The Millbank Penitentiary has provided me with inspiration in many different ways, from its structural design to the conditions the inmates faced in the prison and in the prospect of being shipped to a new country on the other side of the world. Concentrating on the journey of the prisoners, from being confined in the prison for three months, enclosed on a boat for months and then being put to hard work in Australia, constantly with the dream of being free has been a key focus.
Taking reference from the physical shape of the building and the mental implications this had on inmates, I began by drawing constructed patterns from my research. Tight, woven, ruler drawn lines created a geometric pattern as structured as the view of the Penitentiary from above. Inmates at the prison were kept busy, employed in traditional handcrafts such as weaving and needlework and I will incorporating woven and sewn textures into my designs that will reference these age-old techniques. Repetitive detailed drawings will form the basis for my designs, reminding of the time and effort put into making traditional crafts.
The inmates would have had a very limited view of their surroundings, seeing only the stone walls and wooden doors everyday in the prison and then being surrounded by wooden planks on the ship, with perhaps glimpses of the endless skies and seas en route to Australia. Concentrating on this abundance of everyday materials, I will explore the simple beauty of their natural texture and pattern as well as combining imagery of other natural sources unseen by the incarcerated until granted their freedom, such as grass, fur, feathers and bark. These will represent the dream of a life away from the prison.
The idea of transportation was that ‘the criminal, removed to a mysterious distance from old haunts and dangerous associates, was to be punished by exile; but at the same time he was encouraged to make a new start in life and in a new country, where, safe from competition, reclaimed and industrious, he might win rich harvests from the virgin soil.’ (Griffiths, 1875).This hopeful description of freedom creates a huge contrast from the confines of the prison and another important point of focus. Through my drawn designs I want to create a sense of movement to represent the feeling of freedom away from the prison and the constant observation. Distorting or enlarging my drawings to create fluid lines will contrast with more structured patterns, signifying this change in status.
Quotes from my research of Millbank have also helped to form my colour palette of blue toned greys and shades of mustard yellow: ‘From above, it was like a vast six-petalled flower of dirty yellow brick, a multi-turreted fortress with bars at the windows. Surrounding it was a stagnant outer moat, enclosing over 16 acres of cold, damp squalor’.