Artist Educator Spotlight: Will Redgrove

Artist Spotlight

Bow Arts talks to artist educator and muralist Will Redgrove about co-creation, collaboration and being a professional artist working with young people and schools.

Will delivering a drawing workshop for the Thamesmead Consortium Celebration. Photo Credits: Nana Ama

Hello Will! Could you tell us about yourself and your artistic practice?

Hi, I’m Will! I’m a muralist and community artist from east London. My focus over the last couple of years has been on painting murals but I have a background in graphic design and fine art. I currently live in Tottenham but have a strong connection to east London.

What do you want people to take away from your work?

I like to research a lot when creating an artwork and will more often than not employ collaborative approaches and community participation. It’s not the easiest way to make an artwork but, in my opinion, it’s always the most interesting. Plus, I feel I’m doing my part in opening up the arts and making them more accessible. I’d love for people to recognise the work and effort gone into each of my projects.

You mentioned your personal practice is strongly rooted in community participation, collaboration and co-creation. In what way does this inform your learning practice?

My experience of growing up was that I was allowed to be in my environment rather than having any stake in it. My practice is focused on reducing those feelings of isolation or alienation for others through co-creation.

Giving agency to young people and letting them have a say in big public art projects, like murals, can improve wellbeing and help create some meaning and cohesion. I feel this is really important for developing minds.

Will Redgrove

I also feel that too often we are told that art is made by some ‘isolated creative genius’. Behind these figures you will always find a movement, a collective or culture that enabled the work – and that is a lot more reflective of the art world I feel. If we want to cultivate success in young artists we should build an arts education that teaches collaborative approaches. We are constantly pushed into isolating ourselves and I think this only benefits those from privileged backgrounds. I’ve got to where I am because of the support, praise, encouragement, advice, love and solidarity of countless people – I’d love to be that person for others.

It’s also gone the other way round. My learning practice, working with so many students has hugely informed how I make my art now. I think that we don’t encourage enough play in our lives. The students live so eagerly in the moment. I need to be better at that. I make art because it’s fun, I get to work with great people, and bring new things into existence. How cool is that!

You’ve worked on many school projects with Bow Arts. Could you share a favourite moment from a project you have been involved with?

Often I’ll be asked to come in and work with students to design a mural. On lots of occasions this will extend to the students helping me paint it. These install days are always exhilarating, manic, colourful, bonkers, joyous, a little stressful depending on the size of the group! But always worth it.

I just had a lovely experience with the Year 3 and Year 4s of William Davies Primary School who all joined me on the wall and helped me paint. Having worked with them in several workshops prior, I felt confident that we had enough of a rapport. The students had such a great time and left feeling that they had been a part of something huge – figuratively and literally! It is great to see them take such care in a collaborative piece of art and they all go away feeling that the work is their own. I don’t feel that collaborating on a project and having a feeling of authorship at the end of the process are mutually exclusive – I regularly see both in students.

Last year, you painted a vibrant, permanent mural with Year 4 pupils at Gascoigne Primary, celebrating the diversity of food and language in their school. Could you give us an insight into how you went about developing this project?

I remember hearing that the range of languages spoken by staff and students in the school was close to 70 – what a fascinating place to be a student and what amazing things the students can learn from each other. But also I was then aware of how important it is for young people to feel a sense of belonging, a sense of place and a shared identity with their friends.

I recalled going to Ridley Road market when I was small and being obsessed with the packaging of fruits and vegetables from overseas – there was a sense of adventure to them but also something comforting about the bold and graphic imagery. I explored this imagery for the mural as it gave context to the many languages spoken within the school. I wanted to bring to the project thoughts of long journeys, rich history and, importantly, fitting in somewhere new. 

The brief for the mural was to celebrate this diversity but also encourage healthy eating. The challenge, I felt, was to explore the themes of the brief, have a clear message, but also create something unique.

Will Redgrove
Will delivering an art session to primary school children

Could you tell us about your journey of becoming an artist working with schools?  

My educational work is an extension of my community work which I see as heavily rooted in activism. Having come from a single parent family I’ve seen first hand how difficult it can be to break into the creative industries from a low income family. The arts should be a means to tell real stories, not be a hobby for the wealthy. 

Not that I want to come across super serious. These thoughts underline what I do but my learning practice is primarily about having a great time creating beautiful work. That means nurturing fun, accessible environments, allowing for exploration and experimentation.

Without sounding too cliché my educational work keeps me inquisitive and playful – vital characteristics for keeping that creative brain working!

Do you have any tips for educators who may be reading this?

Don’t be afraid to explore and experiment with participants! I struggled for a while to balance my personal and my learning practice but they are now barely distinguishable. I’m not saying combine your practice exactly, but use the time spent with others to develop your skills. There’s no better way of mastering a technique than framing it into some learning workshops for example. If you concentrate on the processes the outcomes look after themselves.

Lastly, what are you working on now?

I have a few mural projects I’m working on currently – I’ll be posting all about them on my social media. When I get round to it. I’m always up for a potential collaboration or even just a chat about what I do or to offer advice or whatever. Reach out on Instagram for a chat anytime!

Values Banners made with children from Willow Bank Primary School in Thamesmead. Photo Credits: Madeleine Waller

See more of Will’s work on his website, and follow him on Instagram.

About Will Redgrove
Muralist/Community Artist/Educator

Will Redgrove was born in Hackney, growing up in the vibrant, multicultural community of east London. It is within this colourful and diverse environment that he developed his passion for cultural histories, intricate identities and interlacing relationships. He moved with his mum and brother to the West Country as a teenager, growing his interest in nature, history and mythology.

He studied Fine Art at the University of the West of England, absorbing the energetic music and street art scene of Bristol and developing an understanding of the role of art within social movements and activism. Will returned to London where he would end up studying Typography and Graphic Design at London College of Communication.

Will’s practice is now focused on producing public art projects with strong community involvement, working in educational settings and hosting talks and events. In 2023 Will founded a collective of Muralists, Street Artists and Sign Painters called The Matchbox.