2008: Ian Pickering
opens his portfolio with such enthusiasm that you cannot help but get excited about what's inside. The drawings he has painstakingly taken time to create are dramatic and extremely impressive and as he turns each page the cartoons become increasingly vivid, with characters that would not look out of place in a comic book, jumping out of the page.
Take a closer look and you will see that his intricate drawings have a dark edge. Guns, knives and drugs feature heavily in his creations; but Ian is careful not to glamorise or make light of the issues of drug and gun crime. Instead each of his drawings has a positive meaning.
“My cartoons and illustrations give me a focus and an outlet to channel my anger and frustration at society,” says 34 year old Ian. “It's my way of trying to help young people who are facing drug addiction or are involved in gun crime. I want them to know that there are other ways to express themselves without having to turn to crime.”
Ian knows what he is talking about. At age 14 he rebelled against authority and got in with the 'wrong crowd' at school. His rebellious nature led him to leave school without any qualifications.
“I felt as if I didn't have much going for me to be honest,” says Ian. “By the time I was 22 I worked for a security firm and had a steady girlfriend, but I wanted more. I needed a focus in my life and sadly I became involved in drugs.
“At first I tried cannabis and ecstasy but soon I was onto much harder stuff. My drug habit led me down the road of stealing to pay for my habit. When I was 24 years old I was sent to jail for two and a half years for drug importation. I was at my lowest ebb.”
After prison and with a criminal record making it difficult for him to get a job, it wasn't long before Ian was back on the drugs and in a wprld of world of gun crime and criminal gangs.
The turning point in Ian's life came when one of his close friends died of a drug overdose. “I suddenly realised that my life was out of control,” says Ian. “I would see people dying of a drugs overdose, or from gun or knife crime on a weekly basis. I knew that at some point it would happen to me.”
Ian sought help and ended up in the Diana Treatment centre in Mundesley for six months. “This was a real turning point in my life,” says Ian. “The guys at the rehabilitation centre helped me realise what I really wanted to do with my life - and this was to do something in art.”
Ian was one of the many artists that helped design an elephant for the Go Elephant trail that was so popular on the streets of Norwich recently.
Having left rehab, Ian now lives in Norwich YMCA
on Bethel Street, and it was here that he got a team of young men together to design an elephant with the help of Ellie Chapman
from the NR5 project. “The project was a great opportunity for me to give something back,” says Ian.
“Getting a group of guys from the YMCA together to work on this project was tough at first as all of them have had a rough background or have, like me, been involved in drug, gun or knife crime. However, it was a great way for me to show them what I have learnt - that there are other ways to vent your feelings rather than turn to crime. Art is a good way of expressing any anger you have and soon the guys were coming up with ideas for the design of our elephant.
“The project gave us a common goal and gave all the guys something to focus on and get motivated by. I even created a cartoon strip, which tells the story of how the guys came up with the idea for the elephant and the process of designing and painting it.”
The project encouraged Ian to enrol on an art and design course at the Norwich School of Art. The school was impressed with his portfolio and offered him a place on a foundation course in computer game art and design.
“The course is really a great opportunity for me to finally turn my life around and do something positive. I have also recently got a job as a kitchen porter at the University of East Anglia, which will give me some money while I am studying. Things are definitely looking up.”
Ian has come along way and intends to take his art further by displaying his work St. Benedict's art gallery once he has enough pieces to show. He has also had one of his designs used as a tattoo by Indigo Tattoos on Lower Goat Lane.
“I'm living proof that however tough life gets there are positive ways to vent your emotions rather than turn to drugs. I want to show young people that there is always an alternative to a life of crime. Turning to drugs is a pathway to an early death and there is so much to live for.”Article and picture courtesy of www.eveningnews24.co.uk