I have been working as artist in residence at Lancaster and District Homeless Action Service for the last three years. The service works with people from many varied backgrounds where circumstance has led them to be sleeping rough, or struggling to manage their own accommodation. The service is committed to helping people find accommodation and learn the life skills essential for independent living and provide help and support to engage with the job market. To begin with, I helped in the kitchen giving out breakfasts and preparing lunch for the clients who use the centre. Initially, I wanted to use the time working in the kitchen and get some time away from making art in the studio. But the staff, knowing I was a working artist, asked if I would deliver a few art/craft workshops for the clients.
For a while I had been thinking of doing some of my own art work related to my time at the Service. Eventually I broached the subject with a few of the regular clients with the idea of producing a series of portraits. Initially, I felt the clients would find this process patronising or uncomfortable, and be apprehensive at maybe having their image shown in a public arena. But, to my surprise, most of the clients I spoke with thought this was a good idea.
I began the process by taking photographs of as many clients as I could and then began a series of quick drawings using different techniques i.e. pen and ink, pencil, paint. After that I moved on to working on the sewing machine using a free straight stitch to sketch with. This gave me a feel for the faces that I thought would work best for this project. Initially, I was going to work straight onto cloth as is my usual method, but after discussion with the sitters I thought it would be more appealing to them if I produced a large finished drawing that was an accurate representation of them. This transpired to be a laborious task, with a lot of measuring, correcting and pondering. The drawings produced were appreciated by the sitters and when shown to the group everyone became an “art critic” in a friendly and humorous way. The drawings were then used as the basis for producing textile portraits. My textile work usually consists of the reverse applique technique (where material is cut away as opposed to applique where material is put added) and freehand machine embroidery. On these portraits I felt I needed to work more with tonal subtleties and devised a process of using netting cut into various sized circles and shades to build up the complexities in the textile portraits. I settled on a process of bonding the net circles onto the cloth using a soldering iron to build up the required shade.
In this era of austerity and new draconian changes to the benefit system, with at least 32000 recorded homeless people in Britain, and this figure growing at an alarming rate, it seems to me that this under- represented sector of society needs to be seen and acknowledged in whatever ways we can make possible. My recent work showing some of the people at the forefront of this situation has not been produced to pile pity on them, although some live a pitiful life. I made the work to celebrate them as individuals who, when you get to know them, can display a richness of human values and take the opportunity to laugh far more than a lot of people.

Artists inspired by creative workshops

It's not just music that brings people together…so does art. 🎨In Lancaster, a local artist is holding workshops to inspire homeless people to create their own work. 🖌️🖼️

Posted by BBC Radio Lancashire on Thursday, 14 March 2019


For this Muir Trust residency James will be selecting items from the varied museum collections in store and responding to these through his work to create new readings and interpretations. He is fascinated by political protest and trade unions and also by craftsmanship and groups on the fringes of social history. His residency will complement The Beautiful Stitch exhibition of treasures from the Embroiderers’ Guild Collection also at the Museum.

James Fox Residency – Gallery