Red Shirts


About two and a half years ago, the gallery where I work decided to change the colour of its uniform. We were now to have blue shirts and red ties, instead of red shirts and blue ties.

As much as I hate wearing a uniform, I loved those red shirts. Red is blood. Red is solidarity. I liked, at the end of the day, as we tried to clear the gallery, to look over the balcony at the sea of red flowing toward the doors. Pale blue isn’t the same.

We were asked to hand in our shirts, they could not be given to charity shops because of the logo, and most had seen better times.

As the days passed, the mountain of shirts grew.

I really wanted that mountain of shirts. Those shirts contained the blood, sweat, tears and coffee of us. Those shirts kept us in our place, or so it felt sometimes. The managers and curators didn’t wear them, the people on more than minimum wage, the people who tell us what to do. The people who don’t  know my name. Those shirts represent a lot.

In the end it was too much, I just couldn’t let those shirts go. I had no idea what I was going to do with them, but those shirts had been worn by my colleages, day in and day out, good days and bad. I had to make something with them.

As I started picking them up I realised I couldn’t take them without knowing who had worn them. I have always loved the way Van Gogh named his sitters as if he valued them as people, and hated the way Picasso often didn’t. In this  job I frequently feel like a non-person, so it became important to me  only to take the shirts with names. Looking back, I wish I had taken the lot. The fact that most of the shirts didn’t have a name is very symbolic, I didn’t see it at the time.


47 thoughts on “Red Shirts

  1. I really like it that you’re reclaiming and re-purposing something (beautiful beginnings) with so much emotional, political and personal freight. Are you going to post more pictures as the works grow?

    • Yes, but it may take a long time. I have lots of similar projects on the go (mainly involving clothes belonging to my children and Nan), but I need to be in the right mood. I like to sew on the train. I wrote that post three times as I really didn’t want it to be political, but it was impossible. Hope you are well.

      • Yes, I’m good thanks – looking forward to the sun coming out. When you’re in that situation it is impossible to avoid the politics – I won’t go into it, but I experienced similar at Madame Tussaud’s and the V&A shop (as it was many moons ago).

      • It came out briefly today! Yes, it’s hard to keep the politics out. Hope I didn’t paint too bleak a picture though. There are plenty of laughs to be had there, too.
        Have a lovely Easter.

  2. I did wonder about those red shirts..

    I love the story you told and how those shitts represent all of you. I agree red is punchy, purposeful and determined. Light blue is non-descript, wishi-washi and non-commital!

    I’m sorry you feel a non-person at work and wonder why you stay there?

    Love what you are doing with the shirts. Take your time. Re-claim your identity. x

    • Yes, it must seem strange that I stay there, sometimes I wonder myself. It fits with my life at the moment and it’s not as bad as I painted.
      About 6 years ago I was due to return to my ‘real’ job, when out of the blue I became very ill. I was in a wheelchair for about 2 months and on crutches and having physio for a pretty long time after that. I can’t believe I’m about to say this next bit, as I haven’t accepted it and NEVER mention it to anyone. I was diagnosed as having a form of spine disease and the doctor said I should claim disability allowance. It totally freaked me out, and I saw the gallery job advertised that very day. It was perfect, no stress, no bringing work home and a proper lunch hour – all of these were alien concepts to me in the workplace. I couldn’t bend over very well, so knew I couldn’t return to my other job, but this I could handle. Also, I’m on a flexible contract, so I just work evenings and weekends, I have managed to walk my children to and from school most days since they started, and, I get into most exhibitions in the country for free. I went to see Van Gogh at the RA 9 times!
      Two years ago my old boss persuaded me back, so now I do 2 days there and not so many evenings in the gallery.
      Hope you have a lovely Easter, Alison x

    • All makes sense then… I understand well as I similarly had problems now 20 years ago… sometimes we do things because they have a pay-off and the gallery shifts seem to have that pay-off. Now, you don’t elaborate what the old job is you returned to… and I wonder whether this is what you were referring to when you said you don’t feel valued.

      I think it’s great you can walk your kids to school and being able to go free to galleries is such a perk.

      You know, I had a nervous breakdown some 20 years ago and it took me 2 years to accept that I couldn’t do the things I used to and that I needed to change my lifestyle. Once we say it out loud and accept it, we are on our way to heal. Maybe there is some interesting work coming up in the future and you can concentrate more on your art. My advise to you is stay away from stress, at all cost!!

      Thank you for sharing xx

      • And that is darn good advice.
        Thank you for sharing, too.
        Oh no, it is most certainly the gallery where I sometimes allow myself to feel like a non-person. Sometimes it only takes one visitor not to say thank you when you open the door for them and smile, or you take someone’s heavy suitcase and they don’t even look at you, let alone speak. They are the small minority, however. xx

  3. I’m laughing at the “shitts” haha. Love it when that happens. I love the shirts too and one of your pics reminds me of a Mark Rothko poster I once had. It’s so easy to chat on here and say things you didn’t mean to say. I have to really watch myself with that & think sometimes I’d love an another blog which would be anonymous. :))

  4. What a lovely post. There are some items of clothing that I’ve lost or have given to charity over the years and wonder if they’re still knocking about. In particular – a vintage 40s wedding type dress (had little respect as a 15 year old for such things) Love the fact you are bringing new life to these shirts. Such effort goes into making any garments and it’s very respectful of you to carry it on. x

    • Thanks for dropping by Lucy. Yes, it will probably take me ages, though, but that’s ok. I have lots of clothes that ‘got way’, my brownie uniform for one. Don’t know if you’ve seen the Wimbledon poster that my daughter is making, but the green bit of that used to be some nuts Pantaloon trousers that I made myself in the eighties. Hope you are enjoying your sewing machine.

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  15. This is brilliant. I really envy your ability to make such quietly moving statements with your artwork. I have these kinds of feelings and noticings all the time but I haven’t yet found an creative way to express them.
    Something resonates from these shirts even through the screen. I wish I could travel to see them. I also hope the larger version gets an audience soon too.

    • But you do make quietly moving statements with your work Cath. Those photos on the last post I read were so gentle and understated. The more I looked, the more I saw. And the composition, perfect.
      The larger version is ready to put on our bedroom wall. Once I’ve finished decorating!

      • That’s really kind of you to say, thankyou..I’m still beginning I many ways! Anyway, hope I haven’t gushed on too much, just proper love what you’re doing!! 🙂 x

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