Quadriptych: Oil, acrylic, bitumen, coal dust, chalk and Jemonite land casts on board
Single panel size 850x1000.
Betteshanger Colliery ceased operating in 1989, the last of the surviving coalmines in Kent to be closed by the government of Margaret Thatcher. After decommissioning and removing the machinery, what remained of the colliery was buried on site and covered over with earth. In 2004, the colliery detritus was exhumed and the contents were once again brought to the surface. I was given permission to attend the excavation, to photograph the worksite and salvage from the buried material anything I considered important to my work. What I found and took away were small items of miners’ clothing, gloves and boots, tools, bits of twisted metal and sections of the conveyor belt that had once moved the coal from the face to the wagons which in turn transported the coal to the surface.
After remaining buried for fifteen years, most of the items I salvaged were disintegrating, rusting, and decaying. After stabilisisation, I used these objects as part of my artworks.
When I arrived on site, there were heaps of earth that appeared like ancient burial mounds. The landscape was blackened and desolate, it appeared, and felt, like a mass grave in a war zone, and the covering-up of history. While on site, I worked forensically, carefully studying the objects I discovered to determine their previous use and identity. I recorded the site photographically, and also as an aesthetic reaction to the sublime nature of what I had found.
I made plaster casts of small sections of the land so as to capture what was rapidly disappearing and being taken away by the contractors for final disposal. The casts were made into panels that became part of the paintings - panels left and right, as shown above. It is almost as if, in taking the casts, I had made death masks of the living likeness of Betteshanger. The representations, viewed later, gave a sense that the colliery remained living, or like a revenant, had returned.
To see a portfolio of photographs and paintings click the links below.