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A Glimpse Behind the Wall at Holloway - page 1

by Hilary Beauchamp author of Holloway Prison: An Inside Story

Inmates would bring into the classroom photos of partners and children for me to draw, or attempt to employ me as their own individual portrait painter. Succumbing to this sort of pressure would have reinforced the erroneous criticism that the arts were a soft option. Other quick fixes would have satisfied students when prison inertia was at its most virulent. Having been ticked off in the register, which assured them payment for that session, some women became indifferent to the real purpose of their visit. So in a way I made life more difficult for myself by making life more difficult for the students.

That's why tracing paper was a banned material, my own banned substance that most students were made aware of right from their first lesson. It was my one notorious prohibition that novices soon heard about from more experienced students keen to pass on this bad news. And if I heard a crackling and a scrunching noise coming from some student hiding at the back of the class, I would know she had acquired greaseproof paper in some illegal deal with a cookery student.

Women having woken that morning on the wrong side of the wall and in a fighting mood need only ask for tracing paper. Caught off guard myself sometimes by my own kind of grumpy morning, my refusals would climb the scale and very nearly break glass. Hands over their ears to silence me and having twisted the key to their satisfaction, they'd wind me down with a grin and a wink to their mates, leaving the clockwork toy well and truly frazzled. The fight was always to teach up, stretch the mind, provoke thought, instil skills, cultivate observation, encourage independenceand accelerate maturity.

I was often asked by the inmates if they could see some examples of my own artistic efforts.

"Does she practise what she preaches?"

"She expects so much from us . . . Is her own work any good?"

I deflected the inquiries and quickly moved on. I'd been stung years before and didn't want to repeat the experience.

When evening classes still took place, I held an "Art Appreciation" class. Evening classes were of value to the convicted women who were obliged to work during the day. It was their opportunity to re-engage with education and it is a shame those classes no longer take place. I called it "Art Appreciation" and nobody turned up, until we decided to call it "Looking at Pictures", then women started to enrol. I thought I'd sneak one of my own slides in, so I slotted a Hilary Beauchamp in between a Mondrian and a Brigitte Riley, a chalk study of coral, interpreted in bright colours, of long angular shapes weaving around the paper.

"Ugh that's bleedin' ugly!"

"That's a disgrace."

"What a childish painting . . . Who did it, Miss?"

"Errrr . . . a minor British artist."

The illustrations in my book, hopefully they will receive a better response.

Read more - continued on page 2

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