two bio-domes at the eden project in Cornwall against a blue sky and lush green foilage in front

Sky Arts LAOTY Wildcard @The Eden Project

Before the lockdown relaxed in the summer of 21, I saw an opportunity and thought why not! 

It had felt like I hadn’t seen anyone for ages, and I had been home isolating. I needed to get out so.

 

I applied for the landscape artist of the year and was rejected to be one of the “Pod Dwellers” never mind I thought, just another “no”.

 

Then I received an email asking if I would be interested to be a wild card artist. Hell yeah!

I waited patiently.

The lady from the production company she says, "yes".

I couldn’t believe it, I was going to be on the show I had been watching about art thinking maybe one day! In between days of what the heck have I done?

I eagerly awaited another promised phone call. 

 

I would get to meet all the presenters from Tai, Kate, Kathleen and Joan Bakewell not to mention all the other artists that make up the show.

I was properly looking forward to it.

I felt nervous and excitement, it was brilliant.

 

I spent a week planning the logistics of how I was going to paint something large. Be able to transport transfer everything I might need.

 the equation: practicalities of condition divided by wheelchair devised by equipment.

 

I’m pleased to say the preparatory sketches I had done over the previous two weeks, from images online, so I might work out my timings etc left my possession before I even got to the Eden project. 

Picture in eden of charcoal on gold inside the bio-dome of a bridge
sketch of theeden project gold and charcoal of the eden valley site .
preliminary sketch of a painting of bio-domes
incomplete painting of bio-domes on an artists easel
completed painting at the eden project upon an artists easel

The size of the canvas can be a rookie mistake. Although it promotes a looser style. Just as well I didn’t take my large board it Would never of fit on the board walk.

  I was asked by one of the judges, “What is the gold?” 

“At the moment it’s just gold paint!”

They walked away without another word.

Oh, the why? …

What I should have said was,

 

I’m using gold to symbolise the importance of place, gold changes colours in different light. Just as light changes can transform the feeling of a landscape. This place has an importance. By using gold throughout the painting, it brings a sense of transformation.  The domes float surrounded by a mist of majesty and ties the painting together.Using this technique, it becomes a duality of time and meaning. A way of sharing a moment.

I should have said that! 

The production team rang they were very understanding and considered that with the wheelchair etc that I might have some extra help in the form of an extra guest allowing them to stay. Fantastic!

 

I eagerly awaited the day.

I woke at 0306 that morning. 

I chuckled to myself that the date was the 30th of the 6th and although I had another 45mins before I should even have to wake. I couldn’t sleep….I took my meds and had a cuppa….whilst going through my check list and watched the weather forecast…hot and Sunny arghhh! where’s the suntan lotion factor 50 my face hadn’t been in the sun for a year.

 

 

 

I am sorry to say I have never been to the Eden project so didn’t know how I was going to respond, my work is of a conceptual nature normally and painting plein-air, this was totally out of my wheelhouse…pun intended. I took everything but the kitchen sink. 

Table so I didn’t have to keep reaching to the floor, Easel, stretched canvas, large canvas, paper, oil paints - it was going to be warm, charcoal tape etc.

We managed to condense it to a manageable load.

 

The car was packed my daughter connected her phone to the radio with a playlist of Bo Burnham and hits from the seventies and obviously a bit of Bowie. We counted magpies all the way. Singing in between.

We arrived at 0645.

It was already warm, and a few had arrived before us. We joined the line masks on, ready for our temperature to be taken and canvas to be inspected.

 

I spoke to the production team and explained that unfortunately we were not going to have the extra help we had hoped for…they were so lovely, doesn’t matter we have someone “a runner” that will help you all the way. I was impressed it seemed they were prepared.

We all waited like sprinters for the gun.

 

Procedure was explained and we were off. I was an amazing sight to see so many artists in one place. The problem was we couldn’t keep up our runner had seemed to have done just that.

 

We tried to follow but with a path with a gradient of at least 1:8 it was dicey.

My daughter is just sixteen and she is a strong-willed young woman was shouting at me to stay where I was, and she would come back for me.

There was little hope of that my brakes full on I was still rolling down the hill watching the group of wild cards disappearing down another winding path …me balancing a canvas board and table thinking this is not going to end well. 

I released one of my breaks and managed to swing my chair hoping not to tip sideways I slowed enough to put my feet to the floor and was stopped by a small kerb on the side of the path. I sat there…that was close I said out loud. 

My daughter looked at me with concern anger and love all at the same time.

 

We got down the rest of the hill without drama although a little shock up, we had lost the

 “Marching artists.” I Sat there …. And waited…10mins maybe 15. 

A lady came round a corner on her way to work, 

Are you ok?

Been better …I smiled.

We explained who we were as the park wasn’t even open yet.

she contacted security. 

We waited.

I tried to ring the number I was given; I left a message. 

 

I was trying to remain positive.

 

Then the runner appears like Mr Ben. Or the magical shop keeper (those of a certain age will get the cultural reference) ….so polite and amenable 

“I’m so sorry we lost you” …You certainly nearly did. I thought to myself.

We went past the Pods.                                             

 “Only a little further.” 

400-500 yards. To call it a path was generous. 

 

I see the row of wild card artists my heart sinks, another slope, with a steep gradient, it’s ok I’ll push you up says the runner…all that was going through my head was what if I need the loo…. we are greeted by the stares of people, glancing the “look” it was almost comical, a treble glance, first at their set up, the second at me the third, at their set up. 

 

I looked knowing that they will have to move. “The performance of disability begins.” As does the words of the performance.

 

“Thank you, thank you, sorry, thanks again, wide load coming through. Sorry….have you got a permit for that…..”

 

It was little more than a path. It began as a path then turned into something else entirely.

Here we are! 

I look up to see a view that was disappointing to say the least a sea of green, three tops of the iconic Eden domes and my heart sank. Oh, and a high wire above.

“Who chose this spot I asked?”

“The two of us.”

“Did you sit down and look or were you standing?”

“Errr… standing?”

Never mind, I said. I’ll get something out of it. We couldn’t go back! Looking at about twenty/thirty artist still rearranging easels umbrellas etc.

I sat there for a minute looking both ways down the line of wildcard artists. My usual practice of conceptual art seemed a million miles away. 

Then it hit me , I was here and…The toilets were so far away may as well been ten miles away with the steep slopes and other artists and easels that littered the route and a pathway that resembled that of a deck of a ship combined with the surface of the moon that someone had tried to even out with fence posts.

I took a deep breath and acceptance crept in. I was going to be here for the duration. 

My face may have given me away.

“We could just go home.” My daughter suggested. 

“We are here now, let’s make the best of it”, thinking of the evitable upheaval and possible hatred of the fellow artists that had facilitated our journey to this “chosen” space. If we repeated the journey, I think that some might have lynched me.

The day was hot.

Really hot.

I stared out to the front of me and tried to see if I could glean something from the vista beyond my canvas

Whilst constantly considering the dreaded trip back to the car at the end of the day.

Not to mention hoping I wasn’t going to need the loo.

 

It Is what it is, I wish it wasn’t!  But it is.

 

So, I sat there. Set up and cracked on. I Got my charcoal Introduced myself to my immediate neighbours and started to draw.

Now let’s make some art I thought to myself.

 

Don’t get me wrong, it was such an interesting day however I think that the logistics of a wheelchair user on the show could have been better considered. Indeed, later I offered my services. (Politely declined)

The Eden Project is unbelievably brilliant for access with lifts, yes there are some steep gradients on the pathways and yes there are areas that are difficult to access but its an amazing place and would encourage you to visit. 

abstract painting in oil inspired by the place and experience by J.Baldwin

After returning home. I decided to make the above piece it is the abstract of Eden an experience omitting landscape, except for sky. Orange Carpark to Eden. 2021. Oil on canvas 4’ 9” x 3’1” (approx.)

The experience of painting on tv – my conclusion. 

the other conclusion.

Just do it if you can. It was a very long day but entirely worth it a great day in so many ways . Be prepared to fit where they want you to fit. Its television. But most of all be prepared. Have fun and good luck.