I visited the illustrious Penny Wilson on a PATH session about three months ago in London’s East End, where she’d teamed neighborhood children up with a graffiti artist named Stik. Together they were creating murals across the metal panels that covered local shops when they were closed, with the children adding clothes, eyeglasses and Ipods to the figures he’d outlined.
The children were supposed to wear protective gear, but a few were suspicious of the baggy white jumpsuits. Penny, as a skilled playworker, sparked a game out of it. She held one up and said, as if to herself, “It looks like fancy dress* to me. An angel, maybe? Or a snowman?” With that one delicate touch, a need for compliance was transformed into a prompt for play.
One boy, eager to be set loose with the spray cans, had clambered into his jumpsuit and was staggering around with arms and legs spread in a vaguely threatening manner.
“I look like an alien,” he said. Behind him, his friend looked down at his own puffy ensemble with slightly less enthusiasm.
“I look like a bloody idiot,” he said.
*Costuming, for you Americans out there.