Press release: @background_bob and his amazing friends – guess who’s back!

18th August 2021

Back Again – @background_bob returns with a new show of collaborative artwork made with artists from across the world

Last autumn (24 October 2020) Firstsite opened @background_bob and his amazing friends a unique collaboration between a young disabled artist from Essex and 200 prominent street artists from across the world, plus members of the public and key workers. It caused a sensation, with the show also helping to raise over £100,000 for local charities, when many of the artworks sold in an online auction.

Now, the irrepressible youngster returns with a new show @background_bob and his amazing friends – Guess who’s back! – the title inspired by hip hop legend Eminem’s hit Without Me – with even more contributing artists and more than 200 stunning artworks to enjoy at Firstsite from September.

The project began during the height of the first lockdown, when Colchester-based Noah – AKA @background_bob – was unable to attend his school and started painted on cardboard as something fun to do, while at home.

Using a signature palette of bright colours, Noah paints bold, confident abstract shapes, which collaborators are then invited to use as backgrounds for their own artworks.

When Noah and his stepfather, Nathan Jones, originally started posting their invitation to collaborate, they expected a small response. However, they were stunned when 80 replies from 8 different countries came in almost immediately. This then mushroomed to a remarkable 240 unique images co-created by Noah and artists from across the world, including the including the UK, Colombia, Italy, Spain, France, Sweden, Germany, the USA and Australia. For the new exhibition, a staggering 700 artists responded to Noah and Nathan’s latest invitation, with tattooists, sculptors and fine artists, creating a broad variety of exciting new pieces for the Firstsite show.

 Once again, leading international street and graffiti artists have contributed work to @background_bob’s latest exhibition, including Inkie, Fanakapan, Akut, Ben Eine, Insane51, Super A, James Bullough and Snik. The artworks include animals, dinosaurs and TV and comic book characters along with public figures, familiar faces from TV, music and film and much more more! Nathan says:

“We were absolutely delighted to hold our first exhibition at Firstsite. Not only is it our local gallery, it also has great accessibility for Noah and he loves it there. It was really important for us to keep the exhibition in our home town, and bring a little bit of joy during those strange times we were all experiencing. Firstsite did an outstanding job of exhibiting our first project, and we are really excited about working them again.

 We decided to run our project again this year due to the overwhelming number of artists who wanted to contribute. We had over 700 artists come forward this time, which was a bit of a shock, but I think we’ve managed to choose a great selection of artists from a cross section of the arts. The artworld truly is a beautiful place! So, we have again selected 240 pieces from 240 different artists, again from all over the world but this time with works from artists in places like Poland and Russia.”

Local key workers in the Colchester area will also feature in the new Firstsite exhibition, as Noah continues to receive care at Colchester General Hospital, along with artworks by school children, including students from The Grove Special School, in Northumberland. The children, who have the same level of disability as Noah interacted with the backgrounds, using many different painting techniques, to produce their artworks for the exhibition.

Following the overwhelming success of the original @background_bob exhibition, Firstsite Director Sally Shaw says it was an easy choice to stage a follow-up show:

“Last year we were all really inspired by what Noah and his family had set out to achieve, it was a delight to present these remarkable collaborative paintings and tell Noah’s story. The exhibition encompassed everything Firstsite stands for, creating an uplifting, colourful and inclusive show and providing a platform to a local disabled artist in a relatable and fun way.

Building on last year’s success, the new exhibition will be full of even more terrific and eclectic artworks from people around the world, adding to @background_bob’s wonderful creative record of people’s thoughts, feelings and experiences whilst living through the pandemic.

The @background_bob project shows the power art has to connect people, no matter where they are in the world or their personal circumstance. It also highlights the vital role creativity plays in building resilience in challenging times – providing an escape, an outlet for our emotions and a way to process our difficult experiences.  Noah encourages everyone to be creative, whether they identify as being an artist, or “arty”, or not, and his exhibitions have a real sense of joy, celebrating the pleasure in making art and how it can bring us together.”

The exhibition will again raise money for the Colchester and Ipswich Hospitals Charity, with the artworks available to bid for online after the exhibition has closed in January. There will also be a new book to purchase, available from participating outlets, including the gallery’s own shop.

Find out more about the exhibition
Welcome area at Firstsite. 'Big Hello' (2018) Peter Liversidge. Photo by Jayne Lloyd.

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