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The world’s first ‘recorded’ pavement art competition
Most people today think of pavement art competitions as being a quite recent development, but as this feature perfectly illustrates “there is nothing new under the sun”
Although pavement art competitions have been recorded since before the 1880’s, this is the very first to record the event competitors and winners. It’s a fascinating insight and shows enlightened individuals, over one hundred years ago, recognising the value & artistry of this “beggar’s art.”
DRAWING SEASCAPES AND SALMON AGAINST TIME
A competition for “The artists of the pavement” Of the number that presented themselves only seven essayed to face the ordeal of working before the gaze of the assembled specators.
The pavement artists’ Royal Academy had a brief but glorious career at the Fun City, Olympia, last night (1st Jan. 1909), with Mr Tom Browne, the artist, as judge and hanging committee. Crowds of people gathered round to see the artists at work. The time-limit was three-quarters of an hour, and money prizes were to be given to those who produced the best work.
So with crayons and cardboard and canvas, the pavement painters sat them down. Here was Albert Simpson, of Yarmouth, who learned the mastery and technique of the art as a distemper painter, and there was Arthur Harris, his arms tattooed tastefully with red rosebuds, known as the “Pigeon Boy.” Because no man can draw a pigeon so skilfully as he, with the ring round its eye and the shimmer of green and purple on its feathers.
Then there was Jim Hodges, who gave up home-decorating and now brightens the flagstones of Notting Hill. “I can draw anything.” He said proudly, “anywhere you like, in water-colour, on paper, in oil on cardboard.” Frederick Charles Warwick, the Sargent of the streets, is the portrait specialist. Mr’s Coleman, the only woman competing, uses bath-brick on cardboard as the best medium to work with.
LONELY JACK’S EFFORT
And lastly there was Lonely Jack, who can put more atmosphere into a fillet of salmon than any other artist—weather permitting.
“Go!” said the referee, and immediately there was a scraping of chalks and seemingly hopeless blurs of blue and yellow and red were smudged on the canvas. Lonely Jack drew two black lines very carefully, smudged them with the palm of his hand, and put in a yellow dot. “An airship,” said a little girl to her brother. “A torpedo,” the brother hazarded. Lonely Jack said nothing, but borrowed a piece of red chalk from the man next to him, who was drawing a Turneresque sunset effect, and drew a red circle.
“A windmill” Said a soldier. Lonely Jack smiled sadly, and went to work with blue. And lo! A salmon, neatly severed at the head, resulted. Then Lonely Jack grew prodigal of his art. He put in green-edged shamrock. Having ignored yellow, hitherto, he added a lemon, and finally, in an orgy of art, he drew a white envelope, stamp, postage-mark, and all, and wrote on it; “Is my work worthy?”
Mr Tom Browne did not think so, for the prizes were awarded as follows:-
- 1st- Mrs Coleman, for a landscape with two swans. “Summer Landscape”
- 2nd- Arthur Harris, evening landscape, entitled, “Self-taught.” With a yellow butterfly and a cuckoo.
- 3rd- James Colman, Turner seascape “Crossing the Channel by Moon-light.”
“I like the atmosphere in the prize-winners pictures,” Mr Tom Browne said. Lonely Jack was given a consolation prize.
All of these artists were self-taught and their work showed some considerable merit. Miss Alice Geneviève Coleman states that her ambition is to travel round the world, so that her work may get adequate recognition. Arthur Harris was formerly a cartman, but left that occupation to follow his artistic bent, while another competitor, Simpson, of Yarmouth, said that he had never handled the chalks before. The spectators were keenly appreciative and it was well to know that all the competitors received some recompense for their efforts on this occasion.
Sourced from various publications: Daily Express / Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Saturday 2nd Jan. 1909
Photograph: Daily Mirror – 15th November 1906.
Researched by Philip Battle