Up the Workers

Up the Workers, 2020, Velvet high vis jacket hanging on copper piping, (Tube donated by Phil and Paul the plumbers from Pap Gas after installing a new boiler at my new house.)

Up The Workers was exhibited as part of HIGH VIS show at Dead Pigeon Gallery. It is a standard high vis jacket, re-stitched and covered in velvet to emphasise the value of the wearer.

The idea for ‘High Vis’ came to me whilst on holiday in the Scottish Highlands in 2019, where I met Charlie of Whaligoe Steps. He was restoring single-handedly each ancient stone step of a historic stairwell at a nationally protected site in the Highlands. Each individual step (337 in total) had to be removed and restored individually by a qualified stonemason, or it would have been shut down to the public, denying access to a site of outstanding beauty.

Charlie had grown up at the top of the steps. His family’s house was literally at the top, on a cliff edge. When we met, his Mother had just recently passed away. The steps zigzagged down into this amazing cove where seals co-existed with their regular visitors, in the wild, moaning, calling, crying, bathing, as it should be. It was a cold October day when I bumped into Charlie and got chatting…his Mum had always greeted visitors and had opened a small cafe attached to her house. It was a focal point to this unique community. 

After Charlie lost his Mum there was a realisation that the steps were also mimicking life and fading. As it turns out, Charlie WAS a qualified stonemason so had begun the quest single-handedly to keep the steps open, a real labour of love!  Our conversation was duly noted and I said to Charlie, “I’ll make artwork about you one day.” He laughed and we parted ways. Charlie was working 24/7 to get the steps replaced. The Greek myth Sisyphus comes to mind (again). His high-vis trousers always visible and stuck in my mind, a vibrant flash of colour on a windswept greyish landscape. The uniform we all universally recognise as a way to be seen, or ironically unseen, being that its associations predominantly come from working class work wear.

It led to the title of a show and the making of Up The Workers and resonated off the scale when everyone started referring to ‘key workers’ during the initial international Covid-19 lockdown period in 2020, when yet again society questioned who is more valuable than who dependent on their job title and class.

Whaligoe Steps