Our trail is accessible from Thameslink stations; London Blackfriars, London Bridge, City Thameslink, and Farringdon
Whizz Kidz are delighted to work with Thameslink to deliver Morph’s Epic Art Adventure in London. Not only are Thameslink supporting us to promote the UK’s first step-free art trail, but the trail is also easily accessible from Thameslink stations London Blackfriars, London Bridge, City Thameslink, and Farringdon, which offer step-free access from the train to the platform and onto street level.
Thameslink have sponsored the incredible “I Spy Morph”, designed and painted by twin sisters Phillippa and Rachael Corcutt. It can be found outside Blackfriars station on the South Bank.
Artist Rachael said: “Accessibility is so important, and having staff trained to assist people with non-visible and visible disabilities is a wonderful way of making it easier and more accessible for people to use rail services.
“We are both autistic and non-verbal, so having staff that can help and assist with certain aspects of travelling by rail is really helpful. We think it’s really important that people with disabilities feel enabled.
“This design evokes a sense of adventure, discovery, and travel. We wanted to showcase the sites and buzz of the city, from exploring the well-known landmarks to finding somewhere new.”
“No young wheelchair user should have to fear travelling alone.”
One of the reasons Whizz Kidz are excited to work with Thameslink is that accessible travel is an important cause to our Kidz Board. Kidz Board are the campaigning group of young wheelchair users at the heart of our charity. They ensure the lived experiences of the young wheelchair users they represent across the UK influence every important decision Whizz Kidz makes. They are passionate about raising awareness of the issues that affect us every day, and one of the key priorities outlined in their 2023 Manifesto is travel.
The key points outlined in the Kidz Board’s Manifesto are:
Vital improvements are needed now to infrastructure, passenger information and facilities so that the travel network is more accessible to young wheelchair users.
Young wheelchair users need to be involved in the planning, designing, and auditing of services and policies so that our voices are heard at every level.
There needs to be better public understanding so people respect wheelchair users’ right to travel. We should not feel scared or unable to travel alone.
More wheelchair users should be represented in travel marketing materials so that people can see what we can do, not what they can’t.
Thameslink share these beliefs. Sophie Court, GTR (Govia Thameslink Railway) Accessibility Improvement Manager, said: “We are committed to creating a more accessible and inclusive railway, where everyone has the confidence to travel, no matter their disability or need for assistance.
“We’ve teamed up with Whizz Kidz as this is a fantastic opportunity to help promote this terrific step-free trail and tell people about the assistance we have on offer. You can turn up and go at our stations at all times trains are running, or if you prefer you can also pre-book assistance prior to travel. More information is available in the Assisted Travel section of our website.
“We’re the perfect partners to get people to the trail, as all the London train stations between St. Pancras and London Bridge have step-free access for our Thameslink passengers from the station entrance to the train.”
Some of the ways that Thameslink are working with Whizz Kidz are:
Try a Train events
Thameslink have invited Whizz Kidz beneficiaries to a series of “Try a Train” events. These sessions are designed to educate and give supervised experience to young wheelchair users travelling by train to give them the confidence to travel independently.
Thameslink have worked with two Whizz Kidz beneficiaries and their families to create content featuring young wheelchair users. This is important to our work supporting the Kidz Board manifesto, specifically their target to increase the representation of disabled people in travel marketing materials.
Highlighting accessible attractions on the art trail
During the filming with our beneficiaries, Thameslink highlighted several accessible attractions in London that visitors can visit while taking part in the art trail.
Partnerships Marketing Manager, Jackie Bookal, said: “It’s not just Morph’s Epic Art Adventure trail that will wow families. There are lots of step-free attractions, including the SEA LIFE, Shrek’s Adventure and St Paul’s Cathedral, that have great 2-for-1 deals for anyone with a rail ticket. That coupled with our ‘Kids for £2’ ticket and Advance fares means a family could travel to London very cheaply.”
Sophie said: “This trail is a great day out for wheelchair users and their families. With these routes being step-free, you can just enjoy the sights.” Thank you to Thameslink for their continued dedication to accessible travel and making the world a bigger place for young wheelchair users.
How this braille artist’s Morph connects the dots to make art accessible
Date Published: 26 July 2023
Clarke Reynolds tells us about his mission to bring the language of touch to the masses and all the way to Mars
They’re called the visual arts for a reason. Paintings and drawings have always showcased the sense of sight. Right back to prehistoric cave art, marks have been made to appeal to your eyes. And thanks to overprotective galleries, even sculptures that are asking to be touched are behind rope barriers and accompanied by strict signs restricting you from reaching out.
That’s not Morph’s style. His Epic Art Adventure is an outdoor experience where we can look and feel (but not climb over or risk damaging) these uniquely painted sculptures. There’s one Morph, though, that celebrates touch even more than his 55 fellow works of art. Clarke Reynolds’ The Power of Morphing Communication is also stunning to look at. He wears a bright yellow suit, dark glasses and holds a white cane. But this Morph’s message is a tactile one. His suit, like the one the artist wears, is covered in braille – the language of raised dots that can be read by touch. Clarke has handily included the alphabet in braille on the back of his suit, so Tower Bridge, where this Morph is located, could be where many people learn to read their first braille letters and words.
It’s all part of Clarke’s plans as he tries to convert the world to this uniquely accessible language through what he describes as his greatest work of art yet. Born with limited sight in his right eye, he was forced to leave school early due to a kidney problem. It didn’t stop him from studying art and gaining a degree. However, when he started losing sight in his other eye, he had to give up his dental model-making job. With his lifelong passion for art still strong, even as his vision faded, he started to use textiles to express himself, and then discovered braille could be his artistic language. Dots had always featured in his work for this fan of pointillism, a painting technique in which small, distinct dots of colour are applied in patterns to form an image. But Braille allows him to use
“the dots as a vessel to bring that word to life”
as he pushes what’s possible in the medium and hopes to change people’s perception of art.
We spoke to him about his life and his Morph, which stands out from its London backdrop with the sort of high contrast used to make signs and websites accessible to visually impaired people.
How did you get involved with the Morph project?
It was quite strange how I got involved because it was to do with an outside party, Toys Like Me. They make hearing aids for teddy bears. I knew the co-founder, whose son is visually impaired, and we met up on regular mentor chats. And she obviously found out about the project and said do you want to put a design in? I’ll do all the paperwork, and I put the design in, how I wanted my Morph, the braille suit, white cane and glasses, and it happened from there.
What was the process of creating your Morph sculpture?
Obviously, it was a tough battle because of the pushback regarding the add-ons because these sculptures are usually just painted. So, I fought my case for that because my background is model making, so I know how to do sculptures and stuff, and I knew how it would be done, and it was also about asking favours. You know, you want it as perfect as you want it to be, to be professional enough, so I went to a professional company, they do spray painting two minutes from my studio and told them about the project, and they loved it and did it for free. So, it was all about reaching out and being organised. And I loved it. It took me over 100 hours to do the body of work, and
“it was the best thing I’ve ever done in my career so far.”
Can you tell us more about your Morph design? What were the inspirations behind it?
The inspiration was me; I know that sounds narcissistic, but I wear this braille suit almost like the braille Riddler, and I go to schools and talk about sight loss and braille and break down the stigma attached to sight loss. So to be seen as a blind person, you have to physically be seen, so I wanted him to be me basically, and to represent me and have that braille suit, you can touch and learn braille and have inspirational words. But most importantly, that white cane, the idea behind that white cane is so when visually impaired children come along and interact with him, and they touch that white cane.
“They go, ‘Omg, Morph is just like me’
I want that moment to show representation. There isn’t enough representation of visually impaired people in society to be role models. So, Morph is a role model for visually impaired children growing up.
What does braille mean?
Braille has been around since the 1830s, invented by Louie Braille, a 15-year-old. And it’s been a language that visually impaired people have been using officially as a language since the early 1900s. But for me, because we live in a world of technology, people are forgetting to use braille, and that’s quite sad, so
“I’m trying to bring braille into the 21st century.”
So braille shouldn’t be used just as a typeface. It doesn’t have to be small dots. It can be big, it can be proud, it can use colour, and that’s what I do with my braille. So, I’m the only braille typographer in the country.
What is your experience with accessibility as a visually impaired person?
Accessibility’s a weird one because being a creative, you know, when I go into museums and galleries, I find that to be the worst for accessibility and to be quite patronising in terms of accessibility. You know, the audio description, being told, ‘left ankle there’s a sun and right ankle there’s grass’, you know, for me, that means nothing. There’s no emotional content to that. So we live in a creative industry, so we should be creative about inclusivity. Inclusivity doesn’t have to be boring, hence my Morph. I’ve had so many people contact me on my Instagram and say, ‘Wow, this is amazing’. My daughter has been learning braille. And braille can be taught for fun. If it’s learnt by everyone, then we can have it everywhere. We can have braille menus and braille on toilets, it should be the norm, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
Do you think being a blind artist gives you a unique perspective for your art?
It does, and being blind has made me a better artist because you know I had sight as an artist, and now I haven’t. So, my art is for a visual audience, but the idea is bridging the gap between the visual and the tactile, so if people see my work, they can physically touch it as well. The inclusivity in that is magical, from children up to adults and beyond. The idea of touching art is great.
How are you shifting attitudes toward blind artists?
Amazingly, I always say I want to be famous, I want to make a difference, I want to be seen. Having a platform over the last six months with Quantus Gallery and being in the media has given me that platform to do so much. But imagine if I was famous, I could do even more. We live in a society where social media, the bloggers, the YouTubers, you know they make a difference, and I want to make a difference. And doing projects like the Morph gets me out there and shows that a blind person can compete in the creative industry.
“It’s not a hobby. This is my career, my life.”
What inspired you to become an artist?
Life itself inspired me, growing up with very limited…in poverty, growing up in a council flat, and having nothing but a sketchbook, so art for me… I don’t know where it’s come from. It literally has saved my life through all the ups and downs. The bad kidneys, the sight loss, and being homeless, but one thing has remained a constant, and that is art, and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for finding it and holding it deeply, and never giving up on the dream and the passion of being that professional artist as a 6-year-old. So yeah, I’ve got another 40 years of this, so who knows what I’ll produce.
How did you discover textiles and braille after you had to give up model making?
Textiles are an interesting way of engaging. If you can’t draw, how are you supposed to touch, so textiles are a way of understanding the physicality of touch and the nature of sound. So when we speak, and the sound of the sea, or something like that, a touch of fabric represents that as well. And it wasn’t until I learnt braille, and that was by accident, someone gave me a typewriter, and the light bulb moment went off in my head. I’ve always used dots in my artwork, and now those dots mean something, so it’s meant to be.
“I was meant to go blind, learn braille, and then bring braille to the masses.”
And every piece tells a story. So a painting tells a thousand words, and mine literally does.
Do you think people who aren’t blind would benefit from learning braille?
Absolutely, you know the idea is, it’s almost like a metaphor for sight loss. We start talking about braille when it’s big and bold instead of when it’s hidden and tucked away, which a braille dot is. And the misconception of blind, what is blindness? If it was everywhere, you’ll see it everywhere, and it will become the norm, just like letters, so my aim is when we colonise Mars, instead of taking letters, we should take braille. Let’s reinvent the language of braille.
Art is usually thought of as a visual medium. How important do you think touch is for people’s experience? Should we be allowed to touch more works of art?
We should be, but unfortunately, the main elitism in art, is the idea of a Henry Moore sculpture; if it was in the open, it’s for everyone, but if a private collector or private gallery bought it then you have barriers around it, and you can’t touch it. It’s quite sad, really, those things are meant to be touched.
“With my exhibitions, there are big signs saying, ‘You must touch the artwork”
– it’s part of the story, I’m unique in that area, but you don’t have to touch the artwork to experience it. The idea of audio description can be a powerful tool as well, but doing it correctly with passion and emotion. And going forward, for future trails, I’d love to work on audio descriptions being a big part of those trails and having fun. Those artists creating those trails are part of the description, they’re telling the story, so when people click a QR code, if they can’t physically touch it, they can touch it through the artist’s voice.
Are there any hidden details in your Morph we should feel around for?
The words, obviously there are words at the front and the letters are jumbled up, but they do spell out the words, and on the back is the whole alphabet. The big one is the VIP tie, a very important person, as well as a visually impaired person. The interaction, I’m hoping for the big event on the 15th when VICTA are bringing loads of visually impaired people who live outside of London to come and see me and take Morphies, there will be more conversations had, and that’s what I really enjoy.
How has your work been received by people – both blind and not blind? Any comments or reactions that have stayed with you?
What’s great is when I had my first exhibition at the Aspex gallery, and all my peers came along, and they said my god, Clarke I didn’t know you had it in you. And going beyond what they see as a hobby is now I’m a professional artist; people know me in Portsmouth for what I do, I’m a mini-celebrity, and I’m putting Portsmouth on the map for inclusion and accessibility but in a fun way. And for me, it can only get better, when I’m in London next week and people randomly walking by, and I’ll say, ‘Yeah, I created this sculpture,’ and we’ll have that discussion because how has a blind person created this? And that’s the beauty of what I do. Straight away, a blind artist evokes a conversation because why and how? Then you break down the stigma attached to sight loss. It’s great what I do.
Any tips for writing good alt text for images? What’s the best approach for describing images for people who can’t see them?
I don’t do myself because when I usually describe my artwork, I describe it with a story, so it’s almost describing the artwork within the piece. So, if you are going to do alt text, tell a story, you’ve done an image, and you don’t have to say, ‘I’m standing, I’ve got grey hair, I’ve got blue eyes’, go beyond that and tell a story. Grip me with power within a few words.
“Play around with it. You’re a creative person, so be creative.”
What are your inspirations for your art?
My inspirations for my art are conversations, meeting new people, sitting on the bus overhearing people talk. I work in words and the idea of using the braille dot to become a vessel to hold that language.
The pieces called Fab To Touch are inspired by Andy Warhol. Prints like his soup cans, just by changing colours, you perceive them differently, but they’re the same image…but what if you could read this image? So my Fab To Touch are the visual image of the iconic Fab ice lolly… and embedding in those Fab To Touch pieces are the good, the bad, and the ugly of sight loss. So, I tell my story but within my art pieces.
What do you think the future of art will be? What would you like it to be?
The future of art for me would be to exhibit at the Tate Modern. Why can’t I do that, Bob and Roberta Smith just had an exhibition, and he’s a typographer. I’m a typographer; I just use dots, and for me, I’d like to do a whole wall and over a hundred thousand dots and people looking at it and touching it and decoding it and having conversations with strangers; that’s how I would love to see my art.
“All over the world, in New York, Paris, Australia, Canada, and India, I want to be as big as Damien Hirst, if not bigger.”
What are you working on next?
I am working on an exhibition with Quantus Gallery and turning the gallery into an arcade. An 80s arcade so that the braille will be imagery evoking and have the pixelisation of the Pac-Man, Space Invaders but all in braille. And the idea is that the gallery isn’t a gallery; it’s an arcade to come along and play computer games, touch the artwork, and experience it. It’s an experience.
Do you know what was great? I’ve done loads of stuff with the schools, and what was nice is an Instagram photo from a couple of days ago…the queen of dots, the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, she has a big exhibition in Manchester. She’s 95 now. The school had made a little peg of her, and right next to her, they made a peg character of me. It’s so nice to see that, you think of dot art, you think of her, and then you think of me. I think that’s beautiful.
Do you have any advice for a young disabled, or visually impaired person aspiring to become an artist?
Of course, specifically, we’re not disabled. We are what we are, so I am blind, and disability is a negative word. Push through and never give up on your dream. Never give up the stigma attached to the creative industry in the disability realm. The word abled and ability, and with people like myself, hopefully, we’ll break down those barriers so future generations of visually impaired children growing up do not have to face what we have to, the stigma attached. Watch this space.
Clarke Reynolds’s The Power of Morphing Communication, sponsored by Evenbreak is at More London, by Tower Bridge until August 20th.
Jason and the Argonaut: creating the Whizz Kidz Morph on a quest to make disability visible
Date Published: 6 July 2023
Jason and the Argonaut: creating the Whizz Kidz Morph on a quest to make disability visible
No one could have a favourite Morph, could they? On Morph’s Epic Art Adventure you might fall for, say, Stay Frosty’s arctic angles while journeying through Spitalfields Market, but he’ll only be your most-loved Morph for as long as it takes to encounter Swashbuckler in his gentleman pirate finery five minutes later. Or for your mouth to water at Mmmmmmmmmorph!’s chocolate hundreds and thousands haircut nearby. Because they’re all Morph and Morph always feels like he’s your friend as soon as you see his smile and want to return it.
But although we wouldn’t dream of playing favourites with the original emoji, this smiley come to life in orange clay, we are understandably big fans of Jason Wilsher-Mill’s Argonaut. Standing proud and starry-eyed in Mexican wrestler motif Y-fronts and a psychedelic tank top, he’s got a powerful but charming public presence that delights everyo we are understandably big fans of Jason Wilsher-Mill’s Argonaut. Standing proud and starry-eyed in Mexican wrestler motif Y-fronts and a psychedelic tank top, he’s got a powerful but charming public presence that delights ev ne who sees it. We particularly enjoy catching stressed business people striding down the South Bank, who come across him accidentally but can’t suppress a chuckle and a grin as they rush past.
Fittingly enough for an artist whose work is deep piled with references to his 1970s childhood, growing up disabled, his Morph has as many swirling layers of history and pattern as a vintage curry house carpet. He wears callipers and boots for example, just like Jason did as a child, but here reclaimed from the pitiful charity box figures of 50 years ago and celebrated in batiked dots and argyle socks instead.
How Whizz Kidz’s young people worked with Jason
It’s not just Jason’s history that’s layered onto the sculpture. We would always have a soft spot for this Morph as he was created with ten young collaborators, aged 9-20, from Whizz Kidz’s community over Zoom sessions. If you find yourself in too many virtual meetings for work or study, it’s great to know something this amazing could come from them.
This was no token collaboration. It was making magic together. Jason worked with Charlie, Eve, Isabelle, Jamie, Mona, Owen, Phoebe, Riley, Summer and Thomas. From flowers in the desert to a cat in a racing wheelchair, their lives and art are shown on badges worn by Morph, including affirmations – I am Great! on his chest – that this six-foot sculpture can easily carry off. Facing the Tate Modern, he looks like he could any minute stride through the doors into the turbine hall and show himself off to his fellow works of art too.
What you need to know about Jason Wilsher-Mills
Jason Wilsher-Mills is on an epic adventure, too, a quest to make disability more visible. Based in the East Midlands but originally from Wakefield in Yorkshire, he studied fine art and traditional painting. He now embraces digital technology to create his paintings, sculptures and large-scale augmented reality experiences. He’s an enthusiastic collaborator, working on community projects to create art with thousands of children and adults nationwide, including groups of learning disabled and homeless people. In 2020, Jason received the Adam Reynolds Award from Shape Arts, the acclaimed disability-led arts organisation that he works closely with.
We caught up with him before Morph’s Epic Art Adventure started to learn more about his “adventurer engaged in a quest”, the meaning of the word argonaut, which dates right back to ancient Greece and the original myth of Jason and the Argonauts.
How Jason worked with Whizz Kidz’s young people
How did you get involved with the Morph project?
Basically, I’m a disabled person myself, and I’m an artist who makes art with other disabled people and about other disabled people and about disability issues. So I have a really good relationship with Shape Arts, and there was a partnership between Shape and Whizz Kidz, and they said would you be interested in, you know, designing for this Morph sculpture trail, and we thought of you, Jason, we thought it would be a good fit. I jumped at the opportunity. It really intrigued me, and obviously, it was Morph! Because a lot of my work is about childhood memories because I became disabled as an 11-year-old, and there was nothing like Whizz Kidz, you know, in 1980, there was nothing at all like that, so it was a really good fit for me.
I went to a hospital special school, and there were no kind of role models that were disabled for us. It was really limited, and I liked the idea of working with wheelchair users, but in this kind of setup, it was the children that were wheelchair users being supported by Whizz Kidz, which I thought was brilliant really.
So like I said, it’s Morph. I mean, who would not want to work with Morph? Again, it’s such a resounding memory from childhood, watching Take Hart. Obviously, as a preteen in the 70s, I was taking the first steps with learning how to draw, and you get excited about what you can do with this kind of visual language.
And to have a TV program like Take Hart or Vision On, that were quite eccentric and accessible but sang of the virtues of creativity and boy, could we do with that now on children’s TV, especially when art is under threat in schools. So yeah, all the stars aligned, and it was a really good fit, and I worked on a Sunday morning, can you believe, a Sunday morning. We did Zoom workshops, me and the disabled young people, and it was a fantastic connection because they shared their artwork with me.
“I drew things in real-time, so we did our own little version of Take Hart. I was the sort of cut-price Tony Hart, you know.”
But it’s a really lovely way of working, and they supply me with some of the inspiration that went into the actual design of my Morph.
So he’s got a disabled person that’s designed him, disabled young people that have created these badges which represent aspects of themselves. We have kids that drew wheelchairs, kids that did their own little Morph and there are their favourite things like racing cars and even slogans, positive affirmations about who they are. So it’s a real snapshot into these children’s lives and the lives of disabled children at this point in time. What’s really lovely, as I said, is that you’ve got a disabled artist working with disabled children and young people and out of that came some kind of magic. I think it’s really lovely.
How young wheelchair users inspired this Morph
So the young people you worked with, their ideas are represented as badges?
Yeah, yeah, it’s a way I like working. In my practice, I’m very influenced by pop artists like Peter Blake, and there’s a lovely self-portrait of Peter Blake standing there in his denim jacket with lots and lots of badges. It’s a really interesting way of creating a self-portrait. You use little bits of information to create the whole, and that’s how I do it. I mean, I create massive sculptures, bronzes, and inflatable experiences, and they’re all covered in and decorated with these badges, as I call them. It’s like a little insight, what you’re doing is getting a little window into their lives, and there’s a life there that’s being portrayed in an interesting way.
The thing with Morph is that, obviously, he’s non-disabled, so I have to find a way of subverting that and making him look like he had a disability himself. I don’t know if you remember, but in the 1970s and ‘80s, we have old charity boxes that depict children with disabilities. Really horrible things it’s like a slot to put your 50p in their foreheads.
So I’ve taken that idea, that motif and brought it back for disabled people and reclaimed it. So Morph is wearing callipers. He wears callipers because, as a kid, I wore callipers. I wore these things that were quite sort of torturous. I’m making them celebratory, you know. He wears callipers and big boots like I had to wear as a kid.
“He’s also a bit of a superhero because he’s got his Y-fronts on as well. I always say if it’s good enough for Batman and Superman, it’s good enough for what I create too.”
He’s definitely about my childhood. He’s contemporary but harking back to another age as well. He’s psychedelic and very colourful. He wears a mask, and again all my figures have a mask on because when I was a kid, my disability was so bad that I was paralysed from the neck down, so the only part of my body that I could feel was my face so my mum was obviously my carer as well. She used to paint my face, and we used to pretend. I used to say Mum make me look like this, make me look like that.
It’s such a loving act and an incredible thing. It obviously resonated with me so much in every piece of art I create, there’s a character wearing a mask. It’s become part of the thing that I do, and it’s a really lovely thing to be able to relate because every one of those kids that I met in those Zoom meetings has fantastic families supporting them.
These carers are the backbone of Britain, the back brace! If I could make a Morph that was made out of gold and 200 ft high and encrusted with jewels, it wouldn’t be enough.
But it would be a fitting tribute for the work that goes on behind closed doors. Incredible people that perform miracles every day. That mask and that little story, it’s a little note to carers and to compassion. What I believe a character like Morph is about, not to be too poncy, but it’s about friendship and love.
When you see Morph, you smile. You can’t help yourself because you’re nine years old again. You’re waiting for your Findus Crispy Pancakes.
I think we’re a similar age because my childhood featured Morph and Findus Crispy Pancakes, and the charity box figure you mentioned of the little girl with callipers was on every high street…
And Damien Hirst took it upon himself to speak for disabled people by creating a 30-foot-high bronze, painted sculpture replicating that. He didn’t speak to disabled people. He didn’t know. There was no kind of authenticity. I always think when you look at a piece of work, it should have an authentic voice, and that didn’t because it was, there’s a very famous slogan within the disability rights movement, nothing about us without us.
It inspired me to start making work and reclaim that and not just say, yeah, this is a bit of pop culture that I’m going to comment on. This is like a real person. The greatest thing is that everything that those kids have been through at some point in life I probably went through. I never had role models. I certainly did not have role models that were in their fifties. They didn’t exist, and they didn’t exist because of medicine [at the time]. It’s important to kids that there is a future and great opportunity; so they think if he can do it, I certainly can.
Are there any hidden details on your design that we can look out for?
Everything. Even in the weave, there are things hidden all over. You can look for five or ten years, and you won’t see everything. In fact, I’ve just been thinking now about the stuff I’ve forgotten about where it is, but there are definitely things hidden.
It looks a bit messy. What’s nice is that he will stand out from the crowd. I think there’s an authenticity about him. There’s a lot of history that has gone into him. I’m looking forward to meeting the kids that we involved face-to-face. I think they’re going to absolutely love it. I think it’s going to get a lot of attention. And that’s a good thing because this sculpture was designed in such a way that it would make people think and ask questions. It’s not nicey-nicey, it’s provocative, it’s interesting. There’s depth, and there’s real history. There’s a life lived there that’s under the surface. It’s brilliant to have a Morph that represents disability because he’s a non-disabled character.
How important accessibility was to this project
The trail’s step-free as well. Was that an important consideration?
Yeah, it’s brilliant, absolutely amazing. I mean, every aspect of wheelchair users’ life is difficult. Getting on a train, difficult. Going on a plane, difficult. So this, no steps, amazing. The fact that everybody who took part in this, who has a disability, a physical disability, I should say, will be able to do this and be able to be part of it. I’ve done pieces about disability way back in the past where the work was positioned halfway up the staircase. Which kind of defeated the purpose somewhat. But this is going to be seen by a lot of people, and it’s going to be enjoyed by the kids themselves. I’m really proud of it. It’s like a kid saying, it’s Morph! It’s exciting that Aardman okayed the design, so they’ve seen what we did and liked it.
I love the idea that these heroes that I had as a kid liked it. You’ll see a lot of Wallace and Gromit in the work. There are a few kinds of subconscious nods to Wallace. There’s a tank top and stuff. It’s very northern as well and influenced by my West Yorkshire heritage.
When you collaborated with the young wheelchair users, did you go in with a blank sheet of paper, or did you already have these ideas for some of the stuff you wanted to do?
Some of the stuff, but it was very much a blank sheet of paper. Because of the nature of the project, I had to hit the ground running. The design is a long process because you’re designing it on a flat surface, but then it has to be moulded into a three-dimensional design. But essentially, it was right; what can you guys give me in terms of information? So visual information, and they were brilliant. The kids, I mean.
“One of the girls, she was only about eight and was reading Frida Kahlo. That is amazing. I didn’t discover Frida Kahlo until I was 22 or 23.”
And I thought to have a lifetime with Frida, you know that’s she’s going to grow to this really cool person. And I thought, blimey, that was brilliant. What a role model to have.
How you can be an artist: Jason’s tips on creating art
What advice would you give to young wheelchair users who aspire to become artists?
Well, it’s really – that they’re fine to do it. Do it with a pencil, do it with paper, do it with bits of card that you fold up, use an iPad, draw with an iPhone or Samsung or anything you can find to be creative, do it. And the key is doing it. You’ve got to do it instead of thinking about it and thinking of reasons you shouldn’t do it.
Just the best bit of advice I’d say that ever was given to me was just do it, just do it. So every day, I set myself a task doing a five-minute finger painting on the iPhone. I do it when I get up in the morning, one of the first things, and it sets me up for the day.
Being an artist, at the moment, I’m balancing the books and doing lots of very boring tasks, and being creative is the greatest gift ever. It enabled me, as a disabled kid, to escape, to imagine and to experience things I was missing out on. We need more representation, and it’s great that kids growing up now who want to be artists are going to find it so much easier to do that than I did because of all the barriers that were there.
“I remember vividly being refused entry to cinemas, for instance. I was a fire hazard apparently, that used to happen.”
I remember having to be lifted up flights of stairs to get into a meeting room. So we’ve come a long way; we need to keep on going. Any kids that want to be whatever, and it might be that they’re inclined to be a dentist or a post person or it’s doing it because the more people that are doing it and showing that it’s possible for others to follow. There’s always got to be the first one that does it, and then that you look over your shoulder, you’ve got people following you, so that’s the important thing.
How to make Trojan horse art that changes attitudes
You use humour and positivity a lot in your work. Is that important for shifting people’s attitudes?
I’ve just been watching the news because I’ve got a piece of work that’s my first bronze sculpture that’s been unveiled and caused some controversy, inadvertently. It’s a disability that was, you know, deemed controversial.
“My work is Trojan horse art. People are conned into thinking it’s colourful and jolly, and then I’m through the gates and my little activists are out there doing the work and challenging perceptions.”
And I have people laughing their heads off at my work. I’ve had people crying. I’ve had people coming up to me afterwards and saying, “No, this has changed my life. This has been quite powerful.”
There was an electrician at the exhibition once, and he was doing a job at the gallery. And he was really quiet when he was doing work, and then he left and returned a few hours later. And he had tears in his eyes, saying, “I just want to shake your hand.” He said, “I used to have to wear callipers when I was a kid. And seeing your work brought it back”, and he said, “I feel proud of what I went through and what I experienced, and it’s really important that people know about it.” And he said, “I just want to say thank you.” And he was quite overwhelmed.
I’m sort of imagining that I work for the Beano or Aardman. So it’s very PG, but within that, you know, I wear my heart on the sleeve. And it’s very direct. I can say quite difficult things. I would even go as far as to say it’s political work to a certain extent because you’ve got to choose which side you’re on sometimes. You know, be accounted for. But it does that using humour. Mel Brooks did that well. He’s a Jewish man but has made many comedies about fascism and the Nazis. He said if you put tutus on them, you take the power away, and I’ve always taken that to heart.
How Jason creates art that you can walk through
So what are you working on next?
I’m working on a giant inflatable, I mean, I say giant, I mean absolutely giant inflatable, that you can walk inside. There are different rooms and that will hopefully be touring the world. I’ve got the bronze sculpture being unveiled in July.
I’ve got, obviously, more coming up. I’ve got exhibitions coming up. And there’s going to be a big one next year. All I’ll say is it’s a very well-known gallery in London that makes you feel very welcome. That’s all I’m allowed to say about it.
You embrace a lot of interactivity in your work. I understand you’re working with augmented reality and virtual reality. How do you go about creating art with interactivity?
Well, I think, again, it’s a disability thing because disabled people tend to be early adopters of technology in order to make their lives a bit easier. Because even in 1980, they had a thing called a possum which was a machine that I used to suck and blow into that would open the windows and curtains. It was amazing. It was really basic, but that was like cutting-edge technology.
I decided early on that I trained as a painter, but because of my disability, it became harder and harder to do the painting. I decided that technology was a way of broadening my canvas. So because I’ve embraced technology, I was able to do, like, I’ve made games and created bronze sculptures, and it’s limitless what I can do now. Because it’s so mobile and accessible. At Christmas, for instance, I had COVID, and because of my condition, I was quite bad. I’m still able to work from home and work through being ill as well. I have creative partners as well who support me. I give them the designs, the kind of things I want to do, and then they put it together, so it’s that factory approach to making art, but for me, it’s fantastic and a really good way of operating. So digital technology allows you to do a lot of stuff you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.
So by embracing digital technology, it’s allowing you to work in new ways?
Yeah, in unbelievable ways, like using virtual reality and augmented reality and face filters for Instagram. It’s broadened the way that I work so much. I think there’s a real correlation between being a disabled person and that willingness to embrace new technologies.
So what do you think the future of art will be, and what would you like it to be?
Well blimey. We’ve got to keep AI at bay. One because I think it’s limited, and you can always tell. I‘m gobsmacked when people get taken in by an image that’s artificial intelligence generated, just look at a little clue. So we look at the hands. It can never get hands right. And the eyes as well as slightly out.
“I mean, there’s some stuff I’ve seen that’s absolutely terrifying because it’s so way out.”
I think there’s always going to be easel painters, oil paint’s always going to exist, marble’s always going to exist, bronze is like the most amazing thing to work with because it lasts forever, it’s beautiful, and people are always going to want to touch stuff and know that kind of experience. Technology is going to be in tandem with us, but it’s not going to be ahead of us, if you know what I mean. It’s something that we use as a tool. People want to go out doing watercolour landscapes, and you know I miss the smell of oil paint.
It’s a very human thing. I mean, a digital tablet doesn’t give you that thrill, but the digital tablet is the gateway to doing the bronzes and all that kind of stuff. So yeah, it’s complicated.
Jason on the importance of collaboration
It’s really important. I mean, I just went to the local co-op. I saw a front-page headline on one of the main newspapers [about migrants], and it was very confrontational, it was unbelievable, and it’s basically about putting people in boxes. I think Terry Pratchett said this, if you start calling people “them”, they marginalise “them” and put them into this huge ball of “them”, it’s really easy to stop treating “them” as people. And the way we look at, that some people look at immigration, that some people look at disabled people and people with different skin colour or a different religion, what’s missing is a bit of compassion, and there’s the father, there’s the mother, there’s the son. The way that people who come along in boats are talked about, it’s really sad because they’re people, they’re their husbands and wives and children, you know, and it needs challenging.
“You have a government that says this is what people want. I don’t think people want to be cruel. I don’t think anybody ever signed up for that.”
And I think this is true of all the parties, but we’ve lost our way, really, we’re not treating people like human beings. It’s adding up how much people cost as opposed to what their value is. It goes back to one of the first things the Nazi party did was send out a leaflet saying this is how much people cost. And I’ve always found that interesting because that was very cruel and designed to be so, but we sometimes haven’t moved on that much, and we just need to be a bit more compassionate and start treating people as people.
How art is becoming more accessible
You said you want your art to make disability visible, but how do you plan to do that?
Making more of it and being ambitious about it and saying, you know, the work should be seen in the best galleries. Nye Bevin is one of my heroes. He once said, “Only the best for the working classes.” And to paraphrase that, only the best for disabled people and the marginalised. But I think I’m breaking down barriers. And, you know, I want, and I am actively working very hard to make sure that my work is seen in the national galleries, and this year, my work was purchased for the nation, which is a hell of an accolade.
“That’s just the start. I want to challenge the Damien Hirsts of this world and say, mate, you’ve been there too long.”
And that’s when art works well when we have these little revolutions. It’s the only way we can change things if we have disabled artists actually at the head table, and I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been asked to go on the regional board for the Arts Council and things like that, which is massive, it’s a big deal.
Do you think the art world is getting it more in terms of accessibility and inclusion?
Yeah, because our voices are getting louder. The thing with it for me with the disability arts, he has a ring fence put around it. And all the disabled artists over there, all the female artists over there, I think we’re going to keep those fences down a bit. And again, we see people as people and their strengths.
It’s really lovely, for instance, so it’s a daft thing,
“but Doctor Who, the new series, is coming out later this year, we’re going to have a wheelchair user, and the TARDIS has got a ramp now…”
As well as Morph and Doctor Who, is there anything else from your childhood or from popular culture that inspired you?
Yeah, it’s the interior design of the ’70s. Everybody would say, where did you get inspiration from Jason and I’ll show them a photograph of our front room because that comes from a very working-class background, so money wasn’t too freely available, but Mum had crazy wallpaper and carpet, and we were dressed in a bizarre way. TV was a big thing. I’m unashamedly a TV fan. I love it and was brought up with it. Grayson Perry said it’s okay to watch TV, so it must be. But we were spoiled because we had Doctor Who, we had really good animated stuff like Hannah Barbera and crazy stuff like Captain Caveman.
The key things when I was a kid were one, reading Alice in Wonderland and thinking, yes, there’s someone who’s created a world that didn’t exist; isn’t that amazing? Two, hearing Strawberry Fields Forever by The Beatles. Not understanding what it was, but understanding completely what it was, if you know what I mean. Because it’s a song, I think, about the other and the other being creativity and self-expression and a kind of mirror on oneself, like the sort of stuff that you think about when you’re making art.
“Even before I knew I was an artist, I knew I was an artist, I felt like an artist, but I just didn’t have a name for it, and something like that bit of music summed it up for me. I thought, blimey, there are other people that feel the same way.”
What would your message be to young wheelchair users?
I think it’s absolutely wonderful that there’s an organisation that’s so proactive in supporting young people and children who are wheelchair users.
“When I was a kid, there were two choices of wheelchairs, and that was it. You had the green one or a grey one, and they were horrible.”
They were absolutely horrible, and I think it’s incredible that there’s your organisation because wheelchairs are expensive.
But the thing is, see the chair as part of you, but it doesn’t define who you are. It’s a cliché, but you can do whatever you want to do. It’s up to you, and there’s so much support for people like you. There are a lot of people. I gravitated towards Shape Arts because they were a charity that does the equivalent of Whizz Kidz but for disabled artists. So, I continue to work with them and alongside them and support them because we need people that can make those changes.
Jason Wilsher-Mills’ Morph Whizz Kidz Argonaut, sponsored by Kids Industries, can be found at Tate Gardens, Riverside until August 20th 2023.
Please sir, I want some Morph!: Schools Invited to Join Unique Charity ‘Adventure’
Date Published: 14 December 2022
Please sir, I want some Morph!: Schools Invited to Join Unique Charity ‘Adventure’
ONE of TV’s best-loved mischief-makers is winging his way into classrooms as part of a project open to schools across the UK.
Animated favourite Morph – who first appeared on screen more than 45 years ago – is the star of a Whizz-Kidz initiative aimed at improving inclusivity and access for disabled people.
Morph was one of the first creations by the Bristol-based animation studio Aardman. He made his TV debut in 1977 on the children’s art programme Take Hart, and now has his own series on Sky Kids.
The Whizz-Kidz project, Morph’s Epic Art Adventure, culminates next summer with the installation of dozens of eye-catching Morph sculptures on a step-free trail around some of London’s most famous landmarks.
Schools are being invited to design and contribute their own 93cm (three-feet) high Morphs, which will feature on the trail alongside a series of 1.8m (six-feet) models of the cheeky character painted by budding, established and celebrity artists.
The project is spearheaded by Whizz-Kidz, the UK’s leading charity for young wheelchair users, with the support of Aardman and event planners Wild in Art.
“We hope this will be a fun and exciting way for schools not only to inspire artistic creativity but to open up conversations around disability and inclusion. Morph’s Epic Art Adventure will be fully wheelchair-accessible, embodying Whizz-Kidz’ vision of a world where young wheelchair users are enabled to live life to the full, without unnecessary dependence on others or exclusion from the activities that millions take for granted.”
For all enquiries please email the Morph’s Epic Art Adventure Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Artist Submissions Revealed at our Sponsorship Selection Event
Date Published: 7 December 2022
Artist Submissions Revealed at our Sponsorship Selection Event
Last month, our amazing sponsors had the exclusive ‘first-look’ at the designs which may make it into Morph’s Epic Art Adventure Trail in London next summer.
Over 45 people attended to witness the big reveal and have the chance to select their top three designs.
Before we revealed the artworks, Andrew Prestney, Partner at EY, our Official Events Partner said:
“At EY, we’re striving to create a workplace where everyone feels they belong and differences are valued. I’m proud we’re building on our long-standing relationship with Whizz-Kidz and sponsoring ‘Morph’s Epic Art Adventures’, which promotes accessibility and inclusion, two key priorities for us. I have fond childhood memories of Morph and am looking forward to seeing the unique sculptures around London next summer, which I’m sure will create much-needed conversation, particularly around the restrictions young wheelchair users face every day.”
Jason-Wilsher Mills, who recently worked with Whizz-Kidz young people on a collaborative design for the trail said via video:
“It’s about working with children and young people, first of all. They’re going to work with me and see a disabled person who’s a successful artist – whatever that means! – which is really positive. My Job is to kind of tease out stories, which I can include on the sculpture design, that are kind of honest, authentic, and real. That is my job really as the artist, to bring those stories out and share them with the very lucky, lucky people in London.”
Peter Lord, Co-Founder of Aardman and Co-Creator of Morph wished the sponsors good luck with their selection process before via video:
“I’m so sorry I can’t be with you tonight, but me and Morph are with you in spirit! We’re thrilled to be working with Whizz-Kidz, to bring Morph’s Epic Art Adventure to London, and I’d like to thank all of you for your support to make this amazing and inspiring event happen. You are extremely lucky to be getting a sneak preview of the designs tonight. It’s always such a thrill to see how artists interpret this unusual canvas. I’ve been working on my own design, which I’m very much looking forward to seeing at full size, along with all the other amazing Morphs on the streets of London!”
We then revealed the artists portfolio which included all the designs and a description of each submission alongside the artists’ biographies.
The event provided the partners and sponsors with the opportunity to help shape what the incredible art trail will look like when it hits the streets of London next summer.
So, what happens next?
Our partners and sponsors will now submit their top three choices, and the Morph team will review all selections and confirm design allocations in early January 2023. After the selection is complete, our talented artists will be commissioned to start bringing their vision to life on the 6-ft Morph sculptures.
Sponsorship opportunities still up for grabs!
If you know of a business who’d love to sponsor one of our amazing Morph sculptures find out more…
Lexi, our lovely Community and Events Executive for Morph’s Epic Learning Adventure spoke about our Learning Programme on BBC Radio Kent on the 30th of November.
During the interview Lexi spoke with Adam about what the Learning Programme and Morph’s Epic Art Adventure trail entails, and how schools can get involved.
Lexi commented “We will provide you with your very own mini morph which schools can get creative with and come up with their own design, and also a learning pack and lesson plans to talk about inclusivity and disability in the classroom.”
Tim Longthorne, a teacher from Valence School in Westerham was also interviewed alongside Lexi, as the school was the first in the UK to take delivery of a specially-created model of Morph. The pupils will work together to decorate the 93cm (three feet) high model before it goes on public display next summer.
Tim commented “We received the letter in the post from Whizz-Kidz, and we’ve been working with Whizz-Kidz for many years, as Valence school is a school for students with physical disabilities and complex learning. And so this project really resonated with us, and we thought yeah let’s get on board with this, and also school art is a very accessible subject for our students.”
Artist Call: Morph’s Epic Art Adventure London Sculpture Trail
Date Published: 7 September 2022
The Search is on For Morph’s Epic Artists!
Whizz-Kidz, the UK’s leading charity for young wheelchair users, is calling on London Artists to join Morph’s Epic Art Adventure, the UK’s first step-free art trail of its kind.
Commission fee: £1,000
Deadline for design submissions: midnight, Tuesday 1st November 2022
Announcement date for selected designs: 29th November 2022
From 19th June to 20th August 2023, central London will be transformed by super-sized Morph sculptures, providing an exciting must-see attraction of a much-loved character, whilst increasing public awareness about the need for young wheelchair users to be mobile, enabled and included in society.
In partnership with Wild in Art and Aardman, Whizz-Kidz hopes to use the Art Trail to encourage the public, business community and young people to envision what a more inclusive world might look like for young wheelchair users, and what role they might wish to play in making this a reality.
Located alongside some of London’s most iconic landmarks, each Morph sculpture
will be uniquely designed by an epic artist – that’s where you come in!
The search is on for a diverse group of London Artists to transform up to 70 Morph sculptures into playful, fun and cheeky designs, just like Morph’s character and family of friends: Chas, Delilah, Nailbrush, Grandmorph and The Very Small Creatures.
Whatever your level of experience, we want to hear from you and most importantly see your ideas. The Morphs are 3D blank canvases and incredibly versatile. We’re looking for a wide variety of designs and artistic styles that explore different themes around diversity, accessibility and London’s rich history.
“What characterises this new public art is engagement and participation. The walls between the elite who produce art and those who observe it are disappearing, and art has broken out. This kind of art is not something you choose to go and visit, it goes to make itself an audience.” Demos Institute
Join a talented team of artists, let your creativity run wild, and be part of enabling everyone to have epic adventures in London!
A Wild in Art Event
Wild in Art is the leading producer of spectacular public art events and creative projects which enrich, entertain, inform and connect communities – giving people of all ages a voice through art.