Interview by Alex Waygood, Joanna Engle and Christopher Hill
‘Boredom motivates me…’
Carol works on Cornmarket Street selling hats, scarves and her artwork. It’s a busy Saturday afternoon and the streets are full, but she says she has time to talk to us.
You’ve got some great artwork you’re doing here.
It’s what I do. Some crochet, some knitting. That’s a hat, scarf. This is my best one. So I keep it for myself. [Shows us the scarf she’s wearing] I make a lot of textiles stuff. [Points to a crochet landscape piece] This is my biggest one I’ve done. That took me a year to do. Because it fell apart halfway through it. Yeah, that’s a year’s worth.
How did you learn how to do this?
Just did it myself. I had a breakdown, said a few prayers, messed up all my money got messed up so… What else could I do? Can’t go to work because I’m struggling anyway, got a lot of problems so I thought, ‘What else could I do?’. And then I started drawing first. Then I got fed up of drawing, and I don’t want to paint because paint gets everywhere. I tried sewing. Not my best idea. But I’ve been doing this for five years now. Been fighting my rights to sit where I’m sat just at the bottom of Cornmarket. Been in trouble a couple of times. I’m in a grey area.
Is that a big issue for you?
Well, the council tell me off. But I’ve got rights to do this. It’s my job, part of my inheritance as well. What they say is, that I can’t sit on the floor. They try and give me an Anti-Social Behaviour Order, didn’t work. Then they actually threatened action… But I’m just sat on the floor. It’s ‘antisocial behaviour’ but what’s antisocial about this? It is a bit weird but… First, I’ve taught the other homeless people to draw on paper, not on the pavement, to do their artwork. I told them that’s what they should do: draw. I say, if I can sit here and do it, then you can sit here and do it as well. There’s nothing wrong with you, just keep on doing what you’re doing. They produce some lovely artwork. All they need is some encouragement, and that’s why I’m here. I sit here and talk to everybody about anything. That’s what I’m here for – to show people what to do so they can go and do it for themselves. It’s easy. If I can do it, anyone can do it. It’s easy. All you need is a piece of sheet, picture frame to tie it to, draw your picture, colour it in and then you sew it. That’s all you’ve got to do. Doesn’t matter how you do, just stick a needle in and pull it out the other end. [Laughs]
Are you from Oxford?
Yes, just about Barton and all that. But I show my work streetwork here. I’m out in all sorts, rain and shine. The people of Oxford are very kind to me. And the homeless community is full of kind and nice people, they help me out every now and then and I’m there for them. I tell them to stop drinking – been there, done that. Not my fault you’re homeless – that’s half your fault. Not my fault you put drugs up your arm – been there, done that. I also say to some, ‘don’t beg in front of me,’ because I am actually working here, I’m not like you, I’m actually working. They say, ‘you call that work?’ and I say, ‘you try it’.
But many are nice and they’ll walk past and put a few pence in my box, even though I know they need it themselves, and they’ll say “this is for you”. And I’ll say “don’t be silly” but they’ll say “no, you’ve done it for us, we’ll do it for you.” That’s how it works. We look out for one another. I have no trouble with my work. I can leave my work here to go to the toilet, no one touches it. I had a couple of occasions where someone did touch my work and I had a few words with that person. But then I told someone what happened and then they sorted it out and the person came back and said, ‘sorry – they told me off’. And they will do! People will be looking for someone to talk to and I’m here. They know I’m here, you know: someone on their terms that they can talk to. They can come to me, they’re not challenged by me. I’m just one of them.
We’ve all got our problems, some of us can kick them, some of us can’t. I’m one of the lucky ones, been there done that. Now I just get on. Do what I’ve got to do and hope for the best. That’s all I can say to you. Just look in the mirror everyday and tell yourself ‘I’m better than that – do what you’ve gotta do’.
[We break as someone buys a hat]
Do you mind if we take a photo of you and some of your art?
I’m glad you asked! Everyone else just does it!
What inspires the scenes you make?
It’s just the stuff in my head. If it’s in my head, I draw it. They’re all quite similar, but different. I don’t really know what I’m doing, it’s all just experimenting. Every morning I wake up and do some art. Boredom motivates me really. But every morning, you start from fresh and you’ve just got to work with it. I realised that when I went to the Ashmolean. I was in the Ashmolean in 2012, I had some of my work in there.
To find out more about homelessness in Oxford, you can visit http://www.oxhop.org.uk