a motif in my work and it seemed resonant to be discussing the dismantling of one identity – the creation of a new identity – period of feeling fake – acceptance of new identity. This is something the residents go through and I was inwardly delighted that something between the therapy and my practice might already be aligning. SWiTCH Went on to C-Wing and felt immediately at ease with the residents (as I had done when they interviewed me) the communal space was small but offered an environment for discussion and an opportunity to share and show work. One of the residents presented a canvas he had been working on, a portrait of Elvis (1950s period) and I asked him why he had chosen to focus on this figure, “he’s the man isn’t he, Elvis…he’s just the man.” SWiTCH Home late, the house was quiet whilst everyone slept. The kettle bubbled and rasped to signal the completion of its task and pouring the steaming water into my mug I prepared a much sought after cup of tea. Making a mental note to set up a kettle in the office at Grendon I squeezed the bag between the teaspoon and the inner side of the mug and headed upstairs. Whilst the bath was running I picked up the book I had been reading by way of initial research “A Rusty Gun” by Noel ‘Razor’ Smith. After a few pages I placed the book down and carried the mug to the bathroom. I lowered myself into the hot water after turning the tap off and placed the mug on a coaster that sat on the window ledge next to the bath, this coaster had been given to me as a present. It had the cover to The Jam’s last album ‘The Gift’ on it. Aware that I had been motionless for some time I grasped my nose and sank backwards, with my head now fully submerged there was nothing but the sensation of being consumed by the dull heat and the muted sound of the silent house. As my mind cleared the day that had gone by I thought only of her. When my breath reached the final stretch and I couldn’t contain it any longer I burst through the surface and gasped in the steaming air around me. Would my thoughts change over time at Grendon…She grounds everything, centres everything…what if I lose her as the first thought? SWiTCH All the comedy characters that I have admired and looked to are broken men. Their lives like a scratched record that gives them just enough time to shout before skipping back to the start, a cycle of repetitive failures and frustrations. SWiTCH Met with the Governor and had a really interesting meeting. There are lots of ideas that James and I are considering and it was good to get her initial steer on how we might go about it all. Still in the handover period and know that things won’t happen instantly…patience and the management of time inside the Grendon gates is something that I hope will come to me. The Governor wished me well and then mentioned the forthcoming ‘leaving do’ for the last Artist in Residence, “you’ll get used to goodbyes at Grendon. Goodbyes are important at Grendon.” SWiTCH The sketchbook pages were flowing and sitting in the new space designated as my studio felt like a dream…things had started and the ideas were underway. A knock at the door interrupted my train of thought and a smiling face greeted me as the door opened. A young resident held out his hand and he explained that he knew that I was new here and had come to see me and say hello whilst he was down on the education wing. I recognised him from the November exhibition that I’d visited as part of my introduction to Grendon. He had read his poetry at the event and it had made enough of an impression on me at the time that I was able to recall his name without any uncertainty. He saw the books that James and I had stacked on top of the materials lockers and enquired about poetry books. Whilst we knew there weren’t any up there it was still useful to talk and welcome him in. I want the office and studio to be a place that the residents feel comfortable in, a place they want to visit and where they can see the work developing. SWiTCH More sketchbook work today: – iMPOSTER SYNDROME from the Latin Impostorem…impose upon or deceive. A person who pretends to be someone else to deceive others. SWiTCH Met with Jo the art therapist who was extremely welcoming and already appears to be someone who could be a great sounding board. We talked about some of the initial thoughts on masks and Elvis and we discussed iDEALiZATiON vs. DEVALUATiON as a concept that both links to therapy at Grendon as well as the ideas that I’ve started to work through in the practice. SPLiTTiNG as a concept also arose and I thought of ‘Quadrophenia’ and ‘Bubba Ho Tep’ as potential references. Loads to go at…need to work ideas through in the sketchbook. SWiTCH Talked with the Art Rep on D-Wing who seems really positive and engaged with his role. He was very kind in seeking me out to tell me that he believed from the initial stages of the residency that I was the right person to do it, “you’ll do well here. From what I’ve seen so far you are the right kind of personality for this and I think it will be exciting.” Moved to C-Wing and looked at some art work, one new resident presented some small Disney illustrations that he’d been working on…before I could speak another longer standing resident shouted out a response, “look, Mickey Mouse has had a stroke!” The remark hit the spot, both for the residents that laughed and for the resident who was presenting his illustrations. He took in a deep breath and then asked to leave the room. It was clear that he was affected by the comment and rather than lose his temper chose to withdraw from the situation. As I am new and unable to gauge the interactions between the residents with any accuracy yet I thought it best to let him leave. SWiTCH I sat on the train and settled into a seat in the middle of the carriage adjacent to the window. I was on my way to meet James at Moor Street Station before going on to Grendon. The sun was bright and I struggled to gaze at the colours and lines that normally flash by. This habit of getting lost in the painterly wash of speeding colours that had developed over the many minutes, hours and days I’ve spent on trains had always cleared space for thought. The train was packed full…I’d selected the wrong seat…nothing to do now but close my eyes and listen to music to block out the bustle and hum of the bodies sandwiched like sardines into the carriage. I selected random and was audibly greeted by Robert Wyatt’s “Free Will and Testament” a perfect morning tune. I know this song well but one of the lyrics leapt forward like never before and I opened my eyes with a start…”What kind of spider understands arachnophobia?” SWiTCH James busied himself in the office whilst I worked in the sketchbook…everything converged on the page in front of me…it poured from me and the page became pages…everything I’d experienced so far, everything I’d thought about, every conversation seemed to be making connections, seemed to be making sense. James glanced over, “You look like you’ve had a productive day.” I confirmed the thought. It had been a really positive day. I will probably never meet Robert Wyatt but if I did, I’d have to thank him. SWiTCH Settled down to watch “Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story” and like a lightning bolt a connection was made with the ideas I’ve been sifting through in the sketchbook for Grendon. The relationship between the creator, Chris Sievey (who wore the head) and Frank (the character) started to have resonances beyond the comedy “In the early days, Frank seemed ‘merely a laugh’. A typical Chris joke, but as the years rolled by, the relationship between Chris and Frank and, beyond that, Frank and Little Frank, darkened and started to take its toll. I know that Paula, Chris’s wife, went through hell really, and it is difficult to understand how anyone could cope in such a situation. Frank had no sense of responsibility at all and the line between Chris and Frank is exactly the root of Chris’s problems. He became incredibly hedonistic and yet seemed to fade away in later years. Frank took over. I think that most people close to him were aware of the dangers, for sure.” We had both enjoyed watching Frank Sidebottom when we were at school together, somewhere in my draw upstairs I have an original Frank Sidebottom badge that she had given me years ago.
Art at HMP Grendon is supported by the Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust and HM Prison and Probation Service.