The Movers is a painting commissioned by Anthony Ward Thomas. It depicts him together with employees of Anthony Ward Thomas Removals and Aussie Removals. Both companies are housed at the same premises in Park Royal, London, as was my studio, which is how I came to be involved in this project.
On June 26, 2015, I attended a barbecue at the premises on Acton Lane. I brought along my camera, and during the course of the evening I took a number of photographs.
Many of the employees were Australians and unsurprisingly they were known to appreciate a few beers after a long day’s work. That evening was no exception, and at one point two young Aussies (Jimmy and Brendan) took the opportunity to put some Newtonian physics into practice. Since I had an inkling of what was about to transpire, I set my camera to continuous and panned across the yard as Jimmy pushed Brendan, while the latter desperately tried to keep his beer firmly inside its tin. Jimmy subsequently informed me that later that evening he pushed Brendan to a pub in the same chair. Sadly I was not there to record that journey.
Anthony Ward Thomas
I took many photographs that evening, and even more during the following week. When I was done, I had accrued more than 1000 images of men, women, and trucks. I wasn’t entirely sure if I could or would use them as a basis for paintings, but I began to work on a few ideas, until one day Anthony dropped in for a chat and saw an image pinned up on a board. At that stage everything was printed in black and white, which was my usual working practice.
Anthony was taken with the image, which at that stage had a tentative title of Moving the Mover. He asked if I was interested in making a painting based on the union of the two companies. Jimmy (wearing Anthony Ward Thomas red) and Brendan (in Aussie Removals black and gold) would form the basis for the painting.
I spent one month producing the design for what would become The Movers. It went through many iterations. This involved digital manipulation of photographs which were subsequently printed in black and white using a laser printer. These were cut and pinned onto a large board. Changes were made, and papers pasted into place as the collage grew. It was photographed and digitally edited. Then it was printed again before further changes were made, and so on and so forth.
In many respects the work was to become a group portrait with an emphasis on two colours, red and black. Moreover, and unlike most portraiture, this would depict movement as well as the subjects enjoying themselves. It would also require producing a picture with a panoramic sweep. I revisited this idea of capturing movement when painting Pictures at an Exhibition.
Anthony insisted on the inclusion of a number of long-serving employees. He also specified that trucks be placed in a particular order and that certain features of the surrounding area be removed. None of this was technically difficult, although it was time-consuming, for example recreating trucks that were not present on that evening in June. I should add that Anthony was also absent that evening, but of course I had to find a place for him.
I had envisaged making a larger painting, but due to restrictions of space the size of the painting was reduced from 244 cms wide to 183 cms.
The initial image was transfer-printed from laser output onto a prepared MDF panel (2 coats of primer and 4 coats of gesso, each one sanded between coats). This transfer print took a week to produce after which it was sealed with PVA.
The application of oil paint took 10 weeks. At one stage, Anthony asked that two extra figures be added, and I also took the decision to add one more dog, Rosie, who belongs to Anthony’s PA, Boo Hopley. Rosie’s job was to balance Billie Jean, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier that acts as an enforcer/debt collector (I believe she has something to do with credit control).
The Movers was finished on November 23, 2015. It depicts 47 figures, 2 dogs and 13 trucks.
And no, I don’t think I will be painting anything similar any time soon.