Life in Black and White: Blackpool artist draws on his mixed-race experience and pride in the resort

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You might be forgiven for thinking that growing up as a mixed race young lad in Blackpool, a town which doesn’t have the significant Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities of neighbours like Preston, might have left artist Brendan Bunting bitter.

 

But that is far from the truth. While his new exhibition does look at issues surrounding race and identity, it also focuses on the immense pride he has in his resort home.

My BLACKpool has been commissioned by the Grundy Art Gallery, in partnership with the Resilience Revolution.

It explores the Artists identity and pride in Blackpool from the perspective of a mixed race man growing up in a predominantly white working class town.

Brendan Bunting is hoping his exhibition at Blackpool's Grundy Art Gallery will inspire young people to explore their identity and pride in the resort

Brendan Bunting is hoping his exhibition at Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery will inspire young people to explore their identity and pride in the resort

The artwork, which heavily features the techniques of collage and frottage, is the start of a process of collaboration with the Grundy Art Gallery and will be shown in the gallery’s forecourt presented on the exterior glass panels there until December 11.

The aim is to use it to generate a series of workshops for young people living in Blackpool, to explore their own identity and pride in the town and to foster a sense of resilience and community.

Brendan, 42, a youth worker for Lancashire County Council and with Blackpool Council, said he wanted the youngsters to develop their own work and have a platform.

He said: “There is a series of eight panels a mixture of collage, frottage and portrait drawings as well, exploring my upbringing in Blackpool.

Brendan uses collage and frottage techniques in his mixed media work

Brendan uses collage and frottage techniques in his mixed media work

“They are in the outer courtyard of the Grundy.

“They are all in black and white and I use newspaper articles in the work.”

He said growing up in Blackpool was enjoyable but he did come across some problems

“We do not have massive black community in Blackpool although that has started to change over the past 20 years.

The work also features newspaper archive stories

The work also features newspaper archive stories

“It was challenging at times but always welcoming.

One of the pieces in the work is a little bit of satire.

“I have been compared to everybody from footballers Trevor Sinclair to Ian Wright!

“Every pub I have gone in there has always been one guy in there saying it. They just say it.

The exhibition will be followed by workshops with young people

The exhibition will be followed by workshops with young people

“They are not being rude or aggressive, in fact I suppose it is quite complimentary, but I always think What?

“I have always found it hilarious. I have a list as long as your arm. So that is incorporated into my artwork.

“I have experienced racism, not something frequent, but there has been some.

“But I don’t want to focus on the negatives. Blackpool gets a bad press, people demonise us – its a place that voted leave (in the Brexit referendum) and everyone’s racist, and questions are being asked about the asylum seekers at the Metropole at the moment, but in fact we are a welcoming community.

“We are a community built on transience.”

He said that so many people have come to Blackpool over the years to work in the tourism industry or as a result of that seaside connection, that it is used to welcoming outsiders.

His own family were in that category. His father is from Blackpool and mother from Northern Ireland who came to work in the holiday season.

He said for him transicence, which can be looked on by some as a negative term, is in fact a positive for him.

The former Hawes Side and Highfield pupil said that things can still be challenging for young black people.

“The Black Lives Matter movement has brought the debate about racism to the fore and people don’t like to be challenged on their views.

“There are complaints about being ‘woke and so forth.

“Things are changing. I went into an African shop in town the other day to get some ingredients for cooking and I was chatting with the lady there.

“I thought this is amazing, years ago I would have had to travel to Manchester for these things. She was telling me how she does hair too.

“I remember getting dreadlocks when I was 14 and I struggled to get them done in Blackpool!”

He said when the sessions start he hopes to get the young people to look first at their own identity and the positives about the town too.

He added: “I don’t want to look at the negative stuff, like how we feature on all the wrong lists for social problems. I want to focus on positivity.”

He said he studied art at night school as it was something he always enjoyed as a child.

“I specialise in portrait drawing on social issues.

“I like to look at people who are marginalised in society and that is why I use newspaper articles as part of the works.

“I have three filing cabinets of material, newspapers stories. They are in wallets with themes, homelessness poverty. The number of Gazette stories is amazing! It is like an archive.

“Storytelling is at the heart of the artist’s practice. Through supporting others to showcase their own story I hope to nurture and show that civic pride.”

Rubbia Ullah, the education officer at the Grundy said: “Brendan and I have been working together over the past few months to develop workshops for local young people.

“We wanted to highlight Black History Month and the forecourt commission was a great opportunity to showcase some of the concepts Brendan will be exploring in the workshops.

“The work we’ll be doing with local young people will go well beyond this month. It’s been great to work with Brendan and exhibit the work of a brilliant local artist and youth worker.”