The Artist Aleta Michaletos, used words from newspapers to
create positive feelings of hope in very uncertain times.
“Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to
Words, powerful words that strike deep into the subconscious
can effect our lives our behaviour and ultimately the direction our
lives take. The news we hear every day in the media, newspapers and
from each other, determines the mood and feeling of large
numbers of people. .
We only get newspapers once a week in our house, but if
you read certain publications and think for a moment about which
headlines are positive and which are negative, it can be a bit
shocking. We all hear about how the government, politician's and
the media use fear to manipulate feelings and events.
Because I use words in my art all the time, I often
contemplate this subject and recently came across an artist that
went out to find the light amongst the darkness of the news
headlines in her time. Aleta Michaletos' project, 'Precious Circle'
changed her life.
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also
corrupt thought.” ― George Orwell, 1984
In South Africa during the 1980's the country was in flames
and a state of emergency had been declared. There was very
little good news in the newspapers and fear and horrors were a
daily occurrence. In 1989 Michaletos decided to respond to this
'vicious circle' of hatred and negativity by creating
collages which she called 'Precious Circle'.
After days of deep introspection and thought Aleta
decided that she would make her 'enemy' her 'friend', by not
letting the press influence her thoughts. Instead of criticising
the press, she took responsibility for what she focussed on.
Aleta, decided to collect clippings only from positive stories
and headlines from the South African newspapers. She sorted these
into themed categories such as happiness, winning, beauty,
success, dreams, religion, moral values, peace and hope,
before creating aesthetic collages.
Even though the future was very uncertain in South Africa and
Nelson Madela was still in jail, Michaletos had absolute faith that
her project could transform and attract a change. Eventually, she
became aware of increased 'blessings' in her life and was then
invited to, Schloss Ettlingen, in Germany, 1991 to exhibit her
work. She was developed a conviction that by performing her daily
ritual, she was ‘magnetizing’ herself in a positive
Everyday she worked with passion and energy concentrating
intently on the positive and optimistic. She would even cut
out words such as 'unhappy' or 'unlucky' and cut off the 'un',
in order to transform them into 'happy' or 'lucky'. Each day became
a prayer or meditation in positive thinking.
In 1994, Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as
President. This was ‘the sign’ she was waiting
for, the newspapers of May 10 and 11, contained all the positive
words she had been looking for! Her 'Precious Circle' was
completed, and she had made 50 collages that spanned over 22
Here are some more innovative artists who use collected and
found materials that include words, to create artworks that
might also tell a story. (below)
Words that Linger in the Heart
In the same way that a book or article can tell a story,
a painting can also evoke emotions and feelings that tell a story
of their own too. Aleta Michaletos has combined these in her
artwork and all 50 of the collages tell of the struggle her country
and she personally went through.
Using gratitude and a positive approach to situations and
everyday life makes a huge difference in peoples lives. The simple
act of noticing or even writing down the things we are grateful for
can affect the outcome of our day or in the long term our whole
"A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination"
A Challenge for You!
My challenge to you this month is to look for the positive
stories and words in this weeks newspapers and create your own
collage that shines a positive light on the world today! You
could collect the words from one newspaper on one day, or many
newspapers over a week or month!
If possible focus on a theme as Aleta Michaletos did in her
collages. Send in your artwork to and I will display your entry. The winner will receive a
print of my latest text painting Winter Evening, which was inspired
by the poetry of John Clare. (Below)
Always keep your smile. That's how I explain my long
This is the first time I have completed a major 'text'
painting in such a short time! It took just over a month to
physically produce the painting, but I have been planning this
portrait for a lot longer. When developing an artwork it
is a good to have the space to let an idea develop, submerge and to
take shape over time. Paintings, often have a life of their own and
need to be thought about and nurtured like a
close friendship, before they are made.
The Joy of Andre Rieu and a Cuppa!
About three years ago I made friends with Tom, who also
attends Irthlingborough Methodist Church. I got to know about his
life when visiting his home; we often sit and watch the snooker,
game shows, old films, and sometimes his favourite concerts
from Andre Rieu. So, we have lots of laughs, tea, biscuits and
good conversations. Tom had lots of stories to tell me from his
long life and I thought they were worth telling in a
Brushstrokes Tell Stories
Paintings often express, emotion by using emotive
brushstrokes and colours. These can help to give you clues about
the story behind the image depicted. So, for this portrait I
decided to adopt an impressionist colour scheme to create the look
of a painted picture, that might suggest something of
Telling the Story with Printed Words and Collage.
After chatting with Tom about his life I wrote the
article below which I have used to paint his portrait. The colour
of the text as well as the background was changed many times to
form a colour pallet, which was printed off from my PC and then
used collage his portrait.
John Thomas Spence
Growing up, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.
John Thomas Spence was born the year after the First World War
on May 29th, 1919, in Wallsend (at the end of Hadrian’s
wall), Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, beneath the towering and magnificent
shipyards. In fact the view out of Tom’s bedroom window at
the end of Joanne Street would have been something to behold as the
ships were built just outside his house.
His father James worked in the shipyards whilst his mother
Mary took care of all the children. Back then it was normal to have
larger families and Tom had one brother: Jimmy, and five sisters:
Betty, Margaret, Hilda, Lily and Ethel.
Prestigious Football Connections in the North.
The beautiful game - football, was a great inspiration to Tom
and was also important in the Spence family. Tom’s Uncle, Joe
was a professional football player in the 1920s and played for
Manchester United and England!
The Great Depression and Migration to
After the First World War the ship building industry went into
decline as did many industries in the North. Between 1921 and 1923
production was dramatically cut and by the 1930s the shipyards were
closing as orders dried up. In 1933 unemployment rose to 2.5
million which was a quarter of the workforce! This had a
devastating effect on the Spence family who would have relied on
James’ income to support the family. There were no benefits
and the dole was cut by 10% in 1931.
Many families in the North East migrated, relocating to
comparably wealthier areas in the Midlands. Tom and his siblings
were sent away from home, where they could no longer be supported:
Tom, at the age of about 14 years old, was sent to live in
Irthlingborough, in the county of Northamptonshire; his sisters and
brother went to live in London.
These were very distressing times, but when Tom talks about
it he will tell you that, “God was looking out for me”.
Tom went to stay with an elderly lady in the town and then quickly
found a job in boot and shoe industry.
Playing football with Jesus and Making Shoes.
Tom stayed in the town of ‘Artlenock’ as the
locals call it, for the rest of his life. He worked in several shoe
factories in the area of which there were many - including
Norton’s, John Shortland Ltd, John Cave and Sons Ltd, William
Green and Sons Ltd, Jacques and Clarke Ltd of Rushden, Knight and
Lawrence, John White, C.K Woods, Eaton and Sergeants.
Tom’s great passion was football, and soon after he
arrived in Irthlingborough he found out about the local Sunday
league. In those days the local Methodist Chapel had a team and Tom
was told he could join on the condition he attended church at least
once a month. He agreed, and liked it so much that he was sat in
the pews every week and has been going ever since.
Love on the Football Pitch!
Life was good! Tom had a job, a place to live and community of
friends at church and could play his football. Then on the edge of
the pitch he kept noticing a beautiful girl pushing a pram, who was
looking after a friend’s baby and came regularly to watch the
Hilda and Tom started dating and were eventually married at
the Chapel in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second War. Tom and Hilda
spent many happy years together living at Crow Hill, running the
Sunday school, they enjoyed dancing and doing cross stitch together
in the evenings.
Saved from D-day, for a Football Team.
Just before Tom and Hilda were to be married, Neville
Chamberlain announced on Sunday, 3rd September, that Britain was at
War with Germany. By Thursday of that week, Tom had received his
call up papers and after being told the Navy was full, he joined
the Royal Corps of Signals or ‘Siggies’ as a radio
On June 6th 1944, The Battle of Normandy or D-Day, Tom was due
to make the great crossing as radio operator in a tank. The Royal
Signals were to be, the first to land on the beaches. However, as
he is keen to point out - “God was looking out for me”.
His commanding Officer pulled him out of the assault as he wanted
Tom to play in his football team and because he was one of his best
players. So, football and the hand of God intervened and may have
saved Tom’s life.
Scoring against the Germans and Winning Every
Later, he was sent to Le Havre in Normandy which was largely
destroyed following 132 allied bombings. The results of the bombing
campaign were appalling:5,000 deaths (including 1,770 in 1944),
75,000 to 80,000 injured, 150 hectares of land razed, 12,500
buildings destroyed. The port was also devastated and some 350
wrecks lie at the bottom of the sea.
Le Havre was liberated by Allied troops on 12 September 1944.
During the liberation, Tom recalls being part of the operation to
create bridges using the Churchill Bridge layers and Sherman tanks.
They met resistance from the Germans and were forced to move
further along the river Seine to make the crossing.
After the liberation, he went on to help with the “clean
up” in Germany, Hamburg for a year. Tom’s sporting
talents once again played their part and many friendly football
matches were played against the German soldiers. He proudly recalls
“Beating them every time” and insists, “The
Germans are lovely people and they were just like
After the war and once discharged, Tom returned home to his
wife Hilda and to a long and happy marriage. He continued to play
football for Irthlingborough town, work in the shoe industry and
attend the Methodist chapel.
Now, at the grand age of 97 Tom has seen the world
change beyond recognition. His family divided by poverty
and the great depression and his life turned upside down by war.
But he considers himself blessed and lucky and will always tell you
“I’ve had a good life”. Tom misses his wife Hilda
and now spends his time reading the Bible, watching sport and
reminiscing about all the adventures and happy times in his long
life. He also often visits his family in Lincolnshire and recently
went to see his grand-daughter perform in a play in
Tom Spence is a positive, optimistic man who firmly
believes that God has always been looking out for him. He has a
firm handshake, an equally kind smile, and bright blue glinting
eyes. We can all learn a lot from this man.