In 1999, a full ten years after an enlightening solo journey across West Africa, I picked up an assortment of objects and made what I like to think of, as a piece of art. It was an African-influenced mask in a primitive tribal style, with a headdress made from cut-up lengths of garden hose and baby’s bottle teats. It was a construction I was proud of, and an event that opened my artistic flood gates, causing a torrent of creativity. Having been stirred by tribal artefacts made by the Dogon people of Mali, I set about collecting anything and everything that might possibly be used to make masks and small totemic sculptures. By a strange twist of fate, my collecting took me back to the Essex marshes I roamed as a kid – somewhere I still go to this day to look for component parts for my work.
With a wall full of masks and a floor full of jetsam and flotsam I was soon ‘discovered’ by a friend who suggested I exhibit my creations. With no artistic training I was sceptical, having no idea of the workings of the art world or whether indeed anyone would actually want to pay good money for them. But I did show them to the world and they were given a warm reception. More masks were created, more exhibitions were entered, my work got larger, my stage grew larger, my art CV expanded. I was commissioned, both for private and public display, and was asked to run workshops in schools. I joined groups of other artists and had group shows. I loaded up a van and drove my art to art fairs and festivals in Sweden, Switzerland and Spain, leaving no stone unturned in the quest for artistic exposure. Then, after being accepted as participating artist on the ‘Leigh Art Trail’, the opportunity to display my work back in my home town presented itself. I was back in the family back garden again. I’d come full circle.