We here at London Calling Blog were exceptionally fortunate last week to have a chat with the art team of Noah and Nathan ahead of the upcoming charity auction this weekend of original artworks from their second collaborative art project as Background Bob. The journey began two years ago in March 2020, during the first lockdown as the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the world. Like many people with children Noah’s parents were left wondering how to cope with kids, especially a special needs kid such as Noah who was born with Cerebral Palsy, Hydrocephalus and Epilepsy. They didn’t appreciate until then just how much school occupies so much of a child’s time. Noah’s mum encouraged his dad to keep the kids occupied whilst everyone was cooped up at home all the time. One activity which had for them such unforeseen consequences was 11 year old Noah and his dad Nathan painting some pieces of cardboard together. With Noah creating a series of striking abstract works.
Nathan & Noah at work.
Nathan knew a few street artists, so he posted on social media asking if anybody wanted to collaborate with his son. This call out had 45 responses from artists on the first day wishing to collaborate with Background Bob. The pair immediately then set to panic immensely has they only had eight backgrounds! As lockdown went on Noah and Nathan had something they could do together, with Noah painting a series of works to be sent out to artists for them to add their addition to the wonderful bases provided. It was a pleasure to open the phone every day and see who else wanted to get involved and find out where they were sending their backgrounds to next.
Work by Background Bob x Snik.
Nathan and Noah were looking to raise £500 for the local hospital, they really didn’t anticipate how much momentum this project would get and what incredible achievements were to follow. The project grew very organically, with 10-20 artists joining in daily. Offers were even still coming in once they reached a staggering 250 collaborations produced. At this point the family were wondering what to do with all these works. Firstly it was decided to make a book, which sold 1500 copies, raising £18,300. For Noah and family the excitement behind a book was that the artworks once sold are gone, but the legacy a book offers is forever. Noah’s future family can see what he achieved in this. Books are also ever so importantly, affordable and accessible to a wider audience. But what to do with the physical artworks themselves?
As the world was still closed up due to the ongoing pandemic, the initial idea was to put on an online show, but before this happened the local Firstsite gallery in Colchester got in touch offering to put on a show as the world was starting to open up. For Noah and Nathan it was lovely to see as the project grew, just how many people were offering to help make this show grow to the fantastic level it reached, with the gallery offering the space, people offering to cover postage costs, help with delivering books. dealing with the charity, social media duties. The show run for three weeks over three months due to various disruptions Covid caused. Covid started this project, and then set to end the exhibition early, but they were all still amazed that the project had even got this far.
Work by Background Bob x Sweet Toof.
Following the show, and book release, it was time to auction the 250 collaborative artworks, which saw in February 2021, the tall order of listing 250 items on Ebay! As Nathan put it ‘Ebay just went mental’. The auction had been active for a week and had raised an exceptional £26,000, then Noah and Nathan ended up on BBC, and after 7 minutes on air the figure raised leapt to £59,000. Every time Noah and family refreshed the screen, the figure raised grew minute by minute. As the auction was reaching its conclusion the family went for dinner, ignoring the impulse to keep watching what was happening until it was over. Instead they ate up and then checked when the auction had closed, finding themselves overwhelmed to see how this family project had raised an incredible £83,500.
Work by Background Bob x Cheo.
Street art was never just a means to an end with this project. The books – especially the first volume – is so street art heavy, because that’s the art the family love. It’s accessible, it’s a day out, Noah loves going out to street art. Which as we can attest to then spins off to visiting galleries and exhibitions. It’s been astonishing just how the street art world responded to this amazing project. In turn the family also now help sponsor art projects, such as Korpfest, assisting with bringing up paint and in doing so finding a way of giving back to the scene and being involved as non-artists.
Work by Background Bob x Cheo.
For the family one of the most amazing things to happen was when a well known locally based artist, Nyces, painted Noah in Peterborough in 2020. Nyces wanted to be involved with the project and wasn’t too happy working on such a small-scale as the project entailed, so instead he offered to paint Noah 10ft high on a wall. Something the family consider such an honour to have had a well respected artist paint Noah and it’s still up now on a legal wall!
Work-in-progress by Nyces in Peterborough.
Work by Nyces iin Peterborough.
So Phase 1 ended having raised just over £100,000 in a year! With all proceeds being donated to Colchester & Ipswich Hospital Charity – who allowed the family to have a say in how the money raised was spent. So the money was put toward a brand new sensory room and to revamp the whole garden area so people could take some time to have some fresh air and respite from hospital life. Or to offer somewhere to spend time with family and friends whilst stuck in the hospital – these guys have spent a lot of time in hospitals and appreciate the importance and psychological benefits that something such as how a bit of fresh air or just a bit of sunshine on the face makes such a positive difference. For the family it was lovely to not just raise and donate just over £100k, but to additionally be able to see the tangible impact it has had on the hospital and ultimately the patients and family who frequent there.
Work by Background Bob x Super-A.
After all this non-stop activity the family planned to have a well earned rest. In the meantime though artists were regularly messaging to say that they had heard about the project too late and that they would still like to get involved. So after so many requests, accompanied by how much money was raised the first time, the family decided to go for Phase 2. This time there was only one rule, that you couldn’t be an artist from the first project. They wanted to allow other people to get involved. You didn’t have to be a big name artist, the invite to collaborate was sent to locals, kids and professional artists alike, no one got special preference, everyone got a single background. presenting an even playing field for everyone.
Work by Background Bob x RX Skulls.
It has been particularly exciting for Noah and Nathan to see how the project has expanded to incorporate so many different mediums with Noah’s cardboard backgrounds across both phases of the the project. So for Phase 2 they offered 250 spaces, to which they received requests from 700 artists asking to get involved. In response to the overwhelming demand to be involved the family sat down together every evening and picked one artist each to be included. Of which artists were chosen for a number of different reasons, but mostly choices were overridden by a desire for diversity.
Work by Background Bob x Inkie.
So commenced for the second time, the mammoth task for Noah to paint 250 backgrounds for artists to collaborate on. Once these went out and the completed artworks returned, it was decided to make another book, in order to to allow everyone a bit of the project, as well provide yet again a great opportunity to raise lots of money for charity in the process. They then quickly contacted the gallery, explaining they were doing it again, and the gallery instantly offered their repeated support, with a show that this time was on for three months without any interruptions brought about by Covid. The Firstsite gallery is the family’s local gallery so they got to enjoy and visit it as much as they could and consider themselves very fortunate to be able to engage with the people coming to see it. Noah became a little celebrity down there and everyone wanted to speak with him.
Work by Background Bob x Alice Pasquini.
As the adventure keeps on developing, the family are continuously astounded by the response and level of engagement this project has presented to so many people. From Phase 2 a stand out moment for the family was when street artist My Dog Sighs who was one of the first artists to get involved in Phase 1 decided that as he wasn’t eligible to take part in Phase 2, he would paint a collaboration with Background Bob on a wall in Southampton. What also makes this work so special for Noah and family is that the eye is that of Noah’s mum.
Work by My Dog Sighs in Southampton.
For the upcoming Auction Noah and family are again raising for the same charity, and are hoping that any money raised is focused on going towards children wards or children needs, so they can help out with something that rarely receives the funding as money trickles down the system.
Work by Background Bob x Fanakapan.
So with little else for us to say – other than offering a monumental well done for all that Noah, Nathan and family – with the help of many amazing friends – have achieved for such a good cause, and in doing so creating something magical along the way – you can purchase a copy of the second book here. We will add the auction link here once it goes live on Ebay this Sunday 20th March at 6pm, but should we get delayed in doing so, you can find it by just searching ‘Background Bob’ online.
All photos kindly provided by Nathan.