At the age of 11 – I left school and began my life on construction sites.
I have essentially spent my whole life in the service of manual labour – but have nevertheless been inevitably drawn to the alluring world of Art.
If I was so attracted to this world, then why did I choose to forgo any formal education and resign myself to a work place that is traditionally bereft of it?
Let’s say that the traditional education system was not my ‘cup of tea’. The teachers bored me and the only classes that interested me were the ones where I was allowed to exercise a certain level of creativity. Thankfully, my fascination for the Arts endured beyond my limited interest in school. Regardless of where I was, I always felt a draw towards social and cultural circles that were beyond my control.
It could be a glimpse of a painter halfway through their work or a troupe of dancers stretching before a performance – these people always fascinated me and made me yearn for a more complex fulfilling existence.
In that respect, making the move to England might have been the best decision I’ve made in my life. This is, after all, the country where I’d go on to meet my wife, raise my kids. Before all of this, I was given a glimpse into a world that I thought I’d never be a part of.
I first made the trip to England in the late 70s. Although I would eventually choose to settle in London, Manchester was the first city that I called ‘home’. Far too cold for my Spanish blood, I froze in the North of England but was appreciative of the work that I was able to pick up in such a short space of time. My choice to move down to London permanently was more of a practical decision born out of the need for a warmer climate and more regular work. Culturally, I had every reason to stay in Manchester.
The work I initially picked up was a little out of my ken, in fact I knew next to nothing about the trade when I was first hired by a pair of window fitters in Manchester. They didn’t seem to mind too much, it looked like all they really wanted was a pair of extra hands and if they could help out a young migrant at the same time then that was a bonus. The first few weeks on the job were long and tiring, but not without their perks.
The clients we worked for were varied. One day we could be at an old lady’s house building a conservatory in Manchester, somewhere in the seemingly endless sprawl of the city’s suburbs. The next we could be installing some brand new sheet glass in one of the grand landmarks of the area.
The day that I will forever cherish – the day where I realised that my rough-worn world of overalls and builder’s tea was not without its glimpses of grace or beauty – took me completely by surprise, thoroughly shaking my young ideas of identity and class. We had been called out to the Manchester City of Art Gallery on an emergency. An attempted break-in had left several windows smashed and precious artworks were exposed to the elements.
We arrived just a few minutes after the police had left and the staff were glad to see us, nervously plying us with tea and biscuits. They took us through to the main gallery, were the majority of the damage had been caused. Now that the police had left (the would-be thieves had not managed to get away with anything) the staff were permitted to touch the items and clean up the mess.
With a drab drizzle falling softly through the exposed window frames, the staff were quick to jump into action but also needed our help. I had fallen into something of a reverie at this point, gazing at the priceless pictures on the wall and wondering at their origin. Before I knew it, I was being shaken by the arm and a huge canvas was being thrust into my hand. With my arms stretched out as far as they would go, I could barely hold on to it, I was ordered to follow one of the staff members upstairs to drop the painting off in storage.
As I shakily ascended the stairs, the gravity of the situation hit me.