Strange how art can often bring a transformative experience. When embraced, it can turn things around and make you see things from a new perspective. When I lost my last bus in a dramatic fire, I had no idea where this event would lead me or even end up.
On a very practical point, I was glad that no one was hurt. It was heartbreaking to see a road trip end in this manner. To see all my memories and possessions go up in flames, but at least I was OK and I had good insurance. Possessions can always be replaced, people can’t!
The initial shock had a fairly profound effect on me. When I got my next bus (the one I have now), I was really nervous about filling up at petrol stations for a good few months afterwards! However, I was determined not to let this stop me enjoying being back on the road. I made positive changes to improve my buses safety. After much research, I had all the fuel lines changed, fitted a fuel cut-off solenoid and installed a fire suppression kit.
Learning from experience
I had a small handheld classic powder type fire extinguisher at the time of the fire. However, when I needed it, it really failed to deliver! Saying that even two much larger extinguishers from the garage forecourts made no difference either! Hopefully, I won’t be needing it, but again, this experience made me do more research and find a much better solution (IMHO) in the form of the JE50 fire extinguisher. Fitting all of this has given me much greater peace of mind.
Art brings surprise
OK, so roll the calendar forward a few years. We had just arrived north of the border on our road trip to the Highlands and Island of Scotland. We had found a great spot by a loch to camp for the night. Just checking through my emails for the day when I came across an email which began ‘To whom it may concern…’
On first glance, I initially thought it was just spam. Although it was asking about a specific photo I had taken? It mentioned a couple of names/organisations so cautiously I did a quick search and they seemed to be genuine. So rather tentatively I replied in a rather quizzical manner to see if this was a genuine enquiry… Turns out it was from the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and artist Julie Mehretu was interested in using one of my photos for the cover of here exhibition catalogue!
Bus on fire
Of all the photography I have taken, I was surprised by her choice. I have referred to it as ‘the worst photo I have ever taken’ because of the trauma it represented at the time. However, it was the image she wanted on the cover, albeit as a special customised sized black and white version of the image. So I created the special edition of the image, we corresponded via email, agreed on a fee and I sent the image off to New York to the publishers. It was all a bit surreal at the time!
Delivery from New York
Roll the calendar forward another few months. Part of the deal was that I would also get a copy of the Julie Mehretu exhibition catalogue that the image was going to be used on. This had slipped my mind during the months that had passed. So when there was a knock on the door from the postman with a priority mail delivery from New York, I was rather excited!
Not quite a VW magazine feature
Most people love the idea of getting their bus featured in a VW magazine. This was way different to that! I’m a designer by inclination, and this catalogue was a beautifully produced piece of work. So much attention to detail. The cover was printed on a textured material that had debossed section on it. This was where my separately printed monotone photograph was positioned. Then across both cover and photography was the yellow printed typography of Julie Mehretu’s name.
Go see artist Julie Mehretu
The retrospective is a mid-career survey that will unite nearly 40 works on paper with 35 paintings dating from 1996 to the present by Julie Mehretu (b. 1970, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia). The first-ever comprehensive retrospective of Mehretu’s career, it covers over two decades of her examination of history, colonialism, capitalism, geopolitics, war, global uprising, diaspora, and displacement through the artistic strategies of abstraction, architecture, landscape, movement, and, most recently, figuration.
Mehretu’s play with scale, as evident in her intimate drawings and large canvases and complex techniques in printmaking, will be explored in depth. Mehretu received her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, and, among many awards and honours, is a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius Grant’ (2005) and a U.S. State Department National Medal of Arts (2015).
Art from the ashes
I was not aware of Julie Mehretu’s work until all of this happened. Seeing the work in the exhibition catalogue was a real revelation. She produces some really stunning pieces! If you want to purchase a copy of the exhibition catalogue, its available from the Whitney Museums online shop
Getting the exhibition catalogue, and seeing my custom black and white photographic image used in this way, is a great little epitaph to my old bus with its Canterbury Pitt interior.