The Force of Words!

November 15 2016

The Artist Aleta Michaletos, used words from newspapers to create positive feelings of hope in very uncertain times. (Below)

Lovers - Loving - Loving By Aleta  Michaletos

“Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.”   

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.

Increased Blessings

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 way.

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 metres!

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 life.

"A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination" Nelson Mandela

Tom's Story - My painting made from the words of Tom's Life Story
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)
Winter Evening, painting inspired by John Clare's poem by Jamie Poole

Tom's Story - "God was always looking out for me"

October 09 2016

Always keep your smile. That's how I explain my long life. 

Jeanne Calment

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 painting.

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 Tom's personality.

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 Irthlingborough.   

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 game. 

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 operator. 

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 Time! 

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 us.” 
The Churchill Bridge layers in Le Havre

Return Home

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 Birmingham.  

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.
On the glass cabinet where Tom keeps all of his memorable objects from family and friends.


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