Romeo & Juliet: take two – collaboration project between visual arts and writers

ArtistsWorkhouse is proud to be fostering ever growing relationships between the visual arts and writing through collaboration projects such as Romeo & Juliet: take two. We have thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from working closely with Artwrite.

The project has resulted in many original written pieces that can be purchased as a package for a mere £3 and a stunning exhibition where most works are for sale.

We have one remaining performance evening on sat 16th June, starts at 7.00pm (tickets still available) and the exhibition runs through to Sunday 17th June 11.00am – 4.00pm (closed Mon & Tues).

It would be lovely to see you at the performance or call in to see the exhibition,  in the meantime I thought I would share with you some thoughts from the artists taking part on how the collaboration worked for them.

Visual artists paired with writers.

Amy McLelland and Nicola Jones

Such violent delights have violent ends

And in their triumph die, like fire and powder

Which, as they kiss, consume.

The creative pair of artist Amy McLelland and writer Nicola Jones were struck by the speed at which the action within Romeo and Juliet takes place – the teens meet, fall in love, marry, and die within the space of four days.

Inspired by the initial Shakespearean line of “violent delights have violent ends”, it prompted them to explore the reckless and volatile nature of teenage ‘love’ and its accompanying ‘Live Fast, Die Young’ ethos – the modern version of the original Shakespeare quote.

Amy “These violent delights have violent ends”

I have created my textile work exploring contrasts between the themes of Romeo and Juliet’s passionate, idealized young love and the resulting violent crime and death, using strong visuals for the bright colours of life and the dark mortality. As the exhibition progresses, the piece will wilt and die and visitors can vote on what “violent end” the artwork will be subjected to after the close of the show.

Nicola “Live Fast Die Young”

My piece examines my own youthful fascination with rock musicians who lived fast and died young, including members of the notorious Forever 27 Club.


Sheila Farrell and Lance Woodman

Darkness and light in Romeo and Juliet

Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow’d night,

Give me my Romeo, and, when I shall die,

Take him and cut him out in little stars,

And he will make the face of heaven so fine

That all the world will be in love with night,

And pay no worship to the garish sun.

Romeo and Juliet act 3, scene 2

The collaboration between artist Sheila Farrell and writer Lance Woodman is inspired by the recurring theme of darkness and light that runs through Romeo and Juliet. After a long conversation exploring their own experiences and the echoes these held within the play, each in their own way has produced work which opens up the possibilities of the dark.

a small light’ by Sheila Farrell takes the form of a visual poem and remembers the intensity of one small light in the darkness.

the point of light’ By Lance Woodman journeys to the source of the light.


Lucy Gresley and Elsa Braekkan Payne

How could she foresee the shattering?

Our collaboration started with a sharing of ideas, centering on Juliet and her Mother. We talked about how death and bereavement can represent a shattering. How grief can be transformative. The play presents grief as raw and immediate, and leaves the audience to look into the future. Which is what we have done, through visual art and words. ‘Capulet’s Wife’ is a minor character in the play, overshadowed by the Nurse, but Shakespeare grants her the status of grieving mother: ‘This sight of death is as a bell/That warns my old age to a sepulchre.’ This has given us space to imagine her grieving process.

Our two centrepieces were a lucky outcome of the ongoing collaboration. Elsa’s initial draft poems inspired Lucy to produce a work in the Renaissance tradition of Vanitas Paintings. It is significant here that Lucy had made the vessels (vase, urn etc.) that she has represented in her painting, ‘Vanitas for Juliet’. This, in turn, inspired Elsa’s prose poem ‘Urn’


James Fisher and Deb Catesby

‘O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you.

She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes

In shape no bigger than an agate stone

On the forefinger of an alderman,

Drawn with a team of little atomies

Over men’s noses as they lie asleep’

Romeo and Juliet Act1, scene 4

Mercutio, Romeo’s friend, spins a sparkling tale of fantastical imagination. It is light and playful, full of joy and mockery. And we hear it just a short while before Mercutio dies and sets off the tragic events which follow.

We were immediately drawn to the imagery of the speech and its lightness and playfulness. James has responded with paintings in a similar mood of joy and play with a tinge of anticipatory sadness. In ‘The Whirling Square of Doom’, Deb’s scene explores the intrusion of imagination and magic into ordinary life, using the contrast between youth and age which can be found in ‘Romeo and Juliet’.


Maria Boyle and Sheila Farrell

Three new visual works and original text have emerged from collaboration between textile artist Maria Boyle and writer/artist Sheila Farrell in response to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In particular they were drawn to the Queen Mab speech made by Romeo’s friend Mercutio (Act 1, scene 4) that speaks of the mischievous fairy Queen Mab who meddles with our dreams.

Mab comes from Celtic folklore and for Maria the speech put in mind the images of the strange creatures in the corbels at Kilpeck Church in Herefordshire. Sheila grew up in Ireland and was surrounded by a culture of such mythical tales. So, they played with the notion of the uncanniness of dreams.

Maria’s Dream Collection, in the use of imagery, colour and materials aims to capture a sense of the hyper-reality of our dreams and nightmares and of the familiar and unfamiliar touched with faerie magic. She has incorporated Sheila’s words into the work.

Sheila’s piece entitled Blue Shirt is an unsettling dialogue between a man and a woman which draws on the uncertain links between our dream world and what may be loosely described as ‘The Real World’.


Annette Pugh and Sharon Ashton

Ponderings on the Romeo and Juliet project and the process of collaboration

An exchange of words and images, a conversation and much discussion.

Working with another creative individual can be thought- provoking, challenging and even a little intimidating; working with such a theme even more so.

Our journey as an artist and writer pairing was inspired as much by each other’s previous and current work as the play itself.

As an artist, I wanted to discover a commonality in our practices, in meaning, ideas and context. I didn’t want to illustrate.

We interpreted the theme in an abstract way, finding aspects of the tale that resonated with both the image making and writing process.

As a writer, Sharon was able to add flesh to my musings, skilfully picking up on elements that sat well with the specific qualities of the characters, and the events that unfold throughout the play.

We explored momentum and repetition, the excitement and foolishness of youth, desire and restlessness.

Through our combined practices we determined that ‘there are moments.


Hallam Wood and Freddie Lockett

To begin with we struggled with the distance, both being university students at separate Universities, so this was the first challenge to overcome. We decided on a theme, the link between love and death in Romeo and Juliet, and specific scenes we could look at which would highlight this. Hallam chose the poisoning scene and Freddie chose the first meeting scene. Creating parallels between the two scenes was a lot easier than it may seem and allowed us both to experiment with things we don’t normally do, such as talking to someone throughout the process, using new materials, and bouncing ideas off of art and writing to influence our own work. What was great about this project was that neither the visual art or the writing needs to “say it all”, they can both work on their own but together they create a meaning that is perhaps more than the sum of their parts.


Dawn Harris and Helen Kelly

Helen:  It started with a ten year old boy I know, who must remain anonymous, saying to me:

‘Mum, me and Tom found this swirly pattern that goes round and round on the internet, and if you watch it for long enough, it gives you an erection.’

I can’t vouch for the physiological veracity of his experience, and suspect the experiment would need to be held again in a controlled environment and the findings peer reviewed in order to be confirmed, but it started me thinking about love, desire and the idea of spinning…

Dawn:   the idea of spinning led me to remember a moment caught inside a double helix staircase in a beautiful, romantic chateau. Looking up, in awe of its complex architecture, the 2 stairwells entwined, twisting, crossing but never joining each other, soaring to great heights, the only physiological outcome for me being a stiff neck!

Thank you for your words Helen, their inspiration and where they led me.


Cristina Celestini and Philip Monks

For the Romeo & Juliet Take Two project I have worked with the poet Philip Monks, who writes beautiful and soulful poems, and our chosen aspect of the play is the figure of the Apothecary. It has been enormously inspiring for me to collaborate with Philip and witness his creative process. The Apothecary, a very marginal figure in Shakespeare’s play, has blossomed into a full character with a story to tell. In our meeting and emails Philip and I have sketched out what the Apothecary would look like and what his feelings would be and we have exchanged sketches and poems to compare our creative process.

In my studio I staged a model session with a friend who I thought would be a perfect match for our character and after a few sketches I settled for an unusual composition which would develop the conflicted and painful personality we created for our Apothecary. In the drawing I wanted to include some of Philip’s verses and some elements of symbolism which are not always present in my work but which were developed as a response to Philip’s poems. We also discussed the potions the Apothecary creates and his poems inspired the colours and the shape of the bottles: all enveloping obsession and danger are at the heart of the three digital prints I created as a response to this theme.

Finally, Philip’s poems speak of a woman who, having her faith in the apothecary betrayed, leaves him a broken and disillusioned man. I saw this character as much younger than the Apothecary and as a vulnerable but strong woman who succeed in saying no and flees the dangerous, murky world of love potions.

Philip writes: It has been an exciting collaboration for me. I was intrigued by the Apothecary – a man so poor and desperate he will sell poison – and we came up with the idea of him trying to secure his love through a potion, but she feels betrayed and leaves him broken-hearted. We saw him as both penitent and defiant and I responded to Cristina’s drawing of him that represents this so well with both a ballad and a poem of him at prayer. The potions are powerful but coercive and dangerous and the images and the poem of him making the potion are both intended to reflect this. The woman is a more shadowy figure in the poetry, but one who can stand up to the apothecary, as her portrait suggests.



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