Artist Hale Man in the Whitgift Centre: where creativity and commerce meet

By - Thursday 8th January, 2015

Bernadette Fallon finds fire, earth, metal, wood and water in the Whitgift Centre

Phoenix rising – Hale Man’s inspiration for Croydon.
Photo by Hale Man, used with permission.

Would you expect to find an artist in a shopping centre? Probably not.

But that’s where I find Hale Man, tucked away in the Whitgift Centre, behind the metal grid door and several large plate glass windows of a hitherto empty retail unit, working on six-foot tall canvases depicting the five elements. Here I find manifestations of fire, earth, metal, wood and water, while everybody shops outside.

But Hale Man has plans to bring the shoppers, the browsers and the life of Croydon right into this large space. For those who can’t make it in, she’ll take the art out to them. And it’s already started.

Her ‘Elements of Transformation’ project is underway, inviting the people of Croydon to tell stories of the changes they have experienced while living in the borough. She is asking Croydonians to create their designs using messages, words and images and enter them into her ‘My story of transformation’ competition before 10th January 2015. Winners will be listed on her website after this date and there are three prizes of Whitgift gift cards up for grabs.

She has lots of interesting interactive projects in mind, including art jamming and an art cave

And there’s plenty more interaction to come. To celebrate Chinese New Year on 21st February 2015, she will be opening the gallery for her Elements of Transformation work, showcasing the individual stories of transformation she has gathered. There will be lots of public workshops and events over the course of the two days, including Tai Chi sessions, Chinese zodiac workshops, animal arts and much more.

Getting creative in Hale Man’s studio. Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

She also has plans to pilot a new art programme to build new audiences, with lots of interesting interactive projects in mind, including art jamming, an art cave, new arts experiences and more. This will hopefully launch in the first few months of 2015, depending on funding. She’s been recognised this year for her work, listed as a local Guardian Croydon Champion 2014 finalist in the arts and entertainment category.

For now, the Whitgift location is perfect for entertaining art enthusiasts, practitioners and the curious, and is ideal for her February event. There’s plenty of workspace, with tables and chairs for workshop participants and even a raised platform at the end where performances can take place (situated conveniently in front of the former changing rooms, should any costume changes be required!).

Downstairs is another large space where Hale keeps stories of transformation artworks by students and volunteers. Volunteers are an important part of her work, and she’s already had plenty of practice galvanising large workforces into being. When her home got too small for the art play-dates she hosted for her daughter, she launched an after-school club which eventually grew into a Creative Circle patronised by hundreds of children, with a board of trustees and a full-scale workforce as well as volunteers. This won awards, in particular for its work with special needs children.

She’s currently looking for volunteers who are interested in arts and culture

Of Chinese origin – her parents are from Hong Kong – Hale grew up in the UK but, after leaving the Royal College of Art armed with a Masters in Fine Art, Painting, she returned to China to work on her art in a place she considered herself to be ‘from’. As somebody who had grown up in Yorkshire in a lone Chinese family, experiencing the isolation and racism that this brought, Hong Kong was a place that felt like home. After completing her post-graduate scholarship, awarded by the British Council to study Chinese landscape painting at Hangzhou’s Academy of Fine Art in 1994, she moved to Hong Kong  then back to England where she married and started a family.

She’s currently looking for volunteers who are interested in arts and culture and have some basic flair and skills, to work in her studio. It’s a wonderful chance to work alongside art – huge paintings and multi-media pieces are stacked against the walls all around the gallery. You’ll also get to see the immense copper phoenix, resting on his side near the back of the retail unit, ready to rise again.

This Phoenix was originally commissioned by the Museum of London; she is currently redeveloping it as part of her Elements of Transformation project, to rise again when it will be on display in the Whitgift. And so, as the phoenix rises from the ashes in mythology and in Hale’s studio, will the Croydon arts scene also rise and triumph? Let’s hope so!

For more information on Hale’s work, including the ‘My story of transformation’ competition and volunteering in her studio, visit her website here.

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette has been a journalist since the age of 7 when she devised, designed and launched ‘Fallon’s News’ – much to her family’s delight. Brought up in Ireland, she was born in Addiscombe where she now lives, though it took her several decades to find it again. She works as a journalist and broadcaster. Follow her at

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