The Big Issues exhibition 2015


The Big Issues exhibition 2015

2 – 20 February 2015: 23 February – 7 March 2015: Pottery Gallery, Watts Gallery Gallery Different, Percy Street London

“The Watts Art Group gave me more confidence to explore techniques and apply these to my paintings. It also gives me confidence when my artwork is appreciated and noticed by people. It gives me a reason to live.”

Tatiana, HMP Send The Big Issues 2015 exhibition opens at Watts Gallery from 2 - 20 February. This year the exhibition will also be shown at Gallery Different, from 23 February – 7 March, located in Percy Street, London. In London it will be shown alongside Free Spirit, an exhibition of work by Sandy Curry, Michael Varah Artist in Residence at HMP Send, 2007 – 2013. The exhibition shows the art of participants in Watts Gallery’s Big Issues Art for All programme which, over the past seven years, has transformed the lives of disadvantaged groups in Surrey. Through artist-led workshops, The Big Issues project builds self-esteem and provides an opportunity for participants to learn new and transferable skills helping them to improve their lives. All participants are invited to submit art for display or for sale in an annual exhibition. The income from sales goes directly back to the participants – although many choose to donate some of the income back to the project, which is testament to the value placed on the programme. Exhibitors include women prisoners, disadvantaged and vulnerable young people and adults, those experiencing homelessness, recovering from drug and alcohol addictions and those with mental health difficulties. This year, 148 people have taken part in 93 artist-led workshops.

Upholding the vision of Watts Gallery’s Founders

The Big Issues project was established on the beliefs of Watts Gallery’s founders, the famous Victorian artist George Frederic Watts OMRA (1817 – 1904) and his wife, the artist and designer, Mary Seton Watts (1849 – 1938). Both believed strongly in providing art and education for all and cared about issues still prevalent today, such as homelessness, pollution, exploitation and unemployment. This sense of social conscience can be seen in many of G F Watts’s paintings on display at Watts Gallery, such as Found Drowned c.1850 and The Irish Famine c. 1848 - 1850. George and Mary Watts took part in a number of philanthropic projects to provide art for all, one of which included building the Watts Chapel with the help of the local residents. This was a time when unemployment was high, with machines taking over the work which had once been the lifeblood of many working class people. Mary Watts recognised this problem and sought to help by setting up terracotta pottery classes for local people in the couple’s house, Limnerslease. The pottery classes provided local residents with the valuable skill of terracotta tile making, which helped them to find employment. The tiles that the local residents made and the beautiful interiors that they helped create can be seen at the Watts Chapel today. At the heart of Mary and G F Watts’s work was their belief that art could transform lives and they campaigned to widen access to art for people in society with least access to it.

Highlights of The Big Issues 2014 – 2015

The Big Issues project provides people affected by social exclusion with an opportunity to work with a contemporary artist to learn art and design skills andexpress ideas and issues they care about. Participants have the opportunity to show and sell their work in an exhibition, continuing G F and Mary Watts vision of social enterprise. In the past year Watts Gallery worked with eight socially excluded groups:

         HMP/YOI Feltham Surrey Youth Support Services The Cellar Art Street Level Arts Opportunities ArtVenture HMP Send  HMP Bronzefield Highlights of this year’s programme include: 9 young people on the At-Risk register received bronze Arts Awards, gaining qualifications for the first time; 5 young people on the At-Risk register returned to formal education or found employment and were removed from the At-Risk register;  1 young man has gained a place to study Art at college having previously been classified as NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training);  The work of an HMP Send participant was selected by Chris Ingram to be shown at the Discerning Eye exhibition at the Mall Galleries;   A further HMP Send participant has gained at place on an BA Art course; The Big Issues work with prisons has been recognised by the National Alliance for Arts in Criminal Justice as an example of best practice and will be published;

The Watts Gallery Michael Varah Memorial Fund Artist in Residence at HMP Send

Since 2008, Watts Gallery, The Michael Varah Memorial Fund and HMP Send have been working collaboratively to provide an Artist in Residence programme at HMP Send. This has been made possible with the enlightened and visionary support of the Michael Varah Memorial Fund. In 2014 Mary Branson was the Watts Gallery Artist in Residence at HMP Send. Mary Branson worked weekly with the women to facilitate a studio in which they could develop their work and ideas. Commenting Mary said:

“I have seen change in all the women, each week. They have become an art group where they encourage each other, share each other’s successes and help one another when someone is stuck. They all have been successful in art competitions and have been creating more and more work as their self-confidence grows. Several members are

doing extremely well in forging arts pathways for themselves. I see them as all very talented.”

The Annual Watts Lecture - Dr Tristram Hunt MP Tuesday 3 March, 7.30 - 8.30pm, Art Workers’ Guild, London, Queens Square, WC1

This year, the annual Watts lecture will coincide with the Big Issues exhibition. The lecture will be given by Dr Tristram Hunt, historian, issues resonate today. politician, author, academic and columnist. Dr Tristram Hunt will give a fascinating insight into the issues that concerned Watts and his contemporaries and will discuss how these

Supporters of The Big Issues project

Watts Gallery would like to thank the generous supporters who make the project possible. These include: The KPMG Foundation, The Hazelhurst Trust, Women In Private Equity Second Chance Scheme, The Michael Varah Memorial Fund, The Community Foundation for Surrey Electronic Arts Youth Fund, Billmeir

Charitable Trust, The Big Give, The Lake House Charitable Foundation, Karina Phillips, Director of Gallery Different, Cindy Lassand many individual donors. The Big Issues exhibition will include, painting, drawing, pottery, mixed media pieces and sculpture. All objects are for sale and proceeds go to the artist. For further information:

@WattsGallery facebook/thewattsgallery -

ENDS – For further press information: Notes to Editors: Free Spirit

Free Spirit is a display of work by Sandy Curry, Watts Gallery Michael Varah Artist in Residence at HMP Send 2008 – 2013. Shown at Gallery Different, it includes work by women artists from HMP Send with whom Sandy worked whilst she was Artist in Residence and reflects the journey and impact of this experience on both Sandy’s work and that of the women she supported.

Comments from participants:

“We find the input from the Watts Gallery invaluable. Some of the pictures generated by our young men this year are quite dark in nature, and certainly have a therapeutic benefit in allowing them to express themselves purely in a way that our accredited courses sometimes do not. The learners also benefit from the interaction with an external organisation that is neithereducation or prison in that it gives an extra dimension to what they are doing. The added validity of possibly selling their work through the gallery is a particularly motivating facet.”

Matthew Hebditch, Education Manager at HMP & YOI Feltham

“I’ve learnt from the programme that if you put your mind to it, your work can be viewed by others and since I’m not an artist or a drawer, I’ve pushed myself to the limit and I am proud of myself that I’m actually an artist.”

Michael, HMP Feltham

“The workshop programme has opened up my world. Art has become a way to express the depth of my feelings and provides a welcome escape from the rigidity of prison life. My work reflects the essence of me - my real self

and inner thoughts. Thank you for giving me the chance to be myself.” Susanna, HMP Send

“During the time I have spent at the Watts Gallery, I have produced many different types of art whilst working towards my Arts Award. I have gained confidence in the arts which has assisted me with moving forward to starting an art course at College. My thanks go to the staff of Watts Gallery and Joy, my mentor, and also to my family for their hard work, encouragement and for giving me the opportunity to develop my skills. Overall, my time here at Watts has had a huge impact on me. I am finally doing what I enjoy and have a lot of hope that it will take me far.

” Sam, Surrey Youth Support Service

“This Big Issues workshop programme has been very educational and therapeutic. I am happy I get to take part in it, and I hope it is a programme for prisoners, that will continue. It really helps with helping one to express

themselves in a fun way. Also it is a very good way to introduce art to people.” Petrona, HMP Bronzefield.

“I have enjoyed coming here as it is a proper art studio. If you had asked me about whether I liked art ten years ago, I would have said that I wasn't interested. The art group gets me up and out of the house and I really enjoy

being part of it. We can have a laugh, a joke, a talk and do art.” Trevor, Street Level Arts.

“It's been a privilege to be part of projects at Watts. It is a nice environment that gives you the freedom to express

yourself. Not to forget the friendly staff that motivate us.” Rosario, Street Level Arts. “I have gained confidence in myself by being able to express myself through my work.” Tania, HMP Send.

“Watts Gallery has given me the opportunity to build up a portfolio that I hope I will be able to use in the future to go to university. Not only has taking part in the Big Issues project allowed me to explore who I am as an artist it

has given me the opportunity to be picked to have my work exhibited at the Mall Galleries.” Dena, HMP Send.

“These classes have introduced is to so many ways to express ourselves. My eyes have been opened to endless possibilities. I am grateful to all the very special staff and helpers who have given us so much time and patient encouragement. Watts Gallery really is a magical place where everyone is welcome, and I am sure that George and Mary Watts would be thrilled to see what is happening and what is being created here, as we are thrilled to be

invited as participants.” Sue, Cellar Art Group.

“Watts - where would we be without you? Thank you so much for your support, the materials, the advice. Visiting artists are wonderful. Most of all for your attitude to us, we are 'normal people' and when you have visited us you

have made us feel 'normal’.” Susanna, HMP Send


11am – 5pm


£7.50 FREE FREE £3.75 £3.75

PUBLIC INFORMATION: 01483 810235 GALLERY DIFFERENT, PERCY STREET, LONDON, WIT 1DR OPENING: Tue, Wed, Fri 10:30am - 6pm Thu 10:30am - 8pm Sat 11am - 5pm