COLLABORATIVE PAINTING UK

Collaborative Painting UK workshops and training are adapted from Tunisian Collaborative Painting, an art form developed in Tunisia in the mid-1980s which is unique in its method of allowing a group of artists to work simultaneously on a canvas without discussion or planning beforehand. The surprising result is a painting created by a group of individuals that always looks like the work of a single artist.

Collaboration in the visual arts has remained much rarer than in other academic and creative disciplines. When i speak to artists who work primarily with paint on canvas, the vast majority tell me they rarely, if ever, painted collaboratively with another artist on the same piece of work. In stark comparison, as an artist with over 20 years of experience painting street art and graffiti where collaboration with groups of other artists is standard practice, painting autonomously has been a relatively new experience for me.

When i discovered Tunisian Collaborative Painting in 2015, i was struck by the comparisons it drew with my experiences of painting graffiti with groups of friends throughout the 1990's and 2000's. Allowing people the opportunity to paint alongside each other simultaneously without discussion or preplanning beforehand shows us what can be achieved when we forget about our differences and become creative together.

 

TUNISIAN COLLABORATIVE PAINTING

Tunisian artist Hechmi Ghachem created Tunisian Collaborative Painting in 1988 when Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali became president and dictator of Tunisia. “Freely expressing yourself in Ben Ali’s Tunisia was dangerous,” said Hechmi. He set out to reclaim freedom of expression for Tunisian artists. He formed groups called Brigades d’Intervention Plastique. “The brigades enabled artists to leave their professional loneliness and work in the same space, and on the same canvas” said Hechmi. “They created ties built on pleasure, excitement, struggle, jealousy, life, and love and death, as in every creative act. Together they produced paintings which mixed the best parts of themselves with the best parts of each of the other artists. One painting represented the individuality of all.”

Hechmi Ghachem took his Brigades all over Tunisia. When a painting was finished it was given to the host who supplied the space where it was painted. Over a period of several years, hundreds of paintings were created. Many artists participated, some of them well-known and others who were new. The paintings they created together preserved the freedom of artists during the dictatorship of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

 

TUNISIAN COLLABORATIVE PAINTING IN THE USA

In November 2008, U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia, Robert Godec invited artist David Black to a reception for his paintings which were hanging in the Ambassador’s residence under the Art in Embassies Programme of the U.S. Department of State. Ambassador Godec also introduced David Black to Hechmi Ghachem and the Tunisian artists who were practicing Tunisian Collaborative Painting and they invited him to participate.

Mr. Black invited the Tunisian artists to teach Tunisian Collaborative Painting in America but the Tunisian government would not let them leave the country. Hechmi Ghachem suggested that David Black introduce the new art form in America.

On February 20, 2010, David Black conducted the first session of Tunisian Collaborative Painting in America at Lyme Academy College of Fine Artsin Old Lyme, Connecticut. The students were excited by the experience and the paintings were successfully auctioned off to benefit the Academy.

Ira Goldberg, the Executive Director of The Arts Students League of New York was a spectator at Mr. Black’s workshops at Lyme Academy and he wrote a featured article entitled “All in One” in the League’s Linea Journal: “Tunisian Collaborative Painting, purely by virtue of its simple set of rules, requires the elimination of desire in the creative act. Seeing what emerges without any pre-determination gives the artist incredible insight into what is possible in art. As a teaching tool, with its potential for visual expression, Tunisian Collaborative Painting has the potential to be a school unto itself.”

On 8th November 2010 at the invitation of Ira Goldberg, David Black conducted five days of workshops in Tunisian Collaborative Painting at The Art Students League of New York. One hundred and twenty-five artists from 30 countries created 26 paintings and each one of them looked like the work of a single artist. The word most used by the artists to describe their experience was “liberating.” In keeping with Tunisian tradition, the completed art works were donated to be auctioned off for the benefit of the school.

On 17th December 2010, a month after the workshops at The Art Students League, a 26-year-old Tunisian, Mohamed Bouazizi was selling fruit to feed his family. Ben Ali’s police took his fruit away and beat him. Mr. Bouazizi poured paint thinner on himself and lit a match. Word of his fiery death spread quickly and some of the Tunisian artists David Black had painted with risked their lives demonstrating in the streets. The Jasmine Revolution ended a month later on 10th January 2011 when Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the ruler of Tunisia for 23 years, fled the country.

In November 2011, the new government of Tunisia gave permission for the Tunisian artists to travel to America as guests of David Black. The participation of the Tunisian artists in the Tunisian Collaborative Painting workshops at The Art Students League in New York generated worldwide interest. It was covered by The Wall Street Journal, the BBC, and National Public Radio. In addition the then Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a statement in which she said, “David Black is an honorary diplomat. By introducing this unique art form to the United States at a time when the Tunisian artists who pioneered it could not travel, he built a bridge that artists from both countries are now able to cross.”

 

TUNISIAN COLLABORATIVE PAINTING IN THE UK

In his role as a teacher of creative arts in a department for students with learning difficulties and disabilities, Luke Palmer is always searching out engaging activities that encourage teamwork, improve communication skills, and develop creative thinking. When he found a YouTube film of David Black’s TCP workshop with Arts Students League of New York, he was inspired to try and recreate the same method with his students at SGS College (Bristol, UK). The results were remarkable; the atmosphere within the classroom was calm, students worked seamlessly together, huge colourful patterns emerged and began blending together, and everyone was smiling. The students valued the creative process and the final results equally and would describe their collaborative work as inspiring, colourful, surprising, and fun. These lessons became a firm favourite with all and he enjoyed finding excuses to revisit TCP as often as possible.

During one of these sessions, amidst the silence and concentration, he says that he felt a strong sense that something deeper was happening. “Students who often struggled with verbal communication were working in unison with their peers without the need for speech. Symbols and shapes that are reminiscent of primate tribal art began appearing on canvas, and I saw the usual social barriers being lifted for a moment. Through the creative act of TCP, many were working freely together as one. I too, connected with the process on an almost spiritual level and realised that this work has the potential to be very powerful. My search to discover more about it began.”

He could find no evidence that TCP was being practiced outside of New York and nothing from the UK so with no other avenues to pursue, found David Black’s email address and wrote to him to ask for his advice.

He received a reply almost immediately; ‘I was excited to receive your email. There is nothing more important to me than Tunisian Collaborative Painting. Lets talk…’. Later that day they spoke on the phone and David told him a series of amazing anecdotes that made up his life story;  having his paintings discovered by the director of the Royal Academy of Art who arranged for his first exhibition at a London Gallery; Hilary Clinton making him an honorary diplomat of the United States for building bridges between Tunisia and America through Tunisian Collaborative Painting.

From these first conversations, it was immediately clear that this art form needed to be introduced to as many people as possible before it disappeared.

 

METHOD and FORM

Tunisian Collaborative Painting:

·       There must be at least three artists with a maximum of ten

·       There is no pre-conceived subject

·       One artist starts the painting and says when it is finished

·       Anyone can paint at any time and anyone can paint over anyone else’s work

·       One artist is appointed as an arbiter to settle disputes

·       A painting can take a maximum of two days to be completed.

 

Tunisian Collaborative Painting in America:

·       There must be at least three artists with a maximum of seven

·       There is no pre-conceived subject

·       One artist starts the painting

·       Anyone can paint at any time and anyone can paint over anyone else’s work

·       One artist is appointed as an arbiter to settle disputes

·       If any artist thinks the painting is finished he raises his hand and the arbiter takes a vote

·       Only a majority of the artists can declare a painting finished

·       A painting can take a maximum of three hours

·       The painting is created in silence

 

Tunisian Collaborative Painting in United Kingdom:

·       TCP in UK will follow the same method as set by David Black in America

·       TCP in UK may adapt or change a guideline to further the development of the art form.

 

TCPUK was launched in the UK on Friday 27th May 2016 at Kings Weston House, Bristol and included artists: Andy Council, Cheba, Dan Delmonte, Felix Braun, Frances Mansfield, Frankie Strand, Gina Love, Graham Dews, Haka, Ian Tomson, Jesse Winter-tuck, Josh Ben-Tovim, Linda La Hive, Mat Moran, Richard Twose, Rob Lawes, Samantha Fellows, Silent Hobo and Xenz.