One Last Job

James Hamilton


T here's a temptation after retirement to have another go, to see if the old guard can still pull it off. We see it in crime films and television, more so in fiction than in true crime I suspect, but other professions also suffer from the itch.

Art in Public
Above, preparations in hand for one of my last exhibitions Making Painting held at Turner Contemporary, Margate, in 2014.
A joy to work on!

I was an art gallery curator and director in my career, 1972-2013, creating, displaying and developing collections in museums and galleries across England and Scotland, and curating exhibitions there and further afield. Portsmouth, Wakefield, Sheffield, Birmingham, Compton Verney and Margate experienced my touch, as did the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts, the Palazzo Diamante in Ferrara, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. Walls and display cases in the Tate (as it was then), the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Scotland and even the Royal Festival Hall were articulated by art exhibitions large and small that I had brought together. Yes, it was huge fun, and I relished the rich mixture of grind and glitter that drew to an end six or seven years ago.

But one last job ... oh so tempting. The gloomy tunnel that runs along the side of Kidlington's Tesco store, between the supermarket's car park and the High Street, had long looked in need of cheering up. For a few years, since perhaps 2015 or 2016, I had been talking with the store managers one after another, and then with the company's higher management, about installing large photographs of Kidlington past and present to brighten the tunnel. Support from the local managers was full and encouraging, but the idea fell flat at a higher administrative level in Tesco over legal responsibilities, coinciding with the onrush of Covid and the need for social distancing.

However, nil desperandum! The Kidlington Parish Council came to the rescue and offered the screen around the public toilets in the Piazza to be a blank canvas for photographic panels, as well as covering the cost of brightening the village centre in this way. Within a few months the job was done, with source photographs kindly supplied by the Kidlington and District Historical Society and the Oxfordshire History Centre. There among the eight panels we see Truby's Cafe at Gosford Turn as it was in the 1940s, the former Kidlington Zoo, the High Street before the First World War, and the grain silo at Water Eaton in the 1960s. This was well before the sad final few years of the silo, when it had lost its ventilators and its upper levels became covered in graffiti.

Art in Public
— Art in Public —
Kidlington must now have one of the best decorated public toilets in the world!

The metal panels surrounding it, made by Oxford Sign Design Ltd of Station Field Industrial Estate, are weather-proof and durable, and should last a very long time. The point of the exercise is to demonstrate that the display is not an end in itself, but a means to an end, as there must be many other public places in and around the village and further afield which would be enhanced by large scale photographs evoking the past and present of our local communities.

As I have learnt over decades of art gallery work, images, when carefully chosen and crisply presented, can focus thought and memory, and speak with eloquence. If my one last exhibition job is to be the Kidlington Village Toilets display, so be it, but there is still the Tesco tunnel. You never know.

Photo credit: James Hamilton



SEE ALSO by James Hamilton:

One Last Job
A Year Locked Down in Kidlington
In Praise of Cow Parsley
An Extraordinary Journey
Nocturne
Blossom Fortnight
Pavements and Lids
There's Much Yet to Celebrate

James Hamilton is a resident of the village of Kidlington, Oxfordshire. He is a curator, writer and lecturer, who entered the University of Manchester 1966 to read Mechanical Engineering, and emerged in 1971 with a degree in History of Art. James is also a biographer and has written on Turner, Faraday, Gainsborough, and Constable.

Visit James' website here.

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