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This is Me

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HANDS, brushes, scooters – floor or table-work – it was a case of anything goes when it came to freedom of expression at a recent art project at Priors Court – a specialist school for pupils from five to 19 years with autism spectrum disorder and severe and complex learning difficulties. And you can see some of the artwork created during the day’s project upstairs in the Carnegie Room at Newbury library, until Wednesday.
As part of the Hermitage school’s extended learning curriculum, the school collaborated on This is Me, with Julie Parker, a Studio 8 artist at New Greenham Arts, whose work focuses on human traces. The project was set up by one of the Prior’s Court teachers, Louise Cole, a friend and former colleague of the artist. “I showed her some of my past work based on repetitive movements, and some images by other artists, which she found inspiring,” said Julie. “Because of the particular challenges of working with autistic students we decided that this would have to be a collaborative project, using the themes that run through my art, combined with Louise’s knowledge of the students.”
Every student had the chance to visit the makeshift studio in the gym and create a piece of work using their bodies – which was particularly relevant as many of them experience the world of the senses very differently. One of the main aims was to allow them freedom to choose colours and materials to make marks that were about them. Although they have plenty of opportunity to make artworks at the school, they tend to be formulaic and are assisted by their carers. “We wanted this workshop to be more about the students expressing themselves through their movements.”
Prior’s Court staff use symbols and signs to help the students communicate and the importance of these became evident, particularly in one of the student’s artwork during the workshop. Julie was introduced to the participants prior to the workshop and she and Louise discussed each student’s personality and potential activities for the workshop. “We knew that despite all the planning, the results would unpredictable.” The final artworks are as individual as the students, ranging from large expressive charcoal drawings made on the floor, to controlled colourful dots done seated at a table. “I love the results,” said Julie.

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