Wow! When I was younger and oh man, that was so long ago, so long ago that Brittany Spears was still a singing cash cow and not yet regarded as being on the other side of the ledger, I would spend weekends in a stupor on a couch only waking to see my face fill the screen as I was heartily mocked by Beavis and Butthead on MTV. It was my chance. But those weren’t the days. Walt Disney (III) and I sat on the sofa pouring drink after drink and wondering where our lives had gone wrong. Our favorite things? Valet parking has to be the greatest of all American inventions. Alongside quaaludes, before they were supplanted by Prozac. Blockbuster still meant something. I bought a Stratocaster from a guy getting divorced who needed the money for a downpayment on a car. He was working but his place was stripped. I could’ve had his bike too he said, but that wasn’t for me back then. Public transport… I think I took one bus ride in about 20 years to see the Beechwood Sparks or the Black Keys or something, along Sunset to Silverlake.
I’m overtly influenced by a friend whom I dearly love, who seems to run the health service in a country where today the temperature will touch 42 degrees and will not be rainy. They’re gonna need help to survive that. She once told me that she didn’t own any of the type of clothes you can wear on public transport and since then, I’ve gone out of my way to ensure my styles adhere to her advice.
What if I was wrong? What if there was life on the buses? Recently, UK based artist, Lorna Rose has been documenting the lives and journeys of bus riders in her hometown, England’s youngest and most multiethnic cheek by jowl city. The response evoked has been immediate, positive and joyous. After all, we rarely see working class lives captured without prejudice in the arts. Her series of sketches, begun in pencil and subsequently inked in are bold, brash, bright and slight… and too - subdued, delicate and gentle, sometimes eschewing energy and and at others, encapsulating joy and aptly capturing the candour of how private worlds and public transport collide. All bus life is here.
Recently, Lorna allowed me to use one of her Bus Sketches to illustrate a piece of music I was releasing, What Mods and Skins Mean to the Minecraft Kids. What a personal thrill when she agreed to do that. I am totally excited whenever I see or even hear of a new bus sketch. These things are incredible and tell such subtle and sleight stories.
When Lorna graciously agreed to squeeze us onto her timetable(!) to talk about her work… Oh man, let's shut the doors, ding-ding the bell, and get rolling...
OUTSIDELEFT: Let's start with the bus drawings/bus sketches, your collection of sketches of people on buses... They are beautiful and they are beloved by people who see them - almost a part of the city tapestry already... representing, like a pastel plastered Lowry without his dark side. The lines, the mark making is important of course and that skill you possess, but also, well, rarely are the lives of people like me recorded and I see that on the bus and I get teary and I get excited just because... These images are urban poetry…
Lorna Rose: What a lovely way of looking at them, in reality they are merely punctuations in my time on the bus: feeling the need to be productive, feeling the desire to draw, making use of what I’m surrounded by.
In terms of drawing, I like being answerable only to myself and strangely enough I feel protected on the bus in the choices I make with lines and shades and shapes. There is no one to judge me as no-one is seeing until I’ve worked on the images later. I enjoy the details - turn ups, hats, logos, postures and physiques.
OL: Is there a tradition of this type of art. Recording workaday lives... Tired people, people exhilarated to be going home from work. How do you do with those wholly indiscreet conversations people have on buses now about their pregnancy terminations, their girlfriends getting back from prison. That stuff.
LR: Yes, yes, and yes I won’t name them as you have already pointed out one. I feel as though drawing is my gym, or choir, or football practice and I think many artists feel the need to do ‘stuff’ to stay healthy and sane. That is an everyday need. My thing at the moment are the people on buses but the next chapter could be gardens or markets or puddles. My new take on this obsession is in using my iPad to reflect on and expand the work after I have drawn on the bus. This has given me a burst of energy and speed of practice that I have become really excited about.
I usually don’t mind the chin wags between person and phone or more unusually between two people. Phones are ruling the avenues of public transport which makes it easy for me to capture people without them seeing me do it.
OL: As a bus approaches, how do you feel. Like, OMG, this is the one! Do you ever wait for a different bus.
LR: I have never waited for a different bus as primarily I need to get somewhere. But when I feel the urge to draw I do possibly choose to go on a longer trip to spend more time looking and drawing. For example the number 11 bus from Kings Heath to Bearwood is a great opportunity to do two if not three or more sketches of people from all shelves of life.
OL: I was so inspired by the initial bus drawings I saw, I found myself in Liverpool in a famous art gallery gift shop and I thought. I'll buy a pencil - I want to draw just like her. But in actuality, I don't know one end of a pencil from another... Where to begin...? Don't throw me under the bus for being a neophyte. Surely there's hope!
LR: Of course, when working with children I get them to screw their eyes up so they can see just a tiny little bit through their eyelids and then I get them to draw the darkest thing they can see if it’s a blob, a line or a patch. After this we just talk through what to add to it to capture the essence of what they are seeing. Find something you are curious about. If you are excited about a subject it is very easy to respond to.
OL: You work with lots of kids... Is there a surefire way to get them excited about art?
LR: Yes, and I certainly don’t mention the word art.
I don’t tell them what to do, unless a challenge needs to be set, a provocation to investigate, an invitation to explore. Mostly I want them to face challenges, to solve problems creatively, however large or small and not to be put off. These are life skills really but resilience in Creativity is a great place to start.
OL: But you're also on the frontline, in education, you can see the changes - my impression is that the creative industries offer mulitple multiple multibillion pound return for the UK, providing sometimes secure well paid jobs supporting many families, yet the arts in schools are under prioritized. And diminished further over time. How have you seen things change around you?
LR: Because of the current government arts practice/teaching in school has been changing significantly for the worse, but intellectually and theoretically creativity is still the perfect way to be inclusive and teach all children at their own level, not only in the arts but in every subject that is needed. I am often frustrated by the short-sited vision of the people making big decisions in education. These people who have access to all the research evidence, and who are able to commission more if wanted choose to ignore outcomes that show how real people learn. Saying that…I still work as an artist in residence in several schools which is generally unheard-of.
OUTSIDELEFT: Back on the buses... If you weren't drawing on Birmingham's bus routes what would you be drawing?
LR: I spent some time in Australia where I became fascinated by flies and drew them at every opportunity which then turned into stitched pieces, until I realised it was a personal fad but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Drawing with stitch is another area of obsession to me. Mark making and creative response though needlework – love it.
OUL: Has Midland Red or whatever they are called these days, sat up and taken notice? They should. They should wrap their buses in them, that would be way cool.They capture the city on the move so gently well... Let's do it Midland Red!
LR: I have noticed some National Express digital drawing advertising schemes on social media so they do have an eye open. I will continue to tag them where necessary on Instagram but I might get over this soon and move on to something else.
OUTSIDELEFT: What are your immediate plans for the drawings - I'd heard that their might be a book or a series of prints. How can I or any of our readers get bus sketches to adorn our homes?
LR: All of my drawings are for sale, they are A4 size - £25. I am also working on a 2020 calendar with a collection of the Bus Drawings before Xmas. The book may follow if time allows...