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Firstsite Colchester announces remarkable collaborative exhibition between disabled young artist and over 200 artists

14 Oct Firstsite Colchester announces remarkable collaborative exhibition between disabled young artist and over 200 artists

A unique collaboration between a young disabled artist from Essex and some of the world’s most prominent street artists, plus members of the public and key workers, will feature in a remarkable new exhibition at Firstsite this autumn.

Noah – AKA @background_bob – began painting on cardboard when he was unable to attend school in during the height of the lockdown.

“It was just something to keep us busy because Noah couldn’t go to school due to coronavirus, but it soon escalated from there,” explains Noah’s step-dad, Nathan Jones.

Using a palette of vibrant colours Noah creates bold, confident abstract shapes It was while looking at them with Noah, that Nathan had a brilliant idea. He posted on Instagram, inviting artists to use @background_bob’s paintings as backgrounds for them to complete in their own, inimitable styles. Initially expecting a handful of artists to respond, the family was shocked when over 80 replies from 8 different countries came in almost immediately.

Since that first request, a staggering 240 unique pictures have been co-created by Noah and artists from countries across the globe, including the UK, Colombia, Italy, Spain, France, Sweden, Germany, the USA and Australia – artists involved include Pez, My dog sighs, Anna Schellberg, the London Police, Pure Evil, Ange Bell, Heath Kane, along with comedian Phill Jupitus.

Local key workers in the Colchester area have also contributed their own designs, which will feature in the Firstsite exhibition, as Noah receives care at Colchester General Hospital.

Wildlife, superheroes, Lego characters and tributes to Old Masters, including Ian Phenna’s fantastic riff on Johannes Vermeer’s famous Girl with a Pearl Earring and Matthew Dover’s tribute to both the NHS and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa all feature in the exhibition.

As regular visitors to Firstsite, Noah and Nathan approached the gallery when it became clear that the exhibition had grown too large to be exhibited in the children’s ward at Colchester General Hospital, which was their original plan. Firstsite were very happy to host an exhibition, as Director Sally Shaw explains: “We have all been really touched by what Noah and his family have set out to do and it seemed to me that Firstsite was the ideal place in which to show these collaborative paintings and tell this inspirational story.”

I think people will love seeing the exhibition, as it not only gives a platform to a local artist with disabilities but it is also very relatable, in that it captures the mood of the public during lockdown. The @background_bob project also brought people together, encouraging everyone to be creative, whether they identify as being an artist, or “arty”, or not. This is something that we do regularly here at the gallery, with exhibitions curated between our staff and members of the public, many of whom may be engaging with art and selecting artworks for a show for the very first time. And this project will leave a wonderful legacy, raising money for the NHS but also connecting all these different people together through this collective artistic response to support Noah and his idea.

To coincide with the exhibition at Firstsite, Noah and his family have produced a book, Background Bob & his amazing friends, with all the artworks included, which will be available to buy online from 24 October at participating outlets, including the gallery’s own shop. After the exhibition has closed, all the paintings will be available to purchase via an online auction on eBay, helping to raise funds for the Colchester and Ipswich Hospitals Charity.

Commenting on the forthcoming exhibition, Mr Jones said: “We are very proud to have been offered the opportunity to display all of Noah’s collaborations. This is a big deal for us! We are regular visitors to Firstsite and it’s the perfect place for us to show off our stunning collection, and bring a little happiness to our home town and surrounding areas.”