Thousands of visitors have now seen the works in an exhibition mounted on the scaffolding hoardings in the Painted Hall since November. Entitled Brave Imagination, the exhibition was so called following the exclamation of a small boy who happened upon the open doorway of our educational space one day last summer. Eyes wide, the child gleefully proclaimed for all to hear, “What a brave imagination!” as he gazed in upon this scene: cut-out printed images from the Painted Hall ceiling strewn across tables, paint-pots dotted throughout the room, maps of all styles and sizes carpeting the floor, and six young people busily having a go with paintbrushes and pens, glue and gold. 

A productive and peaceful atmosphere reigned as these young ESOL (English as a Second Language) learners from widely varying countries (the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, The Gambia and Peru) concentrated on their work, choosing which Painted Hall themes to use to reflect upon and express thoughts on life, dislocation, journeys (physical and emotional) and which art medium to experiment with next!

These students of Lewisham Southwark College were led by Community Outreach Officer Kori Hutchinson and Art Facilitator Michelle Butcher to explore the site itself and to study the work of [modern-day] artists Damien Le Bas (who has since sadly passed away) and Joyce Treasure before engaging in a deeper creative process designed to be an accessible way of expressing their identities and self-representation in everyday life.

Provided for by the Heritage Lottery Fund, this exciting project expanded from a few days of intense workshops into a summer-long adventure: After preliminary experimentation with new art materials got creativity flowing, the participants delved in and were soon developing layer upon layer of new skills-- speaking and listening in English, analysing art, using art supplies, working both individually and collaboratively -- all while discovering their own abilities and finding greater confidence to reveal their personalities, passions, and perspectives.

There are significant similarities to be drawn between the diverse group of sailors who once lived on this site and people trying to make a home in south-east London three centuries later. As with other visitors, these students were fascinated with the characters and themes in Thornhill's painting. To view a painting is to interact with it; naturally we to gaze up at this magnificent ceiling and do what all humans do – ask ourselves, perhaps unknowingly, which of those characters do we prefer? What does this picture and its symbolism mean to me, to you? Can I relate to any of this?