Moth and rust

The Tenfoot Series  of paintings and their narrative is a distillation of Hull’s hidden and unseen urban routes. I choose to walk and explore these canyons, hinterlands, wild places of weeds and supposed decay, and occasional fly-tipping. The Tenfoots are subject to constant renewal and recycle. They are a result of decades  of individual ad hoc building, making and bodging by local residents. Walls and garages are erected to follow property boundaries and Tenfoot restrictions. The garages by their location are often vulnerable to the opportunist thief and graffiti artist. Often the owner’s intention is clear from the barriers, locks and wire used as an attempt at security. But also evident is the fragility of rotting wood, holed by worm and beetle. Some appear to held together by flaking paint and rusting hinges. The title ‘Of moths and rust’ seemed quite apt when seen in its context from Matthew 6: 19-24

‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart is also.

So the Tenfoots of Hull have provided a source of local inspiration for me as an artist intent on discovering the picturesque of the everyday, the roughness and irregularity of the mundane. My paintings are not though to be viewed as exploitative of the ‘down at heel’, but an observation of this urban picturesque. The small vignette is always about the picturesque; the variety of surface and form being inherently unbeautiful. The smooth shiny surface merely reflects the viewer.

I paint from photographs, with the composition being considered before cropping and the final subject matter decided upon. The resulting compositions are intended to concentrate the viewer’s gaze to a certain mark, form and/or structure of or upon a surface that initially caught my eye. There is no visual clue of a horizon or vanishing point, yet this is not a Modernist reduction to the flat surface. Nor are they meant as decorative shape and colour. The Tenfoot Series is an expression and first hand exploration of a familiar (to me) landscape through the concentrated and detailed process of painting.

How to disappear completely.

How to disappear completely.   oil on board 45cm x 60cm 2014

The painting above is based on an actual scene from a tenfoot in Hull. It was the wording of the graffiti that first caught my attention followed by the personal rubbish scattered around. It was this combination of words and personal belongings that illustrated for me the near impossibility today of doing just that – disappearing completely. The words may refer to an eponymous song by Radiohead from the Kid A album. They may also refer to an earlier book by Doug Richmond called ‘How to disappear completely and never be found.’ This book describes ‘psuedosuicide’ whereby an individual sets out to create the impression that they are in fact dead. Yet this seems now an impossibility by our increased reliance on digital technology and the administrative demands that we are all ‘on line’.

The tenfoot in this painting is unusual in that it has street lighting and is a public right of way. Most of the tenfoots in Hull are unadopted and can be maze-like in their routes between the backs of property and highways. This means that they are, in all intents and purposes, nameless and anonymous. 

Grade II Listed: Priory Farm

Grade II Listed: Priory Farm   oil on board 45cm x 60cm 2016

My interest in this site, Priory Farm, began nearly twenty years ago when I first moved to this part of west Hull. It is an axis of four footpaths just beyond the Hull city boundary and the current farm remains are on the site of a 14th century priory from which it takes its name – Haltemprice Priory. Whilst not part of Hull’s tenfoot scenery the site seems to me to be the final destination of several tenfoots that end at the city boundary – they all look out to this site.  Over the past two decades I have witnessed the intentional neglect and ruination of the old farmhouse, by the elements and by the arson and vandalism that it attracts by its location. It stands alone in the greenbelt between Hull and Willerby; without neighbours and treeless it marks the spot of timeless routes from the banks for the River Humber to other ecclesiastical sites further north and inland. It appears as an island in the flat fields that limit this edge of the city.

The title of my painting reflects my interest in the listing of a building and supposed saving of our heritage. This listing seems then to prevent or limit any further ‘saving’. My painting depicts the intentional neglect, abandonment and ruin whilst capturing something of the feeling of the place, its history and connection to the surroundings. By placing the Farm against the purple storm clouds it silhouettes the exposed roof beams and joists that merge with the apex of the west gable . The three shipping containers with their windowless metal walls take centre stage; this is to draw the viewer’s attention to the new incomers and provide an echo of the Farm’s now windowless state – it now being an inaccessible container with unseen interiors. An alder tries to intrude between two of these boxes. The fly-tipped household rubbish in the foreground is overtaken by nature though. These rusting white goods are partially submerged under grassy mounds, becoming almost modern archaeological barrows. It was never my intention to romanticize the site but to show the wreck that was once a place of work and habitation with a long history. Recent excavations nearby have uncovered Roman artifacts. The site now hangs in limbo as a picturesque ruin for artists.

Diogenes in my back yard.

Diogenes in my back yard.   oil on board 45cm x 60cm 2016

The foreground of this painting – the concrete blocks (known as Gypsy blocks), the yellow gate, and mattress – was found along the old green lane known as Snuff Mill Lane that is the current western border of Hull’s Bricknell Estate. The background of house and trees is a composite image from other places. The house and surrounding landscape are obviously worth protecting as shown by the concrete blocks and the ‘no trespassing’sign, but both the blocks and signage seem merely a legal challenge from a ‘promised land’.  

This painting is more about the blocks and old mattress. The blocks represent an intolerance for ‘incomers’ of all kinds, a setting out of physical and psychological boundaries. The mattress is the essence of what it is to carry one’s home; in effect to have no personal possessions. This led me to the story of Diogenes who gave away all his possessions, they being superfluous to his life. He used his simple lifestyle and behaviour (which was meant to resemble poverty) to criticize the social values and institutions that he saw as corrupt, or at least as confused. My mattress, and its owner, has been denied basic shelter within the ‘promised land’.

Finding Gold in the tenfoot with Chrissy Collinson. Blog article by Michelle Dee, January 2017.

The Hidden Art from Hull’s Tenfoots – Hull Daily Mail. March 5th 2017. By Will Ramsey.



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Our back tenfootOur back Tenfoot


Doug & Jean's shedDoug and Jean’s shed




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Builders tipBuilder’s tip






How to disappear completelyHow to disappear completely


Grade II listed. Priory farmGrade II Listed: Priory Farm


Grade II shipping containersGrade II Listed: Shipping Containers