On a school trip to the (excellent, and oft neglected) Museum of London a couple of months back I was struck in the foyer by an exhibition which included this work ‘Morning Rush’. Having a while to look through their shop after the tour – a compulsory part of any trip with kids, I can tell you – I noticed (hot tip for interesting gifts) that the museum allows you to browse and order prints from their huge archive of London photography/print.
Not being able to find this particular work, I emailed the museum about the possibility of buying it and was put in touch with one of their external programmes staff. She told me it had been produced by one of the prisoners involved in their art programmes. I won’t mention his name here, but it became clear through the negotiations about buying the piece that he was inside for some pretty terrible crimes. And that he was being moved to a high security, long term gaol with no art facilities what-so-ever. It ended up that we made a cheque out to the Governor of this place, and the purchase may go some way to resourcing the beginnings of an art department.
I don’t want this to sound like some do-gooder story. And you may hate the piece anyway. But it is background to some difficult questions I was left with to do with beauty. Can hands that have done such violence create rich beauty? If we can agree they can in a physical, material sense, then we have to allow them to have ‘beautiful minds’ tucked away somewhere. Minds that were troubled into evil acts. Minds that can be renewed. Minds like ours.
So this piece now stands at the bottom of our stairs by the front door. And reminds me each time I step out of the house to try not to stand in judgement on this beautiful/ugly city that is just over the doorstep. But to try to encourage the beauty in each thing. Somehow.
It’s not easy.