Part 3 – Project 1 – The Gym Orderly Jacket on location

Gym Orderly Jacket artwork – Niki Gibbs

Exploring the remade clothing prop, I took the borrowed Gym Orderly Jacket back into the now empty Holloway Prison. Due to my work with Community Plan for Holloway I was able to get special access to the prison and had two hours to navigate the huge site and find some appropriate locations in which to photograph my prop.

I wanted to take the jacket to locations around the prison where it would have travelled. It is forbidden to take a camera into a prison when it is operational, so the fact that the jacket gets to be photographed in this forbidden environment is quite special. I wanted to tell some level of narrative to this story and so I felt it important to show the jacket in a variety of locations. The residential locations were an obvious choice, however as the jacket is associated with the gym, I wanted to take it to these locations. I had a model wear the jacket in the corridor so that I could get a sense of how it would look when worn and transiting to the different areas of the prison.

I had in mind that the backgrounds to mu images would be in a different style to the painting of the jacket, I wanted to convey the feeling of past and deterioration in the image, I decided to do this by creating a fairly limited pallet, textural base, firstly painting in acrylic I really quickly roughed out the gackgrounds in very a limited pallet of colours that resonated with the colours I saw in the prison.

I then wanted to create a sense of depth into the background, a feeling that it was fading into the past. I did this by applying a texture layers over the top, also in acrylic, but this time with a lino printing roller. A little reminiscent of peeling layered paint or layeres of peeling posters on billboards.

This layer had resulted in greater definition of the background, yet in most of the paintings, there were additional details in the scenes that required overpainting with a brush such as the bed frames and tile definition.

I felt that the safe (used by prisoners to store personal medication and tobacco) that was bolted to the floor under the bed, which was also bolted to the floor, was really evocotave. The shower cubicle was quite special as the fact that Holloway had a pool for the women was unique in the UK. Looking into the world that the women would have lived in in the 4 0r 5 bed dorms also felt really important as this is where they would have spent most of their time.

The Gym Laundry also felt like an appropriate place for the jacket to visit, painting it as a reflection is a bit like looking back into the past. I had read forward to future exercises in this part 3 and understood that we would be looking at reflective surfaces, so when I went around I particularly looked for mirror opportunities. The domed morror on the ceiling gave a real sense of secret observation, like a spy eye in the sky! The final image I wanted to envisage the jacket in transit being worn as it would have been walked down the corridor. The figure is really abstract and ghostly with minimal form so that the focus remains on the jacket.

I painted the Gym Orderly jacket in oil paint as I wanted it to have a different feel to the background. The oil paint blends better and has a slight glaze that sets it apart from the acrylic background.

I had to wait for the oils to dry before painting the lettering on, so although these were painted fairly quickly, there was ofter hours or days between the application of each layer. I think the series of paintings tells a story of the life that the jacket once had in an environment where in the past it would have never been seen with public eyes, and in the present it is re-visiting a now skeletal space in which it used to reside. They do work as individual images, but I feel are much more powerful as a series as they paint a much broader picture of its former life.

Niki Gibbs

10 April 2021

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