It’s probably important to start this by giving some context to how this work came about.
My practise has for a while explored elements of utopia, hope and childhood experience and this combined with the death of my Father caused me to begin looking more closely into my experiences and the role my father had in our lives. One element that stood out was our regular holidays to (predominantly) the South West from our home in Northamptonshire with my Father being the driving force behind these.
The holidays were unsurprisingly a highlight of the year, forming some of my strongest childhood memories and probably at least having something to do with my decision to live by the coast in the South West (Even if we never did make it as far as Cornwall where I now live)
The long journey necessary in our small 1980s Volvo, however, and the car sickness it would bring, combined with unnecessarily early starts and the smell of hot car plastic would bookend these holidays with a largely unpleasant experience.
It is this combination of experience that, after skirting around it a few times in other pieces, I decided to commit to in my next body of work.
I had never previously had much of a research based practice, preferring to take a more spontaneous approach to developing work but the way I wanted to explore this would require a different direction.
As well as my own memories of the experience there were some things I knew existed that I could use as a starting point; my personal collection of keyrings, purchased with pocket money from the various towns and attractions we would visit; an album of holiday photos and some associated leaflets and paraphernalia. On exploring further, we discovered every tax disc that had ever been in a car we owned, substantial written correspondence to and from Caravan parks and holiday lets and a lot more photographs of the Volvos than I realised. Not to mention my keyring collection being a lot larger than I remember. Discussions with my Mother had also unearthed the exact(ish) routes we would take, stopping places and further memories and shared experiences.
View a selection of the archive here: https://imwestwardho.myportfolio.com/gallery-1
My practise, as I’m sure is similar for other artists, involves a lot of time allowing things to float around in my head for a while giving ideas time and space to come to the surface rather than force them out. This led to a lot of thinking around the idea of holiday, the collected items and souvenirs and how I could explore them visually. Quite soon in the process the idea of recreating or paying homage to the journey in some form came about. The idea of using a version of the family car an obvious choice with the addition of the large neon arrow finding its way into the mix later on.
During this process I also decided upon the end location being Westward Ho! For multiple factors. It was the furthest West we ever travelled, combined with being the first of the holidays I have strong memories formed of. On further research it was the gift that kept giving. Taken from the Charles Kingsley book ‘Westward Ho!’ the area was named from a hotel built to capitalise on the popularity of the book. The book having strong themes of heading West for a better life – a suitable link to our yearly Westward adventures looking for a temporary ‘better life’ lined with ice-cream and sunshine. This fitted well with ideas I had explored in previous work around the American dream, the visual promise of signage and the West as a direction and a concept frequently being the compass point of opportunity, hope and self-betterment.
The Souvenir Box
It had by this point become obvious that I wouldn’t be able to explore the project in the depth I wanted in a single piece so the idea to create a publication to work with and contextualise the car-based artwork started to form. Having previously made a book of my practise (Ham Fisted Half Cocked) to sit alongside a mock ‘retrospective’ exhibition of my work I was keen to explore the format again with it seeming to provide the perfect opportunity to explore the collections and content in depth alongside a main artwork.
Although the idea started as a book format it soon became too limiting. To allow flexibility and to be able to incorporate additional elements I began to develop the idea of a ‘souvenir box’ that would explore the ideas and experiences behind the work in its own right while producing a kind of permanent souvenir to what would be a temporary art event.
This was quite a liberating decision and it allowed me to produce a variety of pieces exploring the archive I had collected and items remembered from the journeys and holidays such as softmints, I-spy books and sandcastle flags. I was also keen to produce a screen-print as well as other 2D works, as this is an area I often overlook in my work in favour of sculptural and installation pieces.
After much tweaking and reworking of format and ideas the souvenir boxes emerged in their final form containing the following.
Volvo (Westward Ho! Edition) – A4 Screenprint: A diagram of the Volvo as it would be on the journey complete with grill teeth and rooftop arrow.
Westward Ho! Route Map – A2 digital print: A map of the route taken from Blisworth to Westward Ho! with favourite stop-offs and other frequent destinations highlighted. This then also formed the basis of the route for the journey itself
Volvo Tax Discs 84-97 – A2 digital print: All the taxdiscs from the Volvos that would journey us ‘Westward Ho!’ over a 13 year period, a reproduction of the 1989 tax disc would adorn the car on the journey.
I-Spy On A Seaside II – A4 digital print: Created from multiple I-Spy book covers exploring the relationship between journey and destination – these were an everpresent part of any car journey.
I-Spy Postcards – 8 A6 Postcards: Covers from the car journey essential ‘I-Spy’ books used primarily to combat boredom whilst simultaneously contributing to car-sickness
Volvo Portraits – A6 book: Holiday photos featuring the Volvos alongside family members and holiday accommodation
Keyrings – A6 book: My childhood collection of keyrings, each one bought as a souvenir of a place visited on the family holidays.
Holiday Attractions Window Stickers: Stickers inspired by favourite holiday attractions and locations
‘I’m Westward Ho!’ Sticker, Window Sticker and Badge: Inspired by British seaside holiday souvenirs and featuring an invented ‘logo’
Westward Ho! Stick of Rock: A stick of Rock from Westward Ho! with custom insert. Ever present on holidays but never purchased due to being ‘bad for your teeth’
Packet of Softmints: Always present on car journeys to combat car sickness, these are redesigned 1990’s style packets with Westward Ho! branding.
Sandcastle Flags A set of standard sandcastle flags with new flag design inspired by the Volvo logo, blue of the sea and the grill teeth inspired by a childhood photo where my father gave the car paper teeth to entertain us.
Further details of the box (including purchasing) can be found here: https://imwestwardho.myportfolio.com/souvenir-box
Supported by a crowdfunding campaign and with help from Cultivator – a Cornwall based group promoting and supporting creative businesses and artists I was able to produce these boxes to a standard that I was happy. With these complete and sent out to backers the work on the main piece and the journey could begin.
Please read ”I’m Westward Ho!’ – Part 2′ for details of the car based artwork
You can also find out more about the project at www.imwestwardho.com