When the Arts Council England South West approached artists Becky Adams, David Mackie and Heather Parnell to commission a public work of art in the form of hundreds of different deckchairs to be sited on Weymouth’s promenade during the 2012 Olympic Games, its intention was to engage participants in creating unique patterns which - when combined - had an overall design quality.
Weymouth & Portland achieved the honour of hosting the Olympic sailing events, so considerable effort went in to decorating and presenting the town. Through a series of workshops connecting the artists with local residents, schools, special needs centres, churches and groups, a number of ideas and themes for the deckchairs emerged. Local artists Sandra Stalker (a printmaker) and Kim Edwards (a textile artist) worked alongside Becky, David and Heather and assisted the workshop participants in exploring those aspects that make Weymouth and Portland distinct – and it was these that resulted in the creation of the three main themes: local architecture, seaside activities / nostalgia and the seashore.
The artists gathered the material from the residents and developed the two core aspects of the project: ensuring a collective quality to the mass result, whilst maintaining the original creator’s idea. Delivering such a variety of designs – all unique – required investigation into production methods and digital textile printing was deemed the only viable route. Traditional methods would have been far too cumbersome and costly; the beauty of digital production ensured the quality of design was maintained, that vibrant, consistent and long lasting colours were achieved and the project kept to budget.
Heather Parnell and her fellow lead artists on the project have extensive experience of public art commissions and residencies. She comments, “We liked this project because it looked like it would not only be fun, but give us a chance to embrace colour and seaside culture - from Punch & Judy to the prehistoric fossils of the Jurassic coast. Additionally, we were also very interested in working with – and finding out more about - industrial print and textiles.”
The final prints were produced on a Mimaki JV33 wide format dye sublimation printer. Whilst digital print was the only viable production method, it still presented a challenge as every single piece of artwork required preparing individually, but as Parnell confirms, it had enormous advantages. “Manufacturing the deckchairs in the UK and producing them digitally was a great example of the wonderful versatility of contemporary commercial print. I did my first degree in fine art printmaking and a screen printed process could not have coped with so many individual designs.”
Although the core drive for this project was creative and community involvement, close tabs still needed to be kept on the costs. Parnell notes that this was only possible with the use of digital production. “Modern digital processes can provide single prints without set up costs breaking the bank.”
International visitors - as well as the local residents of Weymouth and Portland - have taken the finished works to heart, enjoying the new addition to their famous promenade and sharing photographs and opinion via blogs and social media sites. The project blog at http://olympicdeckchairs.tumblr.com has had visits from around the world and shows off a range of images taken as the project evolved throughout the last 18 months.
Parnell concludes, “Digital print has changed the possibilities of what is produced and by whom. The intensity and fastness of colour, sharpness of images, scale of production, small print runs, turnaround time and cost make it a very versatile, high quality and attractive option.”
The deckchairs will feature throughout the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics on the Georgian seafront in Weymouth – home of the sailing and windsurfing regatta.