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Art, women and the punch line

A project linked to a global campaign has seen the painter Steven Campbell working with S6s to highlight domestic violence, reports Deedee Cuddihy

One of Scotland's foremost artists, Steven Campbell, has given himself until the end of the month to complete a picture he has worked on with a small group of Glasgow secondary pupils.

He promises that the artwork, based on the theme of ending violence against women, will be visually stimulating.

"I know what my bit is going to look like," he says. "The challenge will be fitting the kids' paintings into the composition."

The picture is the result of a project with seven sixth year pupils from Hillhead High, Hyndland and Hillpark secondary schools. Campbell, who first came to prominence as one of the New Glasgow Boys in the 1980s and whose work now features in art collections around the world, was contacted by Glasgow Museums' education officer, Anne Wallace, and asked if he would take part in a city-wide council initiative.

"The original idea was that we would commission Steven to produce a painting based on the theme of domestic violence," Ms Wallace explains. "A group of sixth year pupils, having researched the subject, would work beside him and produce their own paintings on the same theme."

The artist agreed, provided the pupils' work could actually be incorporated into his own. "We were happy to go along with that," says Ms Wallace.

The seven S6 art specialists from the three Glasgow schools - all of whom hope to go on to art college - started work in November during the 16 international days of action for the elimination of violence against women.

The annual worldwide campaign, which started in 1991, sees hundreds of organisations in dozens of countries host activities, conferences, marches and publicity events highlighting the global extent of gender violence.

Last year, Glasgow City Council, the Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership and the Community Safety Partnership co-ordinated a series of events on the arts and violence against women to mark the 16 days of action city-wide. Also, a range of activities working across the curriculum, including the project with Campbell, took place in 12 secondary schools.

Alison Elliot, the council's education resource worker for domestic abuse and violence against women, says: "This project was part of a programme to use the arts to raise awareness of the problem of domestic violence and to build on the work that is already being done in secondary schools in Glasgow. Other events included drama workshops, banner making and creative writing."

The project work was based in the art room at the McLellan Galleries in Sauchiehall Street (home of the Treasures of Kelvingrove exhibition until 2006). The sixth years met Campbell every Friday morning for a three-hour session, the last workshop taking place just after the Christmas break.

Before their first meeting with Campbell, they carried out research into domestic violence, looking at statistics and talking to the police, social workers and other agencies involved in dealing with victims and perpetrators.

For Libby Walker, of Hillhead High, one of the most disturbing aspects of her research was learning about the effects domestic violence can have on children who witness it. "Growing up in that environment damages their self-esteem and confidence and affects them in later life," she says.

Libby was scared and excited at the prospect of working with a professional artist but relaxed when she realised Campbell was obviously feeling a bit apprehensive about the project as well.

Campbell uses a lot of symbolism in his paintings and at the first workshop he explained how colours, figures and objects can be used to express ideas and feelings. The pupils were not expected to copy his techniques but incorporating their work into his meant they too would have to use symbolism to get across their views about violence against women.

After visiting his studio - not the white room with big windows that Libby expected but a garage beside his house - they made sketches and a preliminary painting before spending the last two sessions producing the final work.

"This project has been a unique opportunity for senior art pupils in Glasgow," says Ms Wallace. "It's stretched them, brought them new ideas and different ways of working and thinking and given them an insight into how professional artists work.

"Once the painting is finished, it will tour secondary schools in Glasgow, acting as a talking point."

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