Richard Wheater

Day: Across The Weekend

Venue: Various

Ticket Required: Explorer

As part of our “Manifesto For A New Wakefield” project, we are proud to be commissioning Richard Wheater (Neon Workshops) to exhibit a new piece of work entitled Visible Words From Invisible People.

Over a ten week period in 2012, a group from the city’s homeless community worked with artist Richard Wheater, on a project that aimed to develop their visual language through light, to communicate their predicament to the wider public. The results were a series of extraordinary neon signs.

The group and Wheater envisioned these neon signs to be temporarily installed in Wakefield city centre shop windows, however this opportunity did not materialise, until now.

“Spending most of our adult lives in cities, it’s easy to become desensitized by the readily available scenes of disheveled beggars or a stumbling intoxicated person, seemingly troubled, with an appearance and aroma that would indicate sleeping rough. The fear of their unpredictable behaviour encourages most to become experts at avoiding eye contact, crossing the road to avert confrontation. Less due to shallowness or detachment from reality, more a primeval instinctual mechanism to circumvent hassle and confrontation.

An experience in 2011 one afternoon on Wakefield’s Westgate, pushed me into wanting to learn more. I walked passed a boy no older than 13 years, laid out on the pavement, deathly pale. It seemed apparent from his giggling friends he’d collapsed from drinking or overdosed on something he shouldn’t have been taking. Whilst I tried to process how so much self destruction could happen to someone with such a young innocent looking face, a paramedic promptly arrived on the scene to assist. The actor Dustin Hoffman once observed ‘I don’t think I’m alone when I look at the homeless person or the bum or the psychotic or the drunk or the drug addict or the criminal and see their baby pictures in my mind’s eye. You don’t think they were cute like every other baby?’

We all have problems, I dare say many in quiet desperation are giving their precious time in the present to invest in a determined better future. What I found most revealing over the 10 weeks working with this group is that time is different for them. There is no dangling carrot future aspiration. The present is the only place they exist in, right in their face, regularly giving them a slap.”

Richard Wheater