When I was five we travelled to London to visit the Natural History Museum. I clearly remember my first experience of “scale” when I peeped through the doorway in the exhibition hall and first saw the Blue Whale. It was so big that I ran and ran scared out of the main exit and my dad had to find me! Perhaps that was the moment when I became an artist. I have not looked back since!
I have always been into arts and culture from a very young age and have been lucky enough to attend schools where culture was considered to be very important. At my former high school, Petra, in Zimbabwe, I participated in everything from school plays, to exhibiting art to reciting my own poetry at the annual cultural evenings that were held. Culture is also a very big part of the way of life in Zimbabwe and I think it is very beneficial to young people, like myself (I'm 16) because it opens your eyes to different experiences and you gain the confidence to discover new things for yourself.
One of my most memorable cultural experiences was, while recovering from a childhood illness, having lots of days off school (!) and visiting art galleries and museums with my mother. During week days we often had places to ourselves and would wander round at our own pace. I have strong memories of being lost in my drawings in response to amazing artefacts and images. Later at secondary school, I would often stay in the art room at lunchtime, sharing marmite sandwiches and recalling these experiences with my art teacher. I would rework old drawings and turn them into new work. I think I was fairly obsessed with drawing … sometimes I didn't get to school and would be found drawing in the nearby park. As soon as I could, I worked in the local library, also a gallery, alternating this with the art supplies shop (and a necessary supply of art materials). These early experiences have had a real impact on my belief in the arts and culture to offer meaning and significance to being human.
As a boy of 12, on the cusp of adolescence, I joined the school play. What I remember about that play is not the performances so much, but the rehearsals. It was intensely social. Collaborating closely with kids, often older kids, that I would never otherwise mix with; getting to know teachers, not as the lecturing voice of a school subject, but as people. And I realised those people cared about their students and wanted them to know drama as a way of becoming, of exploring who they were and who they could be. Most of all it was the skills of making mistakes, looking daft, and helping others out as we got to know a good script and how to perform it well. It was a powerful experience and I still carry with me the memories of it and the gratitude for it.
It's hard to recall one memory because I was lucky enough for my childhood to be filled with culture. My parents are arts educators, so there were museums, books, music and inspiring friends. We know parental influence is a vital factor in young people's confidence in exploring culture. To pick one memory, it's Edward & Ruth Barker's sculpture studios in Norfolk. My dad taught summer courses there. We kids hung out in their garden, drawing giant hogweed, squidging clay into tree bark, flicking through books about Picasso. I remember feeling that art was something we could all do, children and adults, as it was simply looking and playing, over and over. I was privileged, not because of any special talents, but because I lived with adults who knew how to keep art in their lives.
My earliest one is the clearest. We lived in West Yorkshire and my parents didn’t go to art galleries or concerts, but they often went to the theatre, on their own. They liked musicals, but they also loved Shakespeare and when I was eight they took us to see Laurence Olivier in Twelfth Night at Stratford. I was dumb-founded by the evening, particularly as in the interval I wandered into the lighting technicians’ area and was shouted at to leave “get out, you horrible child”. The whole thing was astonishing – here were people doing something magical, serious and uncompromising. I immediately “auditioned” for a part in Alice, Thomas and Jane in the children’s drama club back home and pretended throughout the show that I was acting in the West End. The learning here was about confidence and individuality and that some adults inhabited a totally different and imaginative world.
When I was at school it was expected for us to take part in the music competition at the Bath Festival. I remember plonking (rather ineptly) through a piano recital and steeling myself to bear the humiliation of a merely adequate performance. However, I now look back on the experience, and on the nerves and tension it generated, with humour and affection, and in recognition that it was all good practice and a great lesson for meeting life's challenges generally!
My love of the visual arts. Aged 4 1/2 I painted a picture of a train “Intercity 125” (Most people unfortunately see it as a car!) in bold, gloopy colourful poster paint. I won a school prize for it, and have continued to practice the visual arts to this day.