Neill Overton and
James Walsh, convicted of forgery in 1859, was a prisoner in Fremantle Gaol, Perth, Western Australia between 1859 and his death in 1871. Confined to a small cell for 21 hours each day, he secretly drew on the limed washed walls of his cell despite the risk of further punishment . Working with a metal button each night, he covered the drawings part, by part, each morning with the meagre gruel provided for prisoners’ breakfasts.1 The process of making the drawings required a form of double memory. Firstly, the drawings were of paintings he recalled from his training as an engraver and intricate memory of set motif, pattern and forms for repetitive copying was an integral part of this craft. Secondly, only able to draw a section of each image each night, he had to remember what he had drawn and covered the previous night. Each section of the large scale figurative images on the walls were effectively drawn ‘blind’. It is also likely that he worked with little or no light to make the drawings each night – probably no more than a candle flame. Once found, James Walsh’s drawings were obliterated by layers of lime wash. Ironically, the layers of lime wash intended to destroy the drawings, instead preserved them. His cell drawings were rediscovered in 1964.
The proposed collaboration is based on these works and the circumstances of their making by this 19thC forger artist. It will be informed by direct observation of the preserved cell and its murals; by photographic records of sections of the cell walls and ceiling; by existing text references and historic records of the prison; by the ideas of working from memory and fragment - of working ‘blind’ and the role of imagination in situations of confinement. A series of drawings, collages and textile works will evolve from the collaborative process based on individual initiation of some works and shared development of other means and imagery via exchange, memory, night drawing strategies and ‘working blind’.
1 Michal Bosworth, Convict Fremantle: A Place of Promise and Punishment. University of WA Press. C. 2004. P.51