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Graffiti Project - Heathermount School, Sunningdale;

24th-28th May, 1999

Keith Haring

A lesson plan based on this project can be found at :
A display of 9 drawings can be found at the
For more information on Keith Haring's work in an educational context visit :
  (Note : this website is suitable for children)

Heathermount is a residential school dedicated entirely to autistic spectrum disorders. The school advocates movement and arts as an essential part of the curriculum so the atmosphere was conducive to an arts project. The intention of this project was to look at dance, movement, drawing, painting and sculpture.

After I visited the Keith Haring exhibition at the Peter Gwyther Gallery I told Jasmine Pasch, course leader/choreographer, that it was an exhibition she must see as it was exactly the sought of art she would enjoy. As soon as she saw it Jasmine telephoned Jane Gledhill, the sculptor/visual artist, who immediately agreed that Haring's work would be the perfect theme for up-coming Heathermount residency, and for several reasons :

Haring's work is immediate, colourful, bold, youthful, has a humorous quality and would be perfect for young people. Haring was influenced by dance and dance was also to be an important element of the residency so there was an immediate link between the visual and the performing. (" The graffiti drawings dance to the rhythm of the music" - Poschardt - D J Culture ). Haring himself worked extensively with children. Haring's work is based on simply but energetically drawn figures. As egocentricity is a strong characteristic in autism, to get the students to draw themselves would be a perfect starting point and would be more likely to succeed than using something external. Haring's work suggested large scale work and so would encourage the students to work on a large scale, hence avoiding small, precious work which is the bane of all art teachers.

From the start dance and art were linked and Keith Haring's flip books from the exhibition proved to be an invaluable starting point. The art work started with the students drawing round the entire body of other students and drawing large silhouettes produced by sitting in front of a light.

In another session these were painted. In true graffiti tradition they were allowed to write on the painting and also if they wanted to, do paintings made up entirely of words. Obviously anyone who is autistic is going to have their own personal obsessions but groups of students apparently had collective obsessions which were given free reign. Earth Warp which appeared many times is apparently a computer game. However I never found the provenance of Yes Elvis No Elvis which appeared on many sheets of paper. Anyone interested in the current vogue for text based art may be interested in a painting by one student which was made entirely from the titles of videos he owned. Early on in the week the paintings were hung all around the gymnasium where the dance sessions took place, completely transforming the performing space.

The self-portraits were then copied in to clay figures, made in to plaster moulds and eventually cast in Jesmonite and mounted on curved and bent metal poles. These sculptures were then carefully grouped in threes and fours and set in large up- turned logs to produce standing sculptures which will be placed in the school grounds.

The school had a plentiful supply of logs in its large grounds enabling the school's music teacher to lead a session with a log orchestra, the logs being used a percussion. Every student made a sculpture by themselves, the staff contribution being the casting and mounting. The dance also started with body awareness, including big, colourful, gymnastic ribbon dances. As the school is near Ascot, and Ascot week coincided with the residency, this became a stimulus for moving the dance workshops away from themselves and in to dances about participants and spectators.

The week was very successful and well received. Social situations are usually very difficult for anyone with a form of autism but the social events built in to the week were very successful. There was a parents evening where parents could join in the dancing, watch the students perform, walk round the art workshop and see work in progress.

All this followed by a barbecue. Also one morning the regular group of parents and children from Education Otherwise ( an alternative to formal education based on learning at home in groups ), came to the school to share in the dance workshops. Not only is there a permanent memory of the art work but also the dancing - the figures still have a movement element as they sway and dance in the wind.

Ian Stewart 1999

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